Vanderbilt Universityâ€™s Rich Milner is among an alliance of researchers who have been awarded a five-year, $5,229,896 grant by the National Science Foundation (No.1931045) to forge robust pathways to STEM careers for people who are, or were, incarcerated.
The alliance, STEM Opportunities in Prison Settings (STEM-OPS), is funded as part of the NSFâ€™s INCLUDES network. The projectâ€™s mission is to make educational programming for STEM careers and college study commonplace, accessible and rigorous in U.S. prisons and reentry programs.
Partners include Milnerâ€™s new Initiative for Race Research and Justice at Vanderbilt University; Education Development Center; From Prison Cells to Ph.D.; Operation Restoration; and the Prison Teaching Initiative at Princeton University.
â€œPunishment practices in schools which result in STEM exclusion should be better understood in order to build STEM-centered supports in juvenile justice centers and prisons,â€� said Milner, Cornelius Vanderbilt Distinguished Professor of Education at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development. â€œWe need to deeply study these young peopleâ€™s marginalization as well as their racial, cultural, gendered, linguistic and geographic backgrounds in order to build practices that propel their learning and development.â€�
STEM-OPS has the following main areas of focus:
â€œKnowledge of STEM subjects is important for long-term success,â€� said Camilla P. Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development, at Vanderbilt Peabody College. â€œItâ€™s important to identify and overcome barriers that prevent studentsâ€™ access to knowledge that they will need to build careers.â€�
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.
â€œThis alliance provides an unprecedented opportunity to tackle multiple, interconnected, systemic challenges,â€� said Eden Badertscher, senior research scientist at EDC. â€œWhile addressing our nationâ€™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.â€�
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.