EKU Student Profile: Jacob Johnson

Jacob Johnson via Facebook

Jacob Johnson is proud to be Appalachian and to contribute to a new textbook to help raise awareness of the region.

Johnson is an undergraduate history major with a minor in Appalachian studies. He is a first-generation college student, meaning that neither one of his parents graduated from college. His mother took a few classes at a local college but never finished.

Johnson became interested in Appalachian studies because he comes from the region. An avid reader, he became more interested in Appalachia when he read Harry Caudill’s “Night Comes to the Cumberlands.” 

Caudill’s book was written in 1963. Inspired by the war on poverty, the book touches on topics of how parts of the Appalachian region were impacted by poverty. .

In the fall 2020 semester, Johnson was offered the opportunity to become an editor and writer for a new textbook. 

The textbook will be used for the Eastern Kentucky University’s APP 200: introduction to Appalachian studies, classes which can be taken by students to fulfill their social and behavioral sciences or diversity of perspectives and experiences general education requirements.

The Appalachian region, located on the east side of the United States, spans through northern Alabama and Georgia up to the southern tip of New York. From the birth of Bluegrass music to the creation of moonshine, the Appalachian region has many values of culture and diversity.

Dr. Lisa Day, the director of women’s and gender studies and Appalachian studies is the head editor of the textbook project. 

Since APP 200 is one of the most popular classes taken in the department, the textbook will be used for this class. 

In some versions of the class, the required text is a handbook that has a collection of essays talking about the history of Appalachia and the region. The open-access textbook will mimic the handbook but will better walk through the content.

Being selected as an editor for any textbook is a graduate position. At the time that he obtained the editing position, Johnson was looking for a new job on campus. This happened to be at the same time the Appalachian department had been awarded a new grant for a textbook.

“I did work hard to get to this point, but there’s that sheer element of luck. It doesn’t matter how hard I work, or how talented I am, it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” Johnson said.

Not only is Johnson editing a portion of the textbook, but he is also writing a chapter. Being a history major, Johnson is no stranger to intensive writing. 

When he went home at the beginning of the pandemic last March, he had about 50 pages of writing to do. This semester, Johnson only has about 10 pages of writing left.

Johnson is writing with Dr. Jennifer Kowslow, a mentor for undergraduate and graduate research,  about the American chestnut. 

For those that are not familiar with American chestnut; it was once one of the most important trees in the Appalachian region. The trees, however, were destroyed by a fungal disease from east Asia. The fungal disease, called Chestnut Blight, has killed five billion American chestnut trees.

“It’s a scary thing, and I do start to feel imposter syndrome, especially working on a project like this. Not only as a writer, but as an editorial assistant, it feels like I am not where I’m supposed to be at times,” Johnson said.

Johnson is enjoying his experience working on the textbook. This opportunity allows for real-world experiences and an even ground for both professors and assistants alike. 

Sometimes, when there is a chance to be an assistant to any project, the student’s work is guided by the professor or instructor in charge. 

Johnson doesn’t feel that way. He feels that the editorial assistant and professor both have even ground on this project.

“It’s such a rare opportunity and honestly an amazing thing that I have really lucked into,” Johnson said.

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