Dr. Jessica Paull Leading Rural Scholars Program
Just like everything else around us, the Rural Scholars program is going through some changes this fall – some because of the COVID-19 pandemic; others because of new leadership.
Nonetheless, the program continues to provide opportunities for students of all ages to learn more about themselves, opportunities available to them and how to pursue their goals.
Dr. Jessica Paull is the newly appointed coordinator for the Rural Scholars program on the Columbiana County campuses and she has wasted no time making big plans for the scholars and mentors participating in the program.
“This is a very unique time to lead the Rural Scholars program and I’m excited to take advantage of the new opportunities it is offering us,” she said. “I really enjoy how this program not only provides mentoring, but also a variety of opportunities for scholars that they may not have otherwise had.”
A large part of the Rural Scholar program’s success has been based on relationships; relationships between mentors and scholars, as well as relationships between mentors and the university.
College students from the Salem and East Liverpool campuses apply, and are selected, to be mentors for middle and high school scholars. These mentor/mentee relationships are vital for personal and program successes. The pandemic and social distancing practices, however, have created new dynamics with these relationships, especially since the program will be offered in a remote fashion this year.
“We have wonderful mentors who are so dedicated to our scholars. They are the heart of the program. There would not be a Rural Scholars program without them. We have to ensure that we support our mentors so they can continue their excellent work,” Paull shared.
“Mentoring requires a close connection and, in the past, we’ve relied on face-to-face interactions in the schools and through our programming to create and maintain those kinds of connections. This isn’t an option at this point, so now we have to think outside the box,” she continued.
“Fortunately, these scholars have been raised in a digital era, where it’s the norm to interact with the different aspects of life in this way. So, digital mentoring just joins online shopping, remote classes, dating apps and every other part of our culture that has adapted to technology.”
Paull noted that having a remote program offers unique opportunities for virtual workshops and the restraints created through geography and transportation costs are gone.
“In the past, a speaker may have turned down an opportunity to lead a workshop because the campus was too far away or their schedule couldn’t allow them to leave for an entire afternoon,” she explained. “Now they can simply log in from their office. Because we don’t need to have the physical space or transportation for everyone, we don’t have to limit the number of students attending each workshop. All of our scholars can attend all of our workshops if they like.”
Having a remote or virtual program also provides opportunities for the Columbiana County participants to collaborate with the Rising Scholars programs from the other Kent State regional campuses. This allows Paull to expand programming without increasing costs.
Currently, there are eight area school districts that participate in the Rural Scholars program, with 111 student scholars. More will be added as the seventh-grade applications are processed.
This fall, the scholars will each receive workshop kits so that they can interact with the virtual sessions. The workshops vary in topics and include:
- A geologist will demonstrate the properties (ex. hardness, color, shine, breaking) of different minerals by showing the scholars how to perform a scratch test. Each scholar will be supplied with a rock and mineral kit.
- For a Halloween-themed workshop, scholars will receive a kit to construct a Play-Dough brain and learn how to dissect the various parts of gray matter.
- Chef Don from Yo Fresh will offer a live cooking demonstration. Scholars will be provided the needed ingredients so they can learn how to prepare a healthy meal from an experienced chef.
- In celebration of Veteran’s Day, Lt. Colonel Natalie Paull will lead a discussion about different military career trajectories.
- Columbiana County native and international artist Kevin Llewellyn will host a workshop, sharing his talents as an artist of life-sized oil paintings.
Paull welcomes faculty and staff from the Salem and East Liverpool campuses to become involved with the program. “What does your profession or discipline do? Could you offer an hour workshop or create an interactive online activity for seventh through twelfth graders? We would love to have our scholars work with you!”
She assumes the responsibility for the program as an extension of her position as an assistant professor of sociology on the Salem Campus.
Paull earned three degrees in sociology from Kent State University. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2003; a Master of Arts degree in 2004; and her doctorate degree in 2013.
Paull has been an instructor for Kent State University for nearly 18 years, teaching a variety of sociology courses. In 2018, she was selected as the Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Member for the Kent State Salem Campus.
Earlier in her career, she served as a research assistant in the Kent State sociology department; as a supervisor in the Survey Research Lab at Kent State; and as the principle investigator on an interpersonal research project at Kent State.
In 2018, Paull served as the co-coordinator of research and development for the Mahoning Valley Family Center, studying family benefits of affordable and accessible family centers.
Most recently, Paull served as an assistant editor for Ink Media and Design in Mahoning County, where she created an interactive online curriculum for grades 3-8.
About Rural Scholars:
The Kent State Rural Scholars Program is designed to offer local first-generation college-bound students and their families the knowledge and social support needed to succeed at a university. The ultimate goal is for each student in the program to complete a post-secondary education with credentials necessary to succeed in his or her career.
Middle school and high school students are selected by their respective schools to participate based their academic and leadership potential. Participating schools include Crestview Local, East Liverpool City Schools, Leetonia Exempted Village, Lisbon Village Exempted, Salem City Schools, Southern Local Schools, United Local Schools and Wellsville Local Schools.
The scholars participate in year-round activities that help them better understand the resources and opportunities that are available in nearby communities. Hands-on workshops and programming help them learn about careers in business, industry, manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture and technology, while other sessions provide intensive lessons in environmental sciences, health and physical science, leadership, communication and study skills.
The program also includes Kent State students who serve as mentors to the rural scholars. Each is also a first-generation college student from Columbiana County with a strong record of academic success and a desire to serve the community.