Friday, May 05, 2017

Master's student from Eastern Kentucky focused research on Appalachian stereotypes

Chelsea Adams with a poster of her research (UK photo)
Chelsea Adams, an Appalachian native from Lee County, Kentucky, where only 6 percent of the population has a college degree and nearly a third live in poverty, titled her master's thesis, “I Wonder What You Think of Me: Stereotype Awareness in the Appalachian Student," Amanda Nelson reports for University of Kentucky News. Adams, who earned her undergraduate degree from UK, will celebrate receiving her master's degree at this weekend's graduation.

Adams told Nelson, “My goal was to understand students’ perceptions of stereotypes and whether they think of themselves as others think of them." It was a personal subject for Adams, who grew up in a rural Eastern Kentucky town, before leaving home to attend college in urban Lexington. She told Nelson, “When I would go home, people would say ‘you’ve lost your accent,’ or ‘you think you’re big and bad now that you live in Lexington,’ and then I would return to Lexington and feel like people were thinking badly of me because I still had that country accent."

Nelson writes, "Adams recalls going back to her freshman dorm room and crying after a multicultural psychology class one day. It was dawning on her just how much her limited experience of being around people from different backgrounds influenced how she viewed others. After all, she didn’t want to be stigmatized for being from Appalachia. But was that fair, she wondered? She too was learning about her own stereotypes about people from other cultures."

Lee County, Kentucky (Wikipedia map)
Adams joined Ellen Usher, a UK researcher, as part of her research team in her Motivation and Learning Lab that "looks at what motivates students to do well in school," Nelson writes. That led to the formation of a 20-member research team that began "looking at academic motivation in rural Appalachian students and teachers for the past four years."

"For several years, Usher’s team traveled east to conduct surveys and interviews among elementary, middle, and high school students," Nelson writes. "One question asked students to describe what they think people from their community expect them to do after high school." Adams told Nelson, “For those who were struggling academically, they assumed people expect them to possibly get a job after high school. But they also contended people expected them to be a bum, to draw a check. If students are hearing no encouragement and assuming there are low expectations for them from all angles in their lives, then there’s no wonder there’s such an education gap between rural Appalachian students and those in other settings."

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