Dr. Roberta T. Herrin has come a long way from her modest roots as a student in a one-room schoolhouse in Roan Mountain, Tenn. However, it is perhaps this rural aspect in her background that has given her such perspective as to how to bring the Appalachian culture to life at ETSU.
Herrin earned both her B.S. and M.A. in English at ETSU in 1970 and 1972, respectively. She went on to earn her Ph.D. in English from the University of Tennessee. In 1976, Herrin returned to ETSU as a professor of English.
True to her roots, Appalachia has been a major focus of her teaching and research. She has taught courses in Appalachian literature, Appalachian women authors and Appalachian children's literature -- a field in which she is currently working on a bibliography to be published by McFarland Press. In addition, she has given presentations for professional and community organizations and various other groups, and she has authored writings in several different publications.
She recently completed nine years of service as associate dean of the School of Graduate Studies, but her passion for Appalachia eventually led her to take on the role of director of ETSU's Center for Appalachian Studies and Services (CASS), a Tennessee Center of Excellence. CASS is comprised of the Regional Resources Institute (RRI), the Carroll Reece Museum and the Archives of Appalachia. Within the RRI are the Appalachian, Scottish and Irish Studies (ASIS) Program; the Encyclopedia of Appalachia project; the Governor's School for Tennessee Heritage; the Appalachian Studies minor; the Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Program; and Now & Then magazine.
Herrin finds working with the Center, its staff and its many components very attractive. In fact, she is the first native Appalachian to lead the Center, which marks its 20th anniversary in 2004. Prior to becoming the director, she chaired the CASS Board of Directors from 1985-1993, and says that allowed her to learn about the Center through the years. "I've seen it grow to the point where it's done what it was intended to do – raise the profile of Appalachian scholarship and culture and of ETSU," she said.
However, Herrin has no intentions of resting easy on her laurels. She has several goals for the Center as well as ETSU. One of her goals is to expand the Appalachian Studies curriculum from a minor to a major, and perhaps offer a graduate certificate through the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degree program.
Also, Herrin plans to foster a continual relationship with the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, which is a major component of the ASIS Program. The ASIS Program makes connections between Appalachia and the region's major cultural progenitors, Scotland and Ireland, through formal study, cultural events, and field experiences.
Herrin also hopes to further the growth and success of the Reece Museum, the Archives of Appalachia, and the Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Program, and to raise the level of external financial support for the Center.
"Our Archives of Appalachia is nationally known," she said. "Over the past years, the collections have grown exponentially. The potential there for scholarship, research, service and visibility for the university is rich," and adding, "A museum is a core element of any university; for us to have an accredited museum is such a plus for ETSU. And the potential is unlimited for the Bluegrass Program."
Furthermore, Herrin would like to establish a collaborative relationship between CASS and the History of Medicine Museum, which is operated cooperatively by the ETSU James H. Quillen College of Medicine and the Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Herrin is also involved in the massive Encyclopedia of Appalachia project, which is winding down and should be in print in 2005 (University of Tennessee Press). "Once the Encyclopedia is published, that puts us on a whole new stage," she said. "Nothing like that exists for this region. That will spark conversation about the Appalachian region. It's a seminal work that will generate interest and direct scholarship and research in new ways."
Another area of publication that Herrin hopes to revitalize is the Center's magazine, Now & Then, which just published its last issue due to state budget cuts."The magazine has been a prominent part of CASS for years," she pointed out. "Now we have to decide if we want to rebirth the magazine or come up with some other type of publication. I see that as a central part of CASS – to be involved in publication, to have a venue for research, scholarship and issues about the region."
Excited about the opportunity to lead the Center, Herrin said, "I've watched it grow all these years, and there's so much more to do. That's intellectually exciting, and I think it will be personally rewarding."