Center for Rural Partnerships Director Has Strong Background in Community Research

March 16th, 2006 by Adam

Thaddeus Guldbrandsen, Ph.D., director of Plymouth State University’s new Center for Rural Partnerships (CRP), has spent the past 10 years engaged in research about community issues, from the challenges facing immigrants and refugees in New Hampshire communities to studies of industrial pork production, rural poverty and environmental activism at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. His strong background in research and community partnership makes him a positive and productive leader for the CRP, expanding Plymouth State’s outreach into and support of communities in central and northern New Hampshire.

Guldbrandsen, who grew up in Alton, graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 1995. He spent the next seven years completing graduate work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. After earning his Ph.D. in 2001, Guldbrandsen and his wife decided to return to northern New England. Returning to UNH to teach and research in the anthropology department, Guldbrandsen was hired in 2003 to direct the new Center for the Study of Community at Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, where he oversaw and designed educational programming and research on community issues. At the same time, Guldbrandsen and UNH anthropology professor Nina Glick Schiller conducted an extensive study on immigrant settlement in New Hampshire, funded by a $100,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

Though he was content with his work at UNH and Strawbery Banke, when he saw that Plymouth State University was seeking a director for a new rural matters center, Guldbrandsen was intrigued. As a New Hampshire native who had grown up in a small town and experienced both the joys and challenges of rural living, Guldbrandsen saw an opportunity to meld his personal convictions and professional work. He was hired to direct the new center, which opened in the fall of 2005.

“What brought me back to PSU was a vision of a regional university,” said Guldbrandsen. “Coming to PSU is about reconnecting with rural New Hampshire. I wanted to do the kind of work that really helps people…to be involved in problem-solving and creating a better quality of life, and the Center for Rural Partnerships seemed to be a great vehicle.”

As an undergraduate student, Guldbrandsen first became enticed by anthropology as a way to experience foreign travel and study, but soon realized that he was committed to understanding American society and researching ways to improve the quality of life of Americans. As a faculty member and researcher, he is committed to connecting educational institutions with local community resources and concerns.

His work at the Center for Rural Partnerships will require the same kind of mix of research, support of governmental and nonprofit organizations, communication with the community, conference and institute planning and dissemination of research findings in journals and other publications. Another goal at the center is to help PSU students experience a strong connection with their community: a “sense of place” and commitment to where they live. Guldbrandsen hopes to involve undergraduate and graduate students in research opportunities at the center.

Rural New Hampshire includes such geographical, economical and social diversity that it is impossible to precisely define all of the center’s future research opportunities, but the center’s broad areas of focus include environmental sustainability, cultural and historic preservation and economic development.

Guldbrandsen experienced a common aspect of rural life last year, when he, his wife and two children moved from Concord to Alton to be closer to extended family. They built a timber frame house on family land, using local materials and completing a lot of the building work themselves. As they finish their house, they are looking forward to helping maintain the family’s 80-acre tree farm. The experience of being an “owner-builder” has inspired Guldbrandsen to become interested in the possibilities of researching sustainable building practices for rural families who want to use local materials and labor.

Maintaining the success of local economies while supporting environmental sustainability is a huge concern for many rural families and communities, says Guldbrandsen, who is planning a lecture series at PSU that will focus on building sustainable rural economies.

“Rural communities can be vulnerable to fluctuations in fuel costs and global economics. While participating in global markets can be an important part of rural viability, there needs to be a connection of local resources like food and timber to local markets. We need to balance these local and long-distance concerns.”

The center will also help communities evaluate their own goals for preserving a rural quality of life through protecting and preserving cultural landmarks, historical places and natural features. Current projects include a partnership with the Alton Historical Society to create a historical museum and partnerships with PSU’s Center for the Environment to revitalize Plymouth’s riverfront and provide training sessions in environmental planning to land use boards in the North Country. The Center for Rural Partnerships also plans to work with the UNH Cooperative Extension to create a Community-Economic Development Institute.

Through these and other projects, Guldbrandsen hopes to look at community issues through environmental, cultural and economic lenses, building partnerships with community leaders, activists and residents to find out what aspects of rural life they want most to protect, preserve and improve.

“People know what they like about their community,” said Guldbrandsen. “We want to cultivate a dialogue. We don’t just want to identify problems, but build on the successes of rural life. The rural renaissance will come from people saying, ‘What do we want to build on?’”

To contact Thad Guldbrandsen at the Center for Rural Partnerships, please call (603) 535-3276 or e-mail tcguldbrandsen@plymouth.edu

Plymouth State University (PSU) is a regional comprehensive university offering a rich, student-focused learning environment for both undergraduate and graduate students. PSU offers 42 majors and 62 minors in programs that include education, business, humanities, arts, and natural and social sciences. The College of Graduate Studies offers coursework that promotes research, best practices and reflection in locations on- and off-campus as well as online. For non-traditional students, PSU’s Frost School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers working professionals opportunities to pursue an undergraduate degree by attending classes in the evenings, weekends and online. Located in a beautiful New England setting, Plymouth State University has been recognized as one of the “Best in the Northeast” by The Princeton Review.