4th Annual Rural Studies Student Conference: Reconceptualizing Rural Contexts
By: Grace Wildermuth & Elisabeth Garner
On October 28th and 29th, 2016 Penn State’s Rural Sociology Graduate Association hosted the 4th Annual Rural Studies Student Conference at Penn State’s University Park campus. The conference provided workshops, keynote presentations, paper sessions, and networking opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students from Penn State and other institutions. We are excited to announce that this year’s conference nearly doubled its previous attendance. We had over 75 people register, from 10 different schools and organizations, with representatives from more than 15 departments and programs across the Penn State campus.
Presentations featured work on theory, methods and data, and included both domestic and international research on rural topics from many disciplines. Dr. Jennifer Sherman from Washington State University presented a keynote talk on Friday titled “Tipping the Scales: Social Change and the Growth of Inequality in the Amenity-Rich West”. Saturday’s keynote was delivered by Dr. Kimberly Pfeifer from Oxfam America and was titled “Globally Mapping Food Systems: What it Reveals and Misses.” Paper session topics included Innovations in International Agriculture, Understanding Rural Experiences Near & Far, Modernization & Growth in International Development, Labor & Livelihoods, Growing US Local Food Systems, and Space, Place, and Race. New to this year’s conference schedule were workshops. The “Ethical Considerations in Research” workshop featured an expert panel that included our two keynote speakers, as well as Dr. Rob Chiles and Dr. Kathy Brasier from Penn State’s Rural Sociology program, and broke out into group discussions where participants shared experiences and grappled with some of the many complex ethical considerations in social science research.
The success of this year’s conference is due to the quality of the research presented by both graduate and undergraduate students, the expertise provided by keynote speakers and panel members, the feedback provided by those who attended the conference, and the support of many different individuals and departments across the Penn State campus. Our own Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education was a top sponsor for the event and provided additional support from the faculty, staff, and students that was instrumental in planning and organizing this event. We are also thankful for critical sponsorships from Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College, the Social Science Research Institute, the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, the Rock Ethics Institute, and the Social Science Research Institute. Our keynote speakers were sponsored by the University Park Allocation Committee and the Office of International Programs in the College of Agricultural Sciences. The generous support from these sponsors allowed us to make this year’s event free to all attendees, aiding our goal to make this event a welcoming and accessible opportunity for all students to get feedback on their work, network with other students, and learn about the diversity of exciting research happening on rural topics.
It has been rewarding to be a part of the tremendous growth of this conference. We look forward to seeing this continue in the future and have been happy to be a part of the tradition.