Skip to main content

On the first day of class, Tim Ezzell asks his students what comes to mind when they hear the word Appalachia. Invariably, he hears words like hillbillies and moonshine. At the end of the semester, he asks the same question and instead gets answers like hard-working, family, and resilient.

In its fifteenth year, the UT class is part of a program called the Appalachian Teaching Project sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission. The project provides planning and economic development assistance to distressed communities.

This year, Ezzell’s students are taking on a unique challenge by working with the Copper Basin Learning Center to raise at least $2,000 through crowdfunding to buy a 3D printer for the community near Ducktown, Tennessee.

The project launches today, October 15, and runs until November 13. Donations can be made on the project’s indiegogo page.

DucktownThe small machine holds a lot of promise for the rural community. By exposing young people to one of the defining new technologies of their lifetime, the community can then prepare to participate in a rapidly expanding economic sector.

“Look at people like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates—two of the largest and most valuable companies on earth started with young people tinkering creatively with new technologies,” said Ezzell, political science lecturer and project director. “I think a lot of people underestimate these Appalachian youth. These are smart young people. Give them the tools and some space and I think they will surprise folks with what they can accomplish.”

The idea for a 3D printer came from last year’s class research, which investigated ways emerging technologies could impact smaller rural communities. After a survey of community members, the class found that 3D printing has the potential for a major impact on rural communities by allowing for small-scale advanced manufacturing.

“Learning these new tech skills would help the community keep pace with larger urban areas and might give them an advantage over other communities,” said Ezzell.

While Ducktown is one of the smallest communities in the state, it is one of the most progressive. Located in the Copper Basin, it supplied the copper needed for the nation to grow and win World War II. It did so at a cost, making it one of the most polluted places in the nation. Yet today, the region has recovered from that era and the town is aspiring to be the “greenest small town in the country.” It produces 60 percent of its own power using solar power and has four EV charging stations and LED lighting.

“They want to embrace new technologies and new opportunities and 3D printing fits perfectly within their vision,” said Ezzell. “What’s more, the entire Copper Basin area will benefit from this technology. Young people from other communities in the area will also have access.”

The project also tests the success of civic crowdfunding in small communities. Students will take what they learned and develop a brief guide to help small communities run their own campaigns. Students will present their findings to the ARC in Washington, DC, in December.

UT helped establish the Appalachian Teaching Project in 2000 and has worked in a half dozen East Tennessee counties. For more information about the project, visit the project website.

C O N T A C T:

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460,