Advocating for Rural Communities

From early in her career, Shannon Elizabeth Bell (Class of 2005) knew that her research must benefit the people she was studying. Bell recently published Fighting King Coal: The Challenges to Micromobilization in Central Appalachia (MIT Press, 2016). Along with her previous book, the award-winning Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed: Appalachian Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice (University of Illinois Press, 2013), Fighting King Coal brings to light the myriad environmental injustices taking place in the coalfields of Appalachia.
Bell is currently an associate professor at the University of Kentucky. Her books and career build from her Future Generations practicum. Titled West Virginia Photovoice, her practicum bridged activism and the academy through in-depth interviews, participant observation, geospatial viewshed analysis, and document analysis.
One important insight from her graduate work with Future Generations was building from successes. She led fifty-four women in five coal mining communities through an eight month process of “telling the story” of their communities. These stories included the strengths, beauty, and challenges, as well as the participants’ ideas for change. Many ideas became realities thanks to the visibility that Photovoice provided. Roads were repaired, municipal waterlines were built, and a community park and pool were reopened. The project increased participants’ sense of efficacy and empowerment.
To learn more about Shannon Bell’s West Virginia Photovoice project, visit

Future Generations Graduate Student Works to Expand Recycling Opportunities and Education in West Virginia

West Virginia is one of the most scenic states in the Eastern U.S., if not the entire country. It’s rivers and forests, many on public lands, draw tourists from around the globe. Unfortunately, many of these beautiful landscapes are littered with trash. 

“I noticed all of the litter in these pretty natural areas and I thought that something could be done,” said Ashley Akers, a Future Generations masters candidate (Class of 2017). Originally from Charleston, Ashley moved to Elkins for an Americorps position with The Nature Conservancy. When her Americorps year ended, she accepted a job with the Randolph County Recycling Center (RCRC) and began attending meetings of the Randolph County Solid Waste Authority.
The work that Akers is doing for her degree in Applied Community Change from Future Generations overlaps heavily with her position at the RCRC. Her capstone project is to assess the possibilities for expanded recycling opportunities in Randolph County and ultimately to reduce the amount of trash that ends up in landfills or worse yet, in rivers and streams. She is looking at a number of options, including curbside pick-up, single stream recycling, and even composting.
Akers is also working to get recycling bins into school classrooms and to develop lesson plans that tie recycling to math. Students could measure, for example, how much food waste is produced in the cafeteria during a typical day. Right now, she is focusing all of her effort on Randolph County, but she is hopeful that “if we get things in place, this could be a model for other counties, other cities in the state.”