The Rural Studies Program is one of the most diverse programs available at ABAC. Possibilities are practically endless with a Rural Studies degree. Whether students are seeking immediate employment after graduation or looking to get into a graduate program, Rural Studies has the versatility to accommodate.
All of that possibility and versatility is wonderful, and maybe a bit overwhelming. To help navigate and understand life after graduating with a Rural Studies degree, past students discuss how the Rural Studies program shaped their lives, and built the foundation for future careers.
Jordan Gill, Writing and Communication
Jordan Gill graduated with a degree in Rural Studies Writing and Communications degree and is now a graduate student at Valdosta State University. Gill is eager to credit the Rural Studies program for her acceptance into graduate school. She was even told that it was rare for a student to be accepted straight out of college, but because of the Rural Studies program she had a lot of real world experience.
Gill did several internships, working at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture and with the Alzheimer’s Association. “If it hadn’t of been for the [internships] I wouldn’t have had anything to put on my application.” Thanks to the Rural Studies program, Gill was able to be invested and involved with the community. While interning, she frequently edited, advised, and wrote for a variety of purposes.
Gill was then able to use her experience to present herself as a unique and worthy candidate for graduate school. She also spoke on how unique the Rural Studies program is. “I guarantee you I was the only person that was applying to the English program that was a Rural Studies major.” She went on to explain how there are several Southern Study majors, but very few Rural Studies majors. “I was able to use Rural Studies to make me stand out.”
Jordan says that the Rural Studies program and the classes that went along with it gave her a different perspective on writing, something unique and appealing for a graduate program. Jordan was even able to travel to Nicaragua with ABAC and the Rural Studies program. She repeated multiple times that the trip was the highlight of her life.
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” said Jordan. Jordan talked of her first plane ride and her experience in Nicaragua excitedly. While in Nicaragua students were able to learn ways to sustain a community. The students worked closely with ERSLA, a program focused on community sustainability, which includes maintaining a clean water system and ensuring well-built homes.
Jordan added gratefully, “I would have never [gone to Nicaragua] without the Rural Studies program.” Jordan was able to make great connections while in the Rural Studies program. Not only was she able to travel with the program, but she was also able to make valuable and lasting connections with faculty, professors, and other students. Jordan says she misses the feeling of home and community that ABAC provided.
“I love ABAC,” she said. She went on to say that ABAC and the Rural Studies program prepared her for graduate school. For others, she said, the Rural Studies program prepared them for a wide range of employment opportunities.
Jordan expressed her amazement of how many Rural Studies majors had very different jobs. Jordan’s final note on the Rural Studies program was simple and concise, “It prepares you for life.”
Elisabeth O’Quinn graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Rural Studies Business and Economic Development. Elisabeth is currently employed at ABAC at the Stafford School of Business.
O’Quinn was quick to list off all the things she enjoyed while she was a student at ABAC. Among her many praises there were three prominent factors as a student she was grateful for: small class sizes, interpersonal relationships with faculty, and the use hands-on learning.
“In really about every class we had to do some type of presentation, some type of project.” O’Quinn said that the hands-on learning style was perfect for her. Most enjoyable were projects that worked within the community. “The experience I got in [the Rural Studies] program really helped me a lot, especially deciding what I want to do with my career.”
O’Quinn said she was a bit skeptical about the Rural Studies program at first, but because of it she was able to find a career. “Probably the most valuable lesson I learned [while in the Rural Studies program] was to just do your best. You never know who is watching. You never know who you're coming in contact with. Also, to be professional, which kind of connects to that.”
O’Quinn took a practicum with a class where she had to have 15 hours practical experience with an organization and the Georgia Peanut Commission was the one she chose. After completing the 15 hours need for the practicum, she was called by the Commission and told that they needed an intern. After an interview, O’Quinn was able to work part-time while in school.
Her next internship was with the Stafford School of Business. After interning for a while, O’Quinn applied for a full-time job at the Stafford School of Business. Soon after the interview she was hired to work full-time. O’Quinn speaks fondly of her job. “I like being behind the scenes. I do a lot of projects with Stafford Hall, get to plan events like the Manna Drop, which is a type of food drive we do.”
Despite the transition from student to staff, O’Quinn says she still gets involved with the community and students at ABAC. “I get to do a lot with this position.”
For O’Quinn, the Rural Studies program was a balance between school and community projects, which gave her the experience she needed for employment, and for building a career. Along the way she was able to become a part of a tightknit community, composed of faculty, staff, students, and leaders in the community.
Devin Gibbs, Director of Communications at Magnolia Manor, a nonprofit senior care center, left ABAC with a story that I can relate too. “I usually tell people first that I 'accidentally' ended up in the Rural Studies program. I had tried nearly everything else that ABAC had to offer.”
Gibbs, like so many among us, approached college with a general idea of where she wanted to go in life, just not how to get there. She hesitantly gave the (at the time) new Rural Studies Program a shot, “I was worried that the program would be another failed attempt at finding my place at ABAC, but I was wrong on so many levels.”
Gibbs says that, in general, the purpose of college is to make you think, but the Rural Studies program “capitalizes on that and helps you to think independently about real world problems that we are facing now and will continue to face in the future.”
Currently, Gibbs is the Director of Communications at Magnolia Manor and she says that when she came to ABAC she knew she wanted to work with seniors. “I thought that I needed to be in the nursing program to achieve the kind of career I wanted, but I quickly realized that the nursing side wasn’t for me.”
With communications she gets the same satisfaction and opportunity of hearing individual stories, something that genuinely fascinates her, without forming such close ties with them, something she struggled with in the nursing program.
Gibbs claims that, like with every job, there are pitfalls. “The challenge is changing people’s opinions about us,” the Magnolia Manor staffer said.
However, with the Rural Studies program she learned the skills needed to spearhead not only the positive aspects of work but the negative as well. “If I need to do research, I can because Dr. Njoroge taught me how. If I need to write something eloquent, I can because Dr. Newberry and Dr. Giles taught me how.
If I need to be more understanding of someone and their situation, I can because my study abroad trips to Nicaragua and India taught me how. I could go on and on, but for every challenge I come up against all the way down to interoffice communications I can think of a peer, a professor, or an advisor, that taught me how to handle that situation.”
Ashley Morris majored in Rural Studies Business and Economic Development and is now the Executive Director at the Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County Development Authority.
“The Rural Studies program has helped prepare me for my career field by teaching me an appreciation for the rural community, even more so than what I initially had.” Ashley is openly appreciative of the Rural Studies program and the people she met while a student. Specifically, Professor Earl Denham guided her and helped her gain practical experience in economic development. “[Practical experience] certainly helped me in terms of understanding terminology, statewide programs, and really having that basic book knowledge of economic development that you need to be successful in the economic development field.”
While in school, Ashley was able to have several internships that each gave her contacts to people in the economic development field. Even now she has working relationships with people she once worked with or met while interning. “I also did an internship through one of my rural studies classes with the Tift Regional Medical Center Foundation," she said.
It was a two-month internship that taught Ashley a lot about dedication and the wide variety of jobs available in the economic development field. Ashley’s internships got her into the community, where she could see in-person the effect that economic development has on people.
After graduating, Ashley continued to intern to maintain a current understanding of her work and to gain more experience. Through her internships after school Ashley was able to establish a career in a field she cares for. When Ashley first started college, “I did not know what economic development was and how it touched every sector of my life.”
Ashley continued, “I started taking two rural studies classes and fell in love with them.” Ashley then explained what economic development was. “Economic development encompasses so many different parts.”
She explained that economic development was about recruiting industry and recruiting business. “For a community economic development is the economic engine for your community.” Economic development includes, but is not limited to, tourism, recruiting retail, and bettering a community’s infrastructure.
“If you don’t have a lot of jobs in your community you don't have a lot of retail and retail touches your life every single day, jobs touches your life every single day and tourism indirectly touches your life every single day.”
Ashley’s average work day is unpredictable. “No two days are the same ever.” Ashley is definitely not complaining either; it’s clear that she loves her job because of its unpredictable nature as well as how it directly assists the community.
For future Rural Studies students who are feeling a bit timid, Ashley advises to give a couple classes a try, talk to the professors in the field that interests you, and talk to current students in that field.
Specifically, for economic development considerers Ashley says, “Economic development has so many parts that it fits a lot of people.” There is a place for the outgoing, for the shy, for the math-minded, for anyone.
As for the future of the Rural Studies program, Ashley is happy to see how far the program has grown even since she left. “I’m excited to see [the Rural Studies program] continue to grow.”