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2016 Appalachian Higher Education Network Conference

Increasing Postsecondary Educational Attainment: 4 Pillars of Success—Family, Community, Institutions and Self

The Appalachian Higher Education Network’s 3rd annual conference, convened June 21-23, 2016 in Kingsport, TN, provided multiple opportunities for participants to think together about increasing postsecondary access and attainment in the region and to learn from one another. The conference was anchored by the student success framework developed by Dr. Aaron Thompson, Interim President, Kentucky State University (on leave as the Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer, Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education).

Each Pillar was discussed individually in plenary session and followed by small group workshops featuring promising practices in Appalachia.

Content Menu

Presentations and Related Resources

Family Engagement Workshops

Putting Families First

Rochelle Garrett, Family Partnership Director, Partners for Education, Berea College (KY)

The Putting Families First Family Partnership provides intensive, place-based programming to families to support their engagement in their child's education. The session examined research-based programs provided as well as identified the challenges of the work in school settings in Appalachian Kentucky.


Country Roads Take Me...? College Pathways Among Rural Students and the Role of Family

Dr. Sarah Beasley, Director of Retention, Concord University (WV)

This workshop examined the important role rural students' families play in shaping students' educational aspirations and expectation and in providing various means of support. Participants looked at the small body of rural research and discussed how successful familial support can be replicated in Appalachia’s schools and universities.


Making College Home One Course at a Time

Jennifer Wilson-Kearse, Executive Director, College Access Partnerships, Appalachian State University (NC)

This workshop explored the First Year Seminar, a course at Appalachian State University that introduces students to rigorous academic study and helps them make the transition to academic life. Targeted to freshmen, the syllabus is designed to reach first-generation students and help them overcome barriers.


Great Expectations: Foster Youth Transitioning to College

Jennifer Roark, Great Expectations Program Coordinator, Southwest Community College (VA)

The Great Expectations Program, implemented at 18 community colleges in Virginia, helps individuals that have been affiliated with the foster care system transition to college. The session identified the support services the students receive.


Supportive Institutions Workshops

Bridging the High School-College Divide

Brenda Haas, Dean, University College, Shawnee State University (OH).

The presentation focused on the efforts of a small regional university in Ohio to connect with its K-12 partners by sharing information on students’ aspirations and progress.


Creating Partnerships in Appalachian Alabama

Stacy Page, Counselor; and Ronnie Miller, Principal, Hamilton High School, Marion County Board of Education (AL)

The workshop looked at the key factors in creating successful partnerships between the local school, the collegiate system, and community stakeholders. Participants were given examples and an overview of practices that have been established and proven effective.


Engaging Out-of-School Young Adults

Susie Snelick, Director, and Pam Streich, Director of Planning, North Central Workforce Investment Board (PA)

What is Human Centered Design and how can it be used to design programs that will increase outcomes for the region’s young people? This workshop described the Connection Café, and showed participants how to keep youth at the center while brainstorming possible solutions and experimenting with some rapid prototyping.


Signing Days: Not Just for Sports Anymore!

Jennifer Murphy, Director of School Counseling and Terri Douglas, Academic/Career Coach, White County Schools; and Phillip Brannon, School Superintendent, Alvin C. York Institute.

Participants traced the journey of an at-risk student as he progressed through high school and committed to his promising future at the annual Academic Signing Day event. Participants watched as staff members took a new cohort of students to meet their new school family – individuals who will prepare them for their successful lives.


Community Engagement Workshops

CMT Empowering Education: A Community College Initiative

Lucia Folk, Vice President, Public Affairs, Country Music Television (TN)

This session highlighted CMT's partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges' member schools in support of local events to encourage prospective students, specifically nontraditional and adult students - to overcome their fears of and obstacles to pursuing further education. For more information about Empowering Education visit

The Education Council: A Model for Rural Success

Kimberly Rees, Executive Director, Potter County Education Council(PA)

The Potter County Education Council offers postsecondary education and adult workforce training convenient for residents in the rural area - “Connecting you to the World through Education.” This session included information about the Council’s programs and partnerships planned on the basis of community needs.


Building Bridges: Connecting Communities to Schools

Meredith C. Fleming, Economic Development Assistant, Panola Partnership, Inc.; and La’Keldra Pride, Career and Technical Director, North Panola School District (MS)

How can your community connect to your local schools through a liaison? This session explained how one community uses its Chamber of Commerce to build that bridge and to understand the community's stake in the game.


A Broader BOLDER Approach to Education

Reuben Jacobson, Deputy Director, Coalition for Community Schools, Institute for Educational Leadership; and Elaine Weiss, National Coordinator, Broader Bolder Approach (BBA) to Education, Economic Policy Institute (DC)

The BBA advances policy strategies combining evidence-based poverty mitigation efforts with meaningful input from the community regarding its unique needs and its assets. Using BBA’s newest case study - on work in Berea, Kentucky supported by several federal grants including a community schools grant, the workshop explored how isolated, rural, and high-poverty communities can engage communities in meaningful ways to build resilience, boost student achievement, and increase high school graduation and college attendance.


Student/Self Workshops


Whitney Jenkins, Creator, What Kidz Can Do and 2016 H.S. Graduate; and Brenda Haas, Dean, University College, Shawnee State University.

"Unless someone like YOU cares a whole awful lot, NOTHING is going to get better. It’s NOT." - Dr. Seuss

Research shows that children begin developing STEM thinking around age eight. This session documented how one Ohio high school girl's love of Dr. Seuss brought STEM access to her community and shared information on how to become part of a 2017 Appalachian STEM4KIDZ challenge! Participants also learned about the role of the local University partner.


Building Inclusive, Youth-Led Spaces in Appalachia

Kendall Bilbrey, Coordinator, The Stay Together Appalachian Youth (STAY) Project

STAY, a regional youth-led network, envisions an economically and environmentally sustainable Central Appalachia where young people have the power to build and participate in diverse, inclusive, and healthy communities. The Roundtable discussion identified methods for building inclusive, youth-led spaces in Appalachia with a focus on uplifting queer and transgender youth, youth of color, and low-income youth in the region. To learn more about STAY visit

Getting to Know Your Trio Programs in Appalachia

Sharee St.Louis Smith and Holly Johnson Evans, College Access Counselors, Commonwealth Educational Opportunity Center, Morehead State University (KY)

This session introduced and/or reacquainted participants with the different TRIO programs available in Appalachia. Participants learned the mission and goal of each program and the types of students eligible.


AsU GUIDE: Entrepreneurial Mindsets for Western NC Youth

Bradley Tunstill, GEAR UP Coordinator, Appalachian State University

AsU GUIDE teaches the skills and mindsets necessary to become a successful, well-rounded student entrepreneur. The discussion focused on the program: how it works, how local partnerships benefit the students, and how data is collected and used.


Tips and Tools for the 2017-18 FAFSA

Maisha Challenger, Awareness & Outreach Specialist, Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education

This session focused on the two major changes for the 2017–18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) program. It highlighted these changes as well as identified helpful tips and tools to help individuals prepare for the October 1, 2016 launch.


Plenary Presentations

Equipping and Empowering Appalachian Students for Postsecondary Education Success

Dr. Aaron Thompson, Interim President, Kentucky State University (on leave from his position as Executive VP and Chief Academic Officer, Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.


Family Engagement Revisited

Elaine Weiss, National Coordinator, Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, Economic Policy Institute


Engaging All Stakeholders

Reuben Jacobson, Deputy Director, Coalition for Community Schools, Institute for Educational Leadership


How Rural Communities Can Support Student Success

Dennis Bega, Director of Regional Operations, U.S. Department of Education


Changing the Narrative about Appalachi - About Self

Roger May, Director, Looking at Appalachia Project


Advancing Education and Economic Mobility in Appalachia

Dr. Elizabeth Grant, Senior Vice President, Jobs for the Future