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Empowering young people in Appalachia was the theme of alumnus Michael Clay Carey's kickoff lecture for the Scripps Innovation Challenge

Bianca Long | Feb 8, 2018

Author and alumnus Michael Clay Carey speaks to the audience at the kickoff for the 6th annual Scripps Innovation Challenge on Jan. 31, 2018. / Photo by Jorge Castillo Castro

Empowering young people in Appalachia was the theme of alumnus Michael Clay Carey’s kickoff lecture for the Scripps Innovation Challenge

By Bianca Long

ATHENS, Ohio (Feb. 8, 2018)–High school students in Appalachia face unique and often daunting obstacles to attending college, author and alumnus Michael Clay Carey said as the featured speaker at the kickoff for the 6th annual Scripps Innovation Challenge.

“Laziness and lack of education is not the main reason why young people [of Appalachia] decide not to pursue higher education,” Carey told an audience at Ohio University’s Schoonover Center on Jan. 31. He said that often it has less to do with motivation and more to do with a lack of resources and guidance.  

Carey, a native of rural Tennessee and former journalist, is the author of the recently published book, “The News Untold: Community Journalism and the Failure to Confront Poverty in Appalachia.” An assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at Samford University in Alabama, he received his M.S. (’12) and Ph.D. (’14) from Ohio University.

This year’s Scripps Innovation Challenge focuses on finding ways to improve college readiness in Appalachia.

“It’s a way to attack the ‘lost Einstein’ issue in our own backyards, said SIC Executive Coordinator Jean Marie Cackowski-Campbell. “‘Lost Einsteins’ are people who have the abilities to become inventors and entrepreneurs, but who are disadvantaged by economic or social circumstances. The first step is getting more young people in Appalachia to invest in college readiness.”

Students competing in this year’s Scripps Innovation Challenge will work in teams or individually to come up with a strategy, tool or product to improve college readiness of Appalachian youth. The winning team will present its solution to executives of this year’s sponsor, AT&T. Winning teams will share a $3,000 prize pot.

“For Appalachian Ohio to succeed in the 21st century, its workforce needs the right skills,” said BJ Smith, director of external affairs for AT&T Ohio. “By supporting initiatives like this, we are creating opportunities for people to move into rewarding careers. We look forward to hearing the strategies that Ohio University students develop to keep high school students on the path to graduation and higher education.”

Carey said that students in Appalachia face challenges different from those in urban and suburban areas. He said geography, lower household incomes and lack of access to reliable high-speed internet all make it more difficult for students to have a chance at being successful college students.

“I believe that we have to think about challenging these dominant narratives about the way that we think about ourselves and think about the problems in these communities,” said Carey.

The Scripps Innovation Challenge is open to any Ohio University student, regardless of major. Competitors are given the opportunity to propose innovative solutions to real-world media and communication problems.

Known as one of the country’s best student innovation competitions, the Scripps Innovation Challenge allows students to challenge themselves creatively, while providing a great resume-builder for internships and jobs.

Throughout the semester, students interested in competing in the Challenge can attend workshops that will help guide them as they work on their proposed solution. The first workshop, featured Athens City School District Superintendent Tom Gibbs who focused on understanding the challenges faced by Appalachian youth thinking of attending college.

The second workshop will be held on Feb. 20 with Faith Knutsen, director of social innovation and entrepreneurship at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. She will provide a simple business model to understand the key factors for a successful change campaign.

Those entering the Challenge will need to submit a one-page summary of their proposed solution, a descriptive outline of the solution elements, and a Business Model Canvas. Finalist teams will pitch their idea to a panel of industry professionals on April 9 during the Scripps College of Communication’s Communication Week. The winning team will receive $1,500, the second-place winner will receive $750 and three honorable mention winners will each be awarded $250.

For more information about the Scripps Innovation Challenge, visit

Visit our flickr album for photos from the Scripps Innovation Challenge Kickoff.