A Hands-On Approach to Appalachian Biodiversity

By: Mathew Roberts

Excursions deep into the mountains and hollers of western North Carolina are not often associated with interdisciplinary adventure and personal growth, or are they? This summer, Ohio University faculty and staff created a course titled “Agroecology and Biocultural Diversity.”

The course was designed with interaction as a core concept. Students began with a basic history of Appalachia, domestication of species and seeds, and how culinary inclusion works as the lifeblood for building biological diversity and forest economy. Then, students embarked on a three-day trip with James Veteto, professor at Western Carolina University and executive director of the Appalachian Institute for Mountain Studies. Veteto led the group through his North Carolina mountainside property, demonstrated the cultural diversity of his apple orchard, revealed time-honored Cherokee customs, and graciously fed the group with the fresh, local flavors of Southern Appalachia.

Appalachian culture has largely been built around poverty. Rugged forms of survival and community agriculture have been prevalent for decades, but these are now seen within the assemblage of naturalist appreciation.

“There is a certain humility and down-to-earthness necessary if you want to get anything done in the region,” Veteto wrote in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. While most class discussions focused on the history of farming, seed saving, and the cultural relevance of food, the greatest moments were spent reflecting about how these lessons can be applied to other issues as well.

Karly Strukamp, an undergraduate education student who took the summer course, will apply the knowledge gained on this trip to her work with middle school children.

“From this trip, I have gained confidence in facilitating these types of hands-on learning experiences,” she said. “When students are able to investigate what they are curious about, they are experiencing true learning.”

There also were more immediate lessons to be learned.

“We also were able to get to some of what us teachers like to call the ‘hidden curriculum,’” Strukamp said. “We were able to tell stories and invest time in our relationships — even with our teachers. At times, our teachers would acknowledge that we were actually teaching them something.”

Immersive learning and exploring one’s curiosity are inherent to this course. There is something beautiful about being right in the focal point of diversity’s potential.

“We were able to look at and touch the different plants and methods we were being introduced to rather than just seeing pictures in a book,” said Taylor Smith, another student who attended. “Environmental issues can be looked at from so many sides and it’s really great to have all those different views when you are talking about sustainable solutions.”

Going to the Appalachian Institute of Mountain Studies made us realize the lack of diversity in our hometowns. Upon return, many students spent the last two days of the course at Solid Ground Farm, a sustainable farm in Millfield dedicated to spreading knowledge about sustainable food and creating biodiverse forest gardens in the southeast Ohio. In addition to developing environmental solutions, spots like Solid Ground Farm are creating a new generation that values diversity. After the farm visit, students finished the course with a project or paper that incorporated the multi-disciplinary nature of the trip. As long as this program continues, Ohio University can be a part of instilling this critical value in future cadres of students.



Making Connections

By: Mat Roberts

As a student of the Kanawha project, a grant-funding initiative to advance carbon neutrality through the facilitation of climate literacy, I feel fortunate to be a part of pushing environmental dialogue into the classroom. Most of the Kanawha consists of faculty, some from other branches, seeking to add climate change context into their syllabi. As one of six students, our job is to share what we know to the professors and to be the student perspective in decision-making.

The great part about this community is the opportunity we all have to share distinct perspectives on climate change. I am the editor of College Green Magazine, an independent online publication dedicated to bringing the most provocative and engaging environmental news. I met many professors during the first Kanawha gathering who were interested in the vision I have for College Green Magazine in the future: bringing about greater awareness of climate change and showing how to live a sustainable life. At the time, the main problem was finding enough staff members to produce a viable media product and I expressed this concern deeply. The fact is, understanding climate change language is difficult.

Excited as I was to talk to these professors, I am pleased to say the response to my passion excited me even more. Craig Meyer, professor of rhetorical English, reached out to me beyond the Kanawha project to develop a project of his own in his current writing in environmental sustainability class. The students in his class, as part of a large portion of their grade, will be producing content for College Green Magazine.

The goal is to create an incentive to take this course, not only because students can learn more about climate change through the efforts of Craig’s participation in the Kanawha project, but can also leave with a valuable portfolio piece published in a student-led environmental publication. In return, I have been receiving new ideas each day. Some students will be working on a series of articles to turn in weekly, while others will choose to create a much larger product for the magazine. Because the students feel like they are part of something bigger than their grade point average, I feel like making connections like this is part of the solution towards improving climate change literacy.

My main goal would be to have this partnership in every ENG3100J course at Ohio University. With the partnership, creating content becomes a stress of the past. With all of the saved time, I envision College Green Magazine providing services to further enhance interest in environmental studies such as a comprehensive jobs and internships board, a research resources page connected with the Alden library databases, and a shared student and community eco-events calendar. All of this to say: if you have an idea for the common good, do not ever give up.


GMOs and Bitter Seeds

By: Mat Roberts

On Wednesday, Jan. 29, at 7 p.m., the Athena Cinema will screen Bitter Seeds, the final film in Micha X. Peled’s Globalization Trilogy, following Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town and China Blue. Before you see this film, let’s look at the seed.

Once the flagship node of the world’s biodiversity realm, the seed has been forced to a place of manipulation and modification. Back in the day, farmers would save seeds from the summer harvest and prepare to fill their greenhouses upon the first trickle of spring. Though this traditional practice is still used across the globe, we have seen some wild changes to agriculture. The current globalized agriculture system, in partnership with many bio-engineering firms, is changing the definition of food, and many people are starting to get worried.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are changing the way food is grown.  Traditionally, farmers used natural breeding to achieve desired traits. According to the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), GMOs are created by shooting genes from a “gene gun” into a plate of cells or by using bacteria to invade the cell with foreign DNA. The altered cell is then cloned into a plant. These genetically modified crops demand heavy use of pesticides and herbicides. This degrades the soil, thus producing a necessary cycle of creating stronger breeds of seeds capable of succeeding in a space nearly void of any other life.

As the industrial agriculture system continues to grow, the farther we seem to be from our evolutionary roots. Small-scale farmers around the globe are being forced to grow GMO crops or perish in the effort to keep up with the production of large-scale farms and the demands of grocers.

Some argue that genetic modification feeds the world and is able to adapt to climate change. Some argue that a switch to small-scale operation organic farming will reduce carbon emissions and the degradation of conventional farming, and reshape the American economy to a resilient state. Regardless of what side of the argument one falls on, we still need food. The point I want to make goes beyond the debate. Genetically modified foods were introduced into processed foods at least 15 years ago. The fact that we are living experiments for a new form of food is true, but there is another issue at hand: the loss of diversity.

The loss is what troubles me. I’m an organic consumer (primarily), but understanding the dynamics of biodiversity touches me on a whole new level of my personal values and beliefs. When Janisse Ray, advocate for a seed-saving revolution, visited Ohio University last semester, I was heartbroken to hear the truth. Ray noted in her book that big agriculture business operates with a 94 percent reduction in seed diversity compared to traditional farming methods. We have already lost so many seeds our Earth accepted into its soils and ecosystems.

The need for a conversation about food has never been more urgent.

Come learn more about how GMOs are affecting our world by watching Bitter Seeds. Admission is free.

More information on GMOs here:




Athens StartUp Weekend — a observer’s video blog

By: Zoe Graham

I saw the words “StartUp Weekend” on the Center for Entrepreneurship’s calendar print out in my binder, but honestly couldn’t articulate more than, students create their own StartUp company’s in a weekend. Phyllis Bohning an enthusiastic coordinator with the Center for Entrepreneurship, which sponsors StartUp weekend, convinced me that it would be worth my time to cover this event. And man oh man, I’m glad I did. Here is my experience following participants in a not so typical 54 hour weekend.

To read more about StartUp weekend please visit,

The Evolution of Writing

By: Zoe Graham

From elementary school onward, I have been trained to write academic essays, research papers, reports and comparative analysis. However, with the arrival of the Internet and cell phones, people tend to have shorter and shorter attention spans. People tend to read news stories, reports and open links based on attention-grabbing headlines or short excerpts that attract their interest. With so much information available at our fingertips, how do media writers today effectively promote and generate traffic to their story in a world of impatient readers?

As a college student, I get the majority of my news from Twitter. In 140 characters or less, I decide if a story is worth reading based on the headline. That being said, solely writing a well-drafted story is not enough to draw traffic. It’s about effectively developing a concise headline and lead and posting to heavy-reader sources.

I’ve come across this obstacle in the past few months working at the Voinovich School. This is the first time I’ve realized how challenging it is to say everything you need to in a few words. I’ve spoken with many inspiring individuals and organizations such as the Voinovich School’s Robert Gordon, who worked with the village of Pomeroy to create a roadmap for local growth and prosperity called Imagine Pomeroy. There are months of dedication, details and drive behind this initiative—but if I as the writer don’t give an effective introduction and lead, the reader may skim over and forget about the story. It’s a matter of using social media and Internet headlines to generate enough interest to get readers to want to follow up and learn about the details.

To inform successfully today, it isn’t enough to have good ideas, research, plans and programs. Informing and promoting the most interesting, unique and valuable parts requires condensing the most complex ideas into a headline or a tweet. Then, hopefully, those people interested enough will explore deeper and become educated about the programs and research you are trying to promote.

There are great opportunities and great challenges for researchers to promote their programs and research in a sea of information and for media writers to effectively inform their audience of their research in a concise format, as well as ensure their attention-grabbing hooks are not just empty phrases, but introductions to interesting and valuable information and stories.

For me personally, working at the Voinovich School I’ve come to realize the challenge the media faces. When the school does such unique work in the “do tank” attitude, I want to make sure I do my part to generate interest and captivate readers so I can inform the community and the world of all the incredible things happening here.

The Importance of Stuffing Envelopes

By: Caroline Boone

Over my two and a half years working as an Undergraduate Research Scholar at the Voinovich School, I have been involved in a number of qualitative research projects.  Most recently, I have been working on an evaluation for a federal grant which funds trainings and programs to support at-risk children.

This week I have been doing data entry and instrument preparation of parent surveys and training evaluations.  What does that mean? It means I’ve been entering numbers into an Excel spreadsheet and stuffing envelopes. This is research? Yes. It turns out that, in order to complete an analysis or evaluation, you have to have data to work with.  The glossy final report documents that we love to show off and say, “Look what we did! Look at the impact we’re making!” come from Excel spreadsheets of data that someone, like me, entered.

The neat thing about being a Research Scholar at the Voinovich School is that I have been involved at all stages of the research process.   I don’t always stuff envelopes.  I have been involved in developing survey instruments, doing background research on numerous topics, and writing up best practices – tasks that are integral to the development of an evaluation.  My role is to jump into a project wherever I am needed; each job I complete is equally important to achieving the project goal.  I can honestly say that stuffing envelopes with surveys is just as important as writing the final report.

Next week, I am transcribing interviews.  My supervisor does not seem to understand my excitement, but I think I am looking forward to it just because it is a new skill I can develop.  (As an added bonus, my senior thesis will be primarily interview-based so I need the transcription practice. Ulterior motives, oops.) Tune in next time to see if transcription is my new favorite hobby!

A New Year, A New Opportunity

By: Zoe Graham

Looking back four years ago at my ambitious 18-year-old self, I could have only dreamed where I would be now. Beginning my fifth year of my undergraduate degree, I made a promise to myself that I would leave Athens and Ohio University only after taking advantage of every educational opportunity and resource I could get my hands on. This begins with my Voinovich Undergraduate Research Scholar position.

I am three weeks into the school year, and already my mind has been broadened. I’ve learned that the School has a great impact on the regional community in terms of business creation/assistance and sustainability initiatives. Professionals seek the School for consulting and research.

One of my tasks as an Undergraduate Research Scholar is to collaborate with the Entrepreneurship and Regional Development program to create awareness and drive participation through various communication avenues about current events and programming. I am looking forward to attending and learning about these events, such as the Venture Cafés that enhance students’ educational experiences through real-world applications, including Start-Up Weekend this October. Using my perspective as a marketing major, I intend to immerse myself and dive into the “do tank” of programs the Voinovich School offers in hope of sharing others’ experiences as well as my own.

A year ago I completed my Global Leadership Certificate. I loved this program and obtained life skills, such as collaborating as a team with multidisciplinary students in all walks of life to organize and implement ideas into a well-communicated product that I have applied to nearly all my areas of interest. I intend to build on these skills to promote the Voinovich School through the web.

Engaging in programs beyond those required for my degree opened my mind to the many possibilities available through Ohio University. The Voinovich School is one of the few professional opportunities offered where students, businesses and organizations work together, engaging students to “think, lead, and innovate.”

A mantra I live by is, “make it happen.” I strive to work toward something larger than myself through creativity, hard work and passion. I see the Voinovich School as a great place to hone  my marketing and communication skills as a part of a collaborative team. I am excited to see where working at the Voinovich School leads and intend to take advantage of the great knowledge and experience available through this unique school.

Voinovich School STEM Projects

Back in the day, I was that typical high school student who feared any project, assignment, or discussion that even mentioned the words “math” or “science.” It seems these subjects just have a way of instilling worry, fear, and incompetence in younger students. However, it’s the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) academic skills our country needs to continuously develop in order to keep up with today’s world. Luckily, the Voinovich School recognizes this and has been focusing its efforts on many STEM related projects through its evaluation services, partnerships, initiatives and more.

Currently the Voinovich School is working on several STEM projects in the Appalachian region. The Ohio Mathematics and Science Partnership Evaluation (OMSP) and the Science Professional Development (PD) Seed Grant Evaluation are both projects that evaluate professional and/or student achievement in math and science areas. Senior Research Associate Margaret Hutzel and Assistant Professor Marsha Lewis are implementing these services through the Rio Connection: Jackson Focus on Mathematics and Science Teaching project, which aims at enhancing student’s physical science content knowledge from third to eighth grade.

The Ohio Mathematics and Science Partnership and Improving Teach Quality Evaluation has evaluated STEM progress in other local schools such as Wellston City Schools, Gallipolis City School, and Vinton County Local Schools. One program in particular, The Boat of Knowledge in the Science Classroom (BooKS) project, supports STEM academics on a local level by placing nine graduate fellows from the engineering department into nine surrounding high schools in hopes of enriching scientific knowledge of classroom teachers while interesting students in STEM education. Research associate Dana Larsen explains, “The students enjoy having the fellows in the classroom and are asking for information on STEM related college majors and careers.”

Efforts toward STEM education extend farther than just evaluation services. For example, The Voinovich School made it possible for a class from Piketon High School to help develop the ASER student summary, which assessed the condition of the Portsmouth (PORTS) Gaseous Diffusion Plant and grounds. By immersing students in the field, the Voinovich School is helping change students’ preconceptions about math and science.

Looking back at my personal experiences, it’s easy to wonder whether or not my career path would be different had I had the same STEM education opportunities throughout middle school and high school.

The Voinovich School’s evaluation findings show increasing interest in math and science subjects among the students involved in each project. By serving local and regional audiences, the Voinovich School’s research and evaluation services are also successfully contributing to STEM academics on a national scale and in the eyes of students. It is hopeful to see this beneficial reform in the education system. Through its efforts with the STEM academic push, the Voinovich School is improving the future of not only the Appalachian region, but our country as a whole.

Inspiration from the Voinovich School Namesake

When I was first notified that I received the undergraduate research scholar position at the Voinovich School, I was very excited to gain a better awareness of public policy issues and solutions. I was excited to grow professionally and most importantly, I was excited to work at an institution named after an accomplished and well-respected politician from the state of Ohio. I thought about the possibility of meeting Senator Voinovich but knew my job was as a research scholar and therefore didn’t get my hopes up.

But as I read the email inviting me to dinner with Senator Voinovich later in April, I realized how lucky I am to be part of an institution that values even the small contributors to the overall success of bettering Appalachia and the state of Ohio. Inviting undergraduate students to meet the Senator is inspiring. It reaffirms my belief that, although we all begin at the bottom, we have amazing opportunities to grow, develop and form connections that point us in the right direction to our next accomplishment.

Although we all begin on the bottom, many then rise to the top. Once there, it can be easy to get caught up with professional and personal responsibilities and forget about those who helped you get to the top. Although on top, with a successful careers as attorney general of Ohio, county auditor, Mayor of Cleveland, Governor of Ohio, and U.S. Senator, Senator Voinovich still seems to recognize staff, faculty and students’ hard work to fulfill the Voinovich School mission- on every level.

I look forward to meeting Senator Voinovich, not only because of his great accomplishments on political and professional stages, but also because of his personal efforts to recognize everyone who contributes time, energy and knowledge to the Voinovich School’s many achievements!

A ‘Climate Reality’ lesson

On Wednesday, February 20th I attended The Climate Reality lecture presented by Dr. Hogan Sherrow of the Sociology and Anthropology Department. Through visual graphics and explanation, his presentation explained the daunting and factual truths about the world’s climate change crisis.

Throughout the lecture, Dr. Sherrow continued to put a big emphasis on the “climate generation,” a term that pegs people born between the years 1988 and 2010. As a member of the climate generation, I gained a lot of knowledge from his presentation. Dr. Sherrow not only listed many implications of climate change, such as increased water vapor causing more simultaneous, severe storms, but also explained we have made a little progress.

I was pleasantly surprised by the mention of the word “progress.” It certainly created a shift in my mood. In the past, whether it was Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” or my entry-level geography course, I always felt disheartened after any discussion about global warming. But this lecture was different. I left feeling ready to join the fight for climate change.

Dr. Sherrow localized climate change in respect to Athens and Ohio University too. He provided suggestions on what we can do to help the problem, such as holding our elected officials responsible. At the end of the lecture, graduate students and climate change advocates carried out an informative discussion pertaining to Ohio University’s energy source. Instead of spending money to switch from coal to gas powered energy, one student proposed that the money instead be invested in climate change awareness programs and clean solar power for our school and community.

As a young person in the climate generation, I think it is important to realize a point Dr. Sherrow stressed: we are the ones responsible for finding solutions to this global problem. However, it is also important to not give up. There is hope. I believe if we fail to remember hope, we will fail with climate change too. For this reason, I really appreciated Dr. Sherrow’s realistic, yet motivating outlook on the climate change crisis: it is not a lost cause- yet.

Thanks to programs such as The Voinovich School’s Environmental Studies Program, Al Gore’s Climate Change Reality Project and accomplished researchers such as Dr. Sherrow, people (like myself) are not only becoming aware of the problem, they are feeling a call-to-action.