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Students can now earn a graduate certificate in Appalachian studies

ISSUED: 20 February 2015
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Starting this summer, Shepherd University will offer coursework in its new Appalachian studies graduate certificate. The nondegree 15-hour program is designed to give working professionals and students a deeper understanding of the region where they live and work.

Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt, professor of English and coordinator of the Appalachian studies program, said the idea for the certificate program came from State Sen. John Unger (D-Berkeley), who was interested in taking classes in Appalachian studies and asked several years ago if Shepherd offered anything for someone who already had a college degree.

“The purpose of the Appalachian Studies Certificate is two-fold,” Shurbutt said. “It gives graduate students who are specializing in business, education, or other disciplines and fields the opportunity to pair their graduate degree with a close study of the region in which they will work. It will also give members of the community the opportunity to pursue their own interests in studying the music, storytelling, history, and literature of the region’s unique, colorful, and distinctive cultural traditions.”

Dr. Scott Beard, associate vice president for academic affairs and dean of graduate studies, said the Appalachian Studies Certificate is the first of four graduate-level certificates that will be offered by the university.  Other certificate programs in the business field are in the planning stages.

“Because we have a strong minor in Appalachian studies and a very prominent set of cultural events surrounding the Appalachian Heritage Festival and the Writer-in-Residence program, we’ve had some community members, some professionals, and some current students ask how they can continue to study in this field,” Beard said.

“What’s interesting about this program is students will be able to take a basic research course, they’ll have a practicum or project to do, and in addition to specific Appalachian studies courses, they’ll be able to choose from a set of courses in other programs or disciplines,” Beard said. “There’s a history course, an M.B.A. course on business in West Virginia, and a recreation course which focuses on environmental education. The program allows students to have a travel experience and practicum.”

Beard said this certificate would be an appropriate additional credential to add to a résumé in a variety of fields, including historic preservation, Appalachian history, and civic or government jobs.

“It allows students to have a more informed viewpoint,” Beard said. “And the program is really linked to Shepherd’s mission of lifelong learning and providing members of the community access to education. Retired members of the community have asked about taking graduate courses, and these classes would be open to most anyone as a nondegree student.”

Shurbutt will teach the first course, Appalachia in Time, Place, and People, during the second summer session in July.  She said the class orients students to the geographic, historic, political, recreational, social, and cultural issues of the region.

“The aim is to give students a strong sense of place,” Shurbutt said. “Because place is the essence of Appalachia.”

Shurbutt said she thoroughly enjoys teaching classes in Appalachian studies.

“One of the joys of being able to create and bring these Appalachian studies courses to the university and members of the community, many of whom are Appalachian themselves but perhaps have never considered what that identification might entail, is to watch the sense of discovery and appreciation for one’s heritage unfold as one learns about his or her roots,” Shurbutt said.

“I think it’s a great opportunity and something that could help Shepherd really brand itself with the uniqueness of its curriculum that we do have these opportunities outside of degree programs,” Beard said. “I think as the institution continues to evolve, these other types of credentials, certificates, offerings for nontraditional students will become a larger part of what the university does.”

Those interested in pursing a graduate certificate in Appalachian studies can enroll as a certificate-only student or can pursue the certificate while working toward any graduate degree. Admission to the program requires a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited university, a minimum 2.5 GPA, and acceptance to Shepherd’s graduate program. The certificate program requires students to take five courses and 15 earn credits.

For more information about the program visit

Listen to the interview with Dr. Beard HERE.

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