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UK APPALACHIAN CENTER SERVES, LEADS REGION'S DISTRESSED AREAS

By Selena Stevens

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"(The Appalachian Center) is an activist and intellectual Center for Appalachia.  There would be a tremendous void of research if the UK Appalachian Center didn't exist, and that would be a tremendous loss for the region."

-- Mike Mullins, director of the Hindman, Ky., Settlement School

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Sept. 15, 1999 – (Lexington, Ky.) –  From researching the causes of the Hatfield-McCoy feud to analyzing the comparison between coal communities and poverty in Eastern Kentucky, the University of Kentucky Appalachian Center over the years has become a vital link between the university, the Appalachian region and local and federal governments.

"The Appalachian Center plays an important role no one can begin to imagine," said Mike Mullins, director of the Hindman Settlement School in Hindman. "It is an activist and intellectual center for Appalachia. There would be a tremendous void of research if the UK Appalachian Center didn't exist, and that would be a tremendous loss for the region."

The center's work recently attracted national attention when a group of its students traveled to Washington, D.C., to present research findings on Appalachia to the Appalachian Regional Commission. The trip came just days after President Bill Clinton visited Eastern Kentucky to launch his New Markets Initiative, which focuses on the nation's distressed regions, including Appalachia. The students were members of the Appalachian Development seminar class; they researched development issues in eight distressed counties across five states.

The center also gains national attention for its director – widely known as one of the leading experts on the Appalachian region. History professor Ron Eller has served with the ARC as founding chair of the Kentucky Appalachian Commission, as chair of the Kentucky Appalachian Task Force and as a member of the Rural Communities Task Force of President Clinton's Council on Sustainable Development, among others. He also fills the ARC's leading academic post as the John D. Whisman Scholar.

"What makes the UK Appalachian Center stand out among other centers is Dr. Eller, its faculty and staff," Mullins said. "Their work and knowledge make the center credible and put it at the top of its field. Without them, it's just another building."

Founded in 1977 at UK, the Appalachian Center serves as a clearinghouse for information on the 13-state Appalachian region. The center also provides vital research and mapping services and supports citizens seeking positive change and community-based solutions to regional problems. With faculty members from across the university serving as associates, the center is able to tackle issues such as school consolidation, rural water planning, adult literacy programs and grassroots movements.

"We thought it was very logical to harness the power of UK and use it to help the people of Eastern Kentucky," said Julia Porter, a UK professor and assistant director of the center who helped in its organization. "We saw the center really needed to be both academic and activist. One or the other wouldn't have the same effect."

The center was one of the first of its kind at UK, bringing the talents and research of professors from across the board into one location. Under the direction of Eller, the center has become a household name for many in the region – from program managers looking for population research to media reporters looking for historical perspectives on a recent presidential initiative. The work produced by the center is so successful, Eller said, because of the personal interest of the associates, many of whom hail from the region.

"The best scholarship comes not from the head but from the gut," he said. "Passion and intensity. That makes a difference across the board. Our associates have that passion for the Appalachian region."

Because of its multidisciplinary and activist approach, the UK Appalachian Center often finds itself at the forefront of change in higher education, Eller said.

"Higher education in the 21st century will need to be much more responsive to the holistic society. We have to offer services and education that is broader and covers more ground. That's the way society is and the way we should educate."

For many Appalachian communities, the center has long provided such leadership into the world. Appalshop, a center for Appalachian arts located in Whitesburg, often turns to the center for help.

"The assistance from the center has helped us move into new technologies, and having the expertise there to rely on for grant-writing, project administration and more really took some of the burden off and allowed us to grow," said Dee Davis, executive producer of film and television for Appalshop. "Together, we have really opened up some new opportunities for the people in the region."


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