September 18, 2019

EDC and Partners Awarded Federal Grant to Promote Pathways to STEM Careers for People Who Are or Were Incarcerated

STEM-OPS project expands opportunities, addresses STEM workforce shortage

WALTHAM, MASS | Education Development Center (EDC), From Prison Cells to PhD, Operation Restoration, the Initiative for Race Research and Justice at Vanderbilt University, and the Prison Teaching Initiative at Princeton University have been awarded a five-year, $5,229,896 federal grant to build a national alliance that will forge robust pathways to STEM careers for people who are, or were, incarcerated. The alliance, STEM Opportunities in Prison Settings (STEM-OPS), has been funded by the National Science Foundation as part of its national INCLUDES network. STEM-OPS’s vision is to make educational programming for STEM careers and college study commonplace, accessible, and rigorous in U.S. prisons and reentry programs.

“This alliance provides an unprecedented opportunity to tackle multiple, interconnected, systemic challenges,” said Eden Badertscher, senior research scientist at EDC. “While addressing our nation’s critical STEM workforce shortage, STEM-OPS seeks productive solutions to pay back a debt we owe to people who have been historically underserved by both our educational and carceral systems, people whose collective talent and wisdom are immeasurable.”

STEM-OPS has the following four main areas of focus:

  • STEM internships, including on-the-ground research opportunities at top-tier research universities, for formerly incarcerated people
  • The development of a national model for expanding vital STEM-in-prison programming into already existing prison education programs
  • Career readiness workshops for STEM careers
  • Development of STEM mentorship and professional networks for returning citizens

STEM-OPS will also advance knowledge of how to provide incarcerated youth with pathways to STEM education and careers, including youth who were consistently suspended and expelled from schools and eventually incarcerated.

Rich Milner, Cornelius Vanderbilt Distinguished Professor of Education and founding director of the Initiative for Race Research and Justice at Vanderbilt Peabody College, said, “Punishment practices in schools which result in STEM exclusion should be better understood to build STEM-centered supports in juvenile justice centers and prisons that deeply consider these young people’s marginalization as well as their racial, cultural, gendered, linguistic, and geographic backgrounds.”

Each of the five STEM-OPS partners brings key expertise to the alliance, has experience working in diverse socio-geographic contexts, and participates actively in other networks that are working to address systemic challenges facing incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. Alliance leadership organizations include those led by STEM professionals who have been directly impacted by the carceral system. A sixth organization, Advokat Services, will conduct the formative and summative evaluation of STEM-OPS.

Education Development Center (EDC) is a global nonprofit that advances lasting solutions to improve education, promote health, and expand economic opportunity. Since 1958, EDC has been a leader in designing, implementing, and evaluating powerful and innovative programs in more than 80 countries around the world.

From Prison Cells to PhD is a non-profit whose mission is to help inspire others with similar backgrounds to excel beyond what society and life circumstances have set to be the norm. The organization provides mentoring and educational counseling to individuals returning from incarceration so that they may position themselves to start building thriving careers.

Operation Restoration supports women and girls impacted by incarceration to recognize their full potential, restore their lives, and discover new possibilities. We work to eradicate the individual and structural barriers to higher education while establishing economic security, long term stability, and civic participation for women who have criminal convictions and their families.

The Initiative for Race Research and Justice at Peabody College –Vanderbilt University represents a group of people committed to studying unjust and inequitable policies and practices and producing high quality research and compelling findings that support equitable tools to create a more just society inside and outside of education to enhance the human condition.

The Prison Teaching Initiative (PTI) at Princeton University is made up of volunteers from around Princeton University who teach accredited college courses in New Jersey State prisons with Raritan Valley Community College and Rutgers University as part of the NJ-STEP Consortium, and in the Ft. Dix Federal Correctional Institution in partnership with Mercer County Community College.

External Evaluator:

Advokat Services specializes in identifying organizational dynamics and providing focused feedback helping institutions continually improve performance. Advokat uses time honored models as well as newer data-driven approaches to create perspective to help teams achieve results more effectively.