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Three Voinovich Scholars present research at first showcase of the year

Daniel Kington
February 17, 2016

Voinovich School students, faculty and staff gathered on Feb. 5 to enjoy coffee and snacks while celebrating the work of the three current Voinovich Undergraduate Research Scholars whose accomplishments were highlighted at the first Voinovich Scholar Showcase of 2016.

Holly Craycraft, research associate with the Voinovich School and coordinator of the Undergraduate Research Scholar program, hosted the showcase to offer scholars the opportunity to engage with the School, connect with one another and understand other Scholars’ work.

Bethany N. Bella, a sophomore focusing on journalism, geography and political science, presented her work with the Appalachian Watershed Research Group, which provides interdisciplinary, high-quality, applications-based watershed research.

“The Appalachian Watershed Research Group has really benefitting Southeast Ohio,” Bella said. “They’ve primarily focused on acid-mine drainage and reclaimed 42 miles of stream degraded by coal-mining and other environmentally harmful activities. That was amazing to see, but nobody really knew that that was happening.”

Consequently, Bella has worked to publicize the program and improve the group’s online presence. For example, Bella is developing a webpage for the group to be housed in the energy and environment section of the School’s website. She has also worked to develop the project’s messaging, attempting to fit the project more clearly into the larger depiction of the Voinovich School.

Junior political science and economic development student Ellenore Holbrook showcased a very different aspect of the Voinovich School’s work.

Holbrook reviewed the work conducted by assistant professor and Master of Public Administration Director Jason Jolley to complete a skill-shed analysis of Kentucky coal mining jobs, which have significantly declined in recent years. A skill-shed analysis identifies the skills individuals in a given occupation can be expected to have that are transferable into other fields. The analysis also compares requisite certifications as well as salaries and other factors.

In the analysis of coal mining jobs, Jolley was able to identify the best match for each position in the industry that has seen significant job losses. However, jobs with similar salaries tended to require higher levels of educations; coal miners are generally highly paid but need no more than a high school education. For the resulting skill-shed, this unfortunately meant that the best-matched positions typically saw tremendous decreases in salary. However, the results of the skill-shed could still be very helpful to those who previously held positions in the coal industry and are still searching for work.

Holbrook said she and Jolley plan to extend the analysis, which focused primarily on Kentucky, into other areas as well.

“We want to branch out to cover as many Appalachian counties as we can to show that the people who used to work in the coal industry have options,” Holbrook said. “These are still people, and they still need a place to work. They need jobs that offer at least comparable salaries so they can continue supporting their families.”

The third presenter was Jasper Wirtshafter, a senior economics student. Wirtshafter shared about his work with TechGROWTH Ohio, a public-private entrepreneurship support program serving the Appalachian Ohio region and part of the Voinovich School. Wirtshafter works primarily with UpGrade Athens County, an environmental nonprofit focused on energy efficiency, on projects such as the distribution of LED light bulbs and the placement of solar panels on public buildings.

Wirtshafter works in three primary roles to support the organization: identifying grants that UpGrade Athens County may apply for, helping the organization shift its status from a governmental organization to an independent nonprofit, and conducting a project analysis on the organization’s work with solar energy.

“As TechGROWTH Ohio, we’re trying to help them get started figure out which of their ideas can change Athens County,” Wirtshafter said. “There are so many people doing different energy projects in Athens County; to bring them all together and have conversations together can have a huge impact on this area.”