Mode of Program Participation

Academic Scholarship

Participation Type


Session Title

Activism, Sustainability, and The Student Experience in Appalachia

Session Abstract or Summary

As the theme of this conference suggests, Appalachian entrepreneurship, activism, arts, and community building are, in many ways, surging in exciting and uncharted ways. The importance of activism and student/community organizing remains fundamental, particularly given the diverse number of political, economic, social, and cultural challenges the region faces. College students – following in the rich tradition of student activism – face unique challenges and opportunities in this region. For example, agricultural politics, the preservation of regional food practices, and the geographic uniqueness of Appalachia affect foodway activism in the region. The complexities of Appalachian identity politics and the traditional political commitments in much of the region affect the way students approach and organize around contemporary controversies such as systemic racial violence. Our region’s historical and contemporary relationship with resource extraction color the way students see and involve themselves in class and environmental justice issues. To say the least the region is rich with unique opportunities and challenges. This roundtable discussion brings together four undergraduate students from Appalachian State University, each engaging different areas of activism, to discuss not just the unique political and social terrain they navigate in the region, but to focus that conversation on the student experience. Each student will speak briefly before Prof. Mark Bentley, Director of Debate at Appalachian State University, responds with some unifying themes and poses some priming question for an open discussion. We hope professors, graduate students, and undergraduate students will join the conversation to engage, encourage, and foster student activism in Appalachia.

Presentation #1 Title

Opening Comments on Activism and Student Organizing

Presentation #1 Abstract or Summary

This panel will open with some very brief, overarching comments on student organizing and activism before students present. These comments will serve as a frame for the featured student presentations.

At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #1

Mark Bentley is the Director of Forensics and Instructor in the Department of Communication at Appalachian State University. Mark has been involved in debate for 18 years and is currently in their eighth year as a Director and Instructor at the university level. Mark’s teams have consistently finished in the top 25 schools nationally including 2nd and 4th place finishes. Their research interests include critical argumentation, videogames, and political and religious rhetoric.

Presentation #2 Title

Cultural Complexities of Volunteering in the High Country

At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #2

Sara Mylin is a senior Accounting major at Appalachian State University. She is currently serving her second year in AppSpeaks, a student organization focused on campus and community dialogue, as the organization’s President. After graduation, Sara plans to work both with a firm and a nonprofit organization specializing in aiding victims of Human Trafficking following her graduation.

Presentation #3 Title

Appalachian Food Ways

At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #3

Karsen McGee is a sophomore at Appalachian State, double majoring in Psychology and Child Development. She plans on going to graduate school to earn a Master’s degree in School Counseling, focusing on the middle school age group. Karsen currently serves as the secretary for AppSpeaks, helping to organize a variety of student and community oriented events focused on dialogue and discourse. She is also a member of Zeta Tau Alpha.

Presentation #4 Title

Acessability and Sigma: Mental Health Awareness in Appalachia

At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #4

Alexa Tucker is currently in her junior year pursuing a degree in Communication Studies at Appalachian State University. Her research interests include feminist theory and the public discourse surrounding mental health. After completing her undergraduate degree, she plans on pursuing a graduate degree relating to feminist studies and mental health.

Presentation #5 Title

The Watauga Humane Society Club: Animal Treatment and Rescue in Appalachia

At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #5

Megan Herrschaft is a senior Advertising major in the Communication Department at Appalachian State University and a member of the Appalachian State University Debate Team. One of her many areas of interest is animal treatment and rescue activism in the community. She plans to attend graduate school and pursue a career in animal or health advocacy.

Presentation #6 Title

Appalachian Political Identity in the 2016 Presidential Election

At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #6

Chris Gentry is a Political Science and History double major at Appalachian State University. He hosts a bi-weekly podcast on the Syrian Civil War, and works in local politics. His studies focus on Middle Eastern politics and political identity in American political discourse. In Chris’s free time, he competes on the Appalachian State University Debate Team, plays quidditch, drinks absurd quantities of tea, and spends time that should be used for homework, playing video games.

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Opening Comments on Activism and Student Organizing

This panel will open with some very brief, overarching comments on student organizing and activism before students present. These comments will serve as a frame for the featured student presentations.