Geography and Planning Trio selected for Fellowship

WEST LIBERTY, (W.Va.) — Three West Liberty University geographers have been selected as recipients of the Take Back Our Health West Virginia Fellowship. WLU Assistant Professor Aron Massey, and seniors Janell Loh and Ashliegh Strickland, were picked along with a dozen other fellows from universities around the state of West Virginia.

The Take Back Our Health West Virginia (TBOHWV) initiative is a multisector partnership of health, nutrition and educational organizations and professionals that focuses on improving access to healthy food, safe drinking water, and physical activity for residents of the Mountain State.

“We are proud of Professor Massey and his students who achieved this honor and we wish them well as they continue to affect change in the state and our communities,” said Dr. Cecilia Conchar Farr, Dean of the College of Liberal and Creative Arts.

According to Professor Massey, “Each recipient of the fellowship submitted a proposal for policy recommendations aimed at improving the public health concerns of West Virginians and from these proposals, the fellows were selected.”

The Hilltopper fellows are working together to increase outdoor physical activity through a project to create the West Virginia Outdoor Equity Fund, which they propose will secure, manage, and distribute grant funding to facilitate elementary school students visiting State Parks across West Virginia and engaging in recreational activities such as hiking, rock climbing, geocaching, and paddling.

The goal is to ultimately get every third-grade student into a State Park at least once during the school year.

“I think this fellowship reflects the high quality of our geography students. It has been great to work with Janell and Ashliegh on the project. It really fits well with geography as it focuses on the great natural landscapes found in our state and leverages those public spaces to help address some troubling health concerns found across Appalachia. It’s a good example of how geography can be put into action to help our communities,” Massey stated.

According to the website, the fellowship grants individual students at institutions of higher education in West Virginia an award to advance policy and systems research and share their findings with TBOHWV partners, practitioners and policy-makers. Students gain firsthand experience with public health policy and systems change by connecting with mentors and organizational partners.

Undergraduate fellows will be awarded $500. Undergraduate students are encouraged to work closely with faculty mentors. Graduate fellows will receive an award of $1,000. Graduate students are encouraged to connect their policy and systems research with state agencies, community-based organizations, and faculty mentors. TBOH Fellows may also be eligible for travel funding to present their policy and systems change research at a conference, forum or other venue.

According to one of WLU’s TBOHWV Fellows, Janell Loh, “I was happy to be part of the Take Back Our Health West Virginia policy proposal fellowship. This is the first time I have been involved in writing a policy proposal, and it was quite a challenging task. Many hours were spent helping with research to find out what policies were already in place, and figuring out what changes could be made to better meet the needs of West Virginians. I appreciated the opportunity to work with Professor Massey and Ashliegh on this project. I am hopeful that our policy proposal will end up creating some new policies that will benefit the residents of West Virginia, helping them to become healthier and more active.”

Both Loh and Strickland are from Wheeling and expect to graduate in December 2022.

All of the policy memos, including the WLU Geography proposal, will be shared now with members of the West Virginia State Legislature.

“This will hopefully lead to better health outcomes within the Mountain State,” Massey said.

The Geography and Planning major is housed in the College of Liberal and Creative Arts which offers 19 undergraduate programs, one master degree program, 20 minors, and countless opportunities for students to express their creative side and broaden their critical thinking.

For more information regarding the proposed Outdoor Equity Fund mentioned above, or to learn more about the Geography and Planning major at West Liberty University, please contact Professor Massey at


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