(Posted May 24, 2023)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. — Juniata College has received a $149,989 implementation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support and expand upon the humanities-centered interdisciplinary program, “Rural Experience: Fostering Narrative Imagination and Civic Curiosity.”

The Rural Experience comprises community-engaged learning opportunities coupled with coursework to create an academic secondary emphasis designation with a study-away component that will give students a comparative perspective on life in rural communities. Students and faculty involved in the project will collect oral histories, research local archival data, and examine community dynamics to understand better the lived experience of people in the rural U.S., thus advancing Juniata’s commitment to community-engaged learning as part of its mission to empower students to be engaged with themselves and the world.  

“This is our fourth award from the NEH since 2020, which underscores the importance of the humanities to our identity as a liberal arts college,” said Juniata’s Provost Lauren Bowen. “The NEH was so impressed with our proposal that they will include it in their new national initiative, ‘American Tapestry.’ Our focus on rural experiences through an interdisciplinary humanities lens resonates with the NEH’s turn toward contemporary social challenges. Providing students with meaningful engagement in their local community is central to our mission and our commitment to our location.”

Project director Amanda Page, associate professor of English, and co-director Territa Poole, associate professor of psychology, led the grant application process with assistance from Sarah Worley, director of community engaged teaching and learning, and Katie Dickey, director of grants and foundation relations. 

“Rural people have been consistently marginalized throughout history. Rural people have deep roots in their communities, and even when industry leaves, or workplaces change, there’s value in small communities where people have those long-established roots and deep commitments,” Page said. “There are lots of beautiful stories of how people have made ways for their families and how culture has grown in these regions. This is an opportunity to show the richness of rural life and a good chance to show college students the benefits of being in a small place where you really can make a difference.”

Combatting the modern narrative that economic success can only be found in suburban or urban environs, “Rural Experience” will utilize immersive experiences for students to explore the similarities and differences between life in rural Central Pennsylvania and rural Alabama. 

Citing “The People Left Behind,” a report commissioned by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967 intended to identify and address many of the challenges rural U.S. residents face, Poole described an often-overlooked demographic from whom there is much to learn. 

“We look at Huntingdon, Pa., and we look at Macon and Sumter counties in Alabama, where students will go for their study away trip. Huntingdon County’s poverty rate is around the national average, but when you look at Sumter and Macon counties, the poverty rate is two and a half to three times what it is in Huntingdon,” Poole said. “How do you explain that when there has been all this attention on rural poverty for the last 50-plus years? These are the citizens who have historically been the least attended to. Our grant is trying to bring attention back to them and change the narrative around how we understand rural life, experience, and poverty.”

Since its creation in 1965, NEH has awarded over $5.6 billion for humanities projects through more than 64,000 grants. To learn more about American Tapestry: Weaving Together Past, Present, and Future, a wide-ranging special initiative at NEH leveraging the humanities to strengthen democracy, advance equity for all, and address a changing climate, visit https://www.neh.gov/news/american-tapestry-weaving-together-past-present-and-future.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.