In her poem “Where I’m From,” Appalachian writer George Ella Lyon articulates the profound interconnectedness of place and self-identity. In rural communities, according to Amy Price Azano, this interconnectedness is a source of cultural wealth.

As the founding director of Virginia Tech’s new Center for Rural Education, Azano has studied how structural challenges related to poverty and educational inequities can adversely affect rural schools and communities. As a first-generation college student from a rural community, Azano, also an associate professor in the School of Education in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, understands these challenges both professionally and personally, but also believes in the power and promise of rural schooling.

“I am very pleased that Virginia Tech recently established the Center for Rural Education and to have the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment serve as its administrative home,” said Karen Roberto, University Distinguished Professor and executive director of the institute. “Amy is a nationally recognized expert in rural education research, practices, and partnerships, and I am confident that the center will thrive under her leadership and positively impact rural schools and communities in Virginia and beyond.”

Azano proposed the center to be a catalyst for transdisciplinary research and outreach by leveraging resources across the university and state to address equity challenges while also advocating for place-conscious educational policy at local, state, and national levels.

“Even state and federal policies written with the best intentions can be placeless and not necessarily take into account the unique ways rural schools interact with remote geographies, local economies, and communities,” said Azano. If a community does not have access to nearby health care, for example, then meeting state mandates for children with special needs can become a particular challenge. Accessing broadband internet, as observed with remote schooling during COVID-19, serves as another rural-specific challenge that will impact policy development.