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Students Travel Back in Time to Experience Life in Rural Coal Communities

As part of an opportunity for students to integrate outside learning experiences with classroom instruction, students enrolled in CPH 644 Rural Health Disparities recently traveled to Benham and Lynch, KY, former coal camps in eastern Kentucky.

The health behavior course provides graduate students with a comprehensive overview of health and socioeconomic disparities, current programs and policies, relevant literature, public health practice, and quantitative and qualitative research pertaining to the health and well-being of rural populations.

The class took a tour of Portal 31, a mine portal in Lynch that was used by U.S. Steel, a major coal producer until the late 1960’s. The unique tour of Portal 31 employs animatronics and rear screen projection, and guests travel back in time via a mantrip, a train-like vehicle.

Melissa Brown, 2013 MPH Candidate, said the trip was amazing and that she has “newfound respect for the men who worked in the mines and their families.”

The group also toured the Kentucky Coal Mine Museum, located in Benham. The museum is housed in what served as the mining community’s company store and has one of the most comprehensive collections of mining memorabilia in the nation. The collection portrays the miner’s lifestyle, as well as the story of coal.

“The trip served as an opportunity for students to actually see and experience the qualities and attributes of rural communities that we’ve been discussing in the classroom all semester” commented course instructor Robin Vanderpool, DrPH, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Behavior. Additionally, Vanderpool said, “the trip provided insight into eastern Kentucky communities’ beauty, isolation, tight-knit social structures, and historical dependence on coal.”