Students and faculty at Western Carolina University will assist the town of Canton in its ongoing efforts to fully recover from the devastating floods of 2004, thanks to a grant from a national community-based research program.
The grant of $2,500 is one of 11 grants awarded nationally by Learn & Serve America, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service that provides support to schools, community groups and higher education institutions to foster service-learning projects.
Through the grant, students from Western’s College of Business will take part in service-learning activities to launch a new initiative, “Canton Revitalization: The Aftermath of Disaster,” designed to develop a comprehensive plan to assist the Haywood County town in its flood recovery efforts and to serve as a model for other towns to follow.
“The remnants of hurricanes Frances and Ivan left downtown Canton under as much as 12 feet of water, destroying many of the businesses and temporarily closing the paper mill that employed 1,500,” said Frank Lockwood, WCU assistant professor of entrepreneurship, one of the faculty members participating in the project. “Although the waters that flooded the physical infrastructure have receded, the water has not yet fully receded from the city’s psyche, and it continues to have a profound impact on much of the community’s interrelated educational, economic and social infrastructure.”
During the first year of the three-year project, which is now under way, students in entrepreneurship courses at Western will collect information and “best practices” strategies on community revitalization. During the second year, students will use the information to develop a downtown revitalization plan.
Other entrepreneurship students will provide consulting services to individual businesses and will work with Haywood Community College students to develop a plan for a proposed Museum of the Art and Science of Papermaking as a downtown tourist attraction. During the final year of the project, students will evaluate the program to determine how the plans may have impacted the social, economic and educational infrastructure of Canton.
“We believe that Canton will benefit tremendously from this long-term investment, as will the students who come to understand the impact of natural disaster and the complexity of community revitalization,” said William Richmond, associate professor of computer information systems at WCU. “The hope is that this project will result in the creation of a model that other colleges and universities can use in addressing the needs of their communities following significant disasters.”
The student activities in Canton will be coordinated by WCU’s Service Learning Program, which promotes experiential education that integrates community service and classroom instruction, and enhances students’ academic development while fostering social and civic responsibility.
The project is linked to WCU’s proposed Quality Enhancement Plan, a comprehensive university strategy designed to improve student learning. It is a requirement for WCU’s reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Western’s proposed QEP, “Synthesis: A Pathway to Intentional Learning at WCU,” would enhance undergraduate student learning by linking together diverse elements of the entire university experience, in and out of the classroom.
In winning the innovation grant, written by Raymond Barclay, WCU’s director of institutional research and planning, Western joins the National Community-Based Research Networking Initiative, which is being managed by Princeton University’s Community-Based Learning Initiative and the Bonner Foundation with funding support from the Corporation for National and Community Service.