The Story of the Bluefield College Project

image of campus

Develop experiential learning opportunities: Collaboration with Appalachian communities through the Appalachian Summit Center, Bluefield, VA.

During the Sullivan Foundation’s October 2017 Ignite Retreat at Black Mountain, NC, Dr. John Bartlett and I had lunch with Dr. Sharon Perot, Dean of Graduate Studies, and David Hite, Professor of Business, at Bluefield College. Sharon mentioned her interest in social entrepreneurship as a way to abate the economic and social stress her community in Southern Appalachia is experiencing. 

She said that tourism and agriculture looked like fertile areas for social entrepreneurship. A tourism strategy could build on the success of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System (primarily ATVs). An agricultural strategy might build around the huge number of sugar maple trees that had sprung up in the area. Dr. Bartlett was intrigued by the possibilities. As co-owner of the Little River Eco-Farm in Erwin, NC, he is a social entrepreneur in his own right. John also has a background in forestry and ecology, and has strong personal connections with the region. He earned his Ph.D. is from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, about an hour and a half from Bluefield College, and his family has ties to Southwest Virginia. I also have educational and family ties with this part of Appalachia and knew the area personally from having worked as a field representative for manufacturing companies serving the coal mines. We agreed to stay in touch and explore the idea further.

During the Sullivan Foundation’s April 2018 Faculty Summit in Raleigh, NC, Sharon presented her co-founding of the Appalachian Summit Center (ASC) in fulfilment of her Sullivan Faculty Fellows Project. Dr. Bartlett and I attended her breakout session. Sharon put out an ask for assistance from the Sullivan Network and the three of us decided to arrange a field trip to Bluefield Virginia (Tazewell County), and McDowell and Mercer counties in West Virginia. Video from Sharon’s Summit presentation:

In May of 2018, Dr. Bartlett and I spent two days with Dr. Perot meeting and going on site visits with community leaders: Amelia Bandy representing SEEDH, a for profit producers cooperative and EDGE, a not for profit incubator for land-based enterprises, Jason Tartt (T&T Organics), Sky Edwards (Creekside Farms) and Gary Bowling (Gary Bowling’s House of Art a not for profit co-working space which owns the iconic Ramsey School building in downtown Bluefield West Virginia). The Southeast Economic and Educational Development Hub Cooperative (SEEDH), is directed by Dr. Crystal Cook Marshall (another VTech PhD grad). Jason Tart USDA article at

Follow-up consultations are building out an infrastructure to support experiential learning opportunities for social entrepreneurship and innovation. Dr. Perot has drafted an Appalachian Summit Entrepreneurial Internship Center Program. Dr. Bartlett looking into engagement with the ASC through Campbell’s Cape Fear River Project and Caroline Wilson’s Summer Research Project on food deserts. Caroline is a native of Weaverville, NC wants to do graduate work at VPI, and go to work in Appalachia. She is also an alum of Dr. Creed’s HON 351 Discovering Underserved Communities class. During a chance meeting with Justin Nelson, he mentioned that he used McDowell County West Virginia as a case study for HON 351, and was very interested in the possibility of using the ASC connection in the development of additional curriculum pieces.

Prepared by Dan Maynard, Sullivan Liaison, June 30, 2018