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Seminar students go on popular Appalachia trip

Kelly Meehan | Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Nearly 200 Notre Dame students traveled to Appalachia during fall break to participate in the Center for Social Concerns (CSC) Appalachia Seminar, making it the most popular out of the experiential and service-learning courses offered by the Center.

During the immersion experience, the students were divided into groups of approximately 10 people and dispersed to 19 different work sites in Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.

Applications for the one-credit seminar were due the first week of the school year and students were accepted based on their academic standing, said Angela Miller-McGraw, director of the Appalachia Seminar.

In addition to attending the actual fall break immersion seminar, students must attend pre and post immersion classes. During these classes, Miller-McGraw said students read assigned materials relevant to the subject matter and submit a writing component. These extra components distinguish the seminars from being defined as a service trip and allow the students to receive one credit.

“It is very important to recognize the fact that the CSC sponsors seminars, which allow students to gain credit hours through course work and service-learning immersion,” Miller-McGraw said. “This is different from a service trip, which is strictly volunteering.”

Junior site leader Lucy Summerville worked primarily on renovating a house. Summerville, along with her 11 group members, also volunteered at local schools and nursing homes to experience the culture of Appalachia.

“The trip was excellent,” Summerville said. “Everyone worked together so well. We were able to form relationships with people in our group that we usually would not have the chance to because you are too busy at school.”

Sophomore site leader Patrick O’Brien and his group worked in southern West Virginia with the non-profit organization Big Creek People in Action to renovate an elderly woman’s mobile trailer.

O’Brien and his group used the immersion opportunity to travel within their site’s region to meet and aid the people. They were also able to tour a local coal mine and go hiking in the mountains.

“The best part of the trip was interacting with the local people we met,” O’Brien said. “Most have so little, but their spirit is unparalleled. They laughed and joked with us while we worked and made a concerted effort to show us their culture.”

Students were charged a fee of $175 to participate in the Appalachia Seminar. This fee covered the transportation to the site, food and rent.

During their week-long immersion, students were lodged at various locations within their site locale such community centers and church basements.

Junior Katie McHugh, who completed her third Appalachia Seminar over fall break, said that traveling to Appalachia gave her a great opportunity to lead and to meet a new group of people.

“I would highly recommend to everyone to take the opportunity to do this trip while they are a student at Notre Dame,” she said.

O’Brien agreed that the seminar was worthwhile and hard work put into this paid off by the reaction of those he helped.

“Overall, this experience was wonderful, a definite eye-opener, and something I would love to do again in the future,” he said.