Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Cooperating University

University of Kentucky


Social Work

Degree Program

Social Work, PhD

Committee Chair

Lawson, Thomas

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Harris, Lesley

Committee Member

Hall, Martin

Committee Member

Moon, Hee Hyul

Committee Member

Sossou, Marie Antoinette

Author's Keywords

Place; Appalachia; migration; young adults


Confronted with negative consequences of rural youth outmigration, many rural communities are interested in how to recruit and retain young adults. Yet, attention has largely been focused on those who leave. This study thus explores the experiences of young adults who make conscious commitments to improving the communities of Appalachian Kentucky despite many obstacles and pressures to leave. Two aims were established in this pursuit: 1) Understand and provide deep description of young adults’ experience of committing to stay and work in Appalachian Kentucky and the meaning they make of these decisions and 2) Develop a context specific framework for interpretation of these decisions and processes as grounded in participant experience. Questions supporting and guiding these aims included: 1) What processes inform young adults’ decisions to live and work in Appalachian Kentucky?2) What strategies do young adults engage to maintain these commitments?And 3) How do young adults make meaning of these commitments?The nature of these questions warranted a qualitative approach designed to gain in depth understanding from individuals who have directly encountered these decisions and processes (Padgett, 2008). This study aimed at such an understandingby focusing on college educated young adults living in Appalachian Kentucky and working on social, environmental, and economic issues therein. The overall approach to the study was guided by Constructivist Grounded Theory, which included methods of participant observation, document review, and in-depth interviews with 30 young adults. Results include the development of three prominent processes identified in response to each study question, respectively: working out place, keeping peace in place, and connecting to the big picture. Combining these, a context specific framework titled doing placewas developed to illustrate the dynamic process through which young adults came to understand, engage with, and ultimately transform Appalachian Kentucky.

Included in

Social Work Commons