DUNWOODY, Ga. — Georgia State University recently accepted an award from the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact to support programs aimed at transforming the lives of students and their families.
A gift of $200,000 will help expand Georgia State’s Prison Education Project (GSUPEP), and $100,000 will support the College of Arts and Sciences’ Place and Race initiative. The initiative seeks to increase financial literacy and science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) education programs in K-12 schools in southeast Atlanta.
GSUPEP operates in two state prisons, a transitional facility and 17 Department of Juvenile Justice youth development campuses. It offers for-credit and enrichment courses taught primarily by Perimeter College and Georgia State instructors.
“This meaningful gift will fund a full-time director and expand the program to other prisons, as well as help with reentry programs,” said Owen Cantrell, pedagogical coordinator of GSUPEP. Cantrell, a Perimeter College English professor, teaches in Phillips State Prison.
Jennie Ward-Robinson, co-director of operations and outreach for the Center for Studies on Africa and Its Diaspora (CSAD), said the Place and Race financial literacy initiative is an important opportunity to work with families in the Summerhill community.
“Financial literacy is a key tool for economic growth and prosperity,” Ward-Robinson said. “CSAD is grateful for this support and the opportunity to serve African American families seeking to improve their financial futures for themselves and their families."
During a special event Feb. 21, Georgia State President M. Brian Blake, Interim Provost Nicolle Parsons-Pollard and Perimeter College Interim Dean Cynthia Lester welcomed American Family representatives to Perimeter College’s Dunwoody Campus to thank them for the gift.
“Your generous gift helps these students to not see themselves as who they are right now but gives them the opportunity to see what they can become — college graduates,” Lester told the gathering.
“This partnership demonstrates the impact that a place like Georgia State can have in the classroom and in the community,” Blake said.
During the event, GSUPEP alumni shared stories about the impact the program had on their lives.
Jason Dolesenk is now a supervisor in a poultry processing plant. He began taking classes through GSUPEP while incarcerated at Phillips State Prison.
“Being denied meaningful educational opportunities as children, college in prison is an opportunity to right the wrong that most heavily contributed to marginalized persons becoming imprisoned,” Dolesenk said. “Oftentimes this is not our second chance at education, but our first significant opportunity, and an opportunity is so much more momentous than a chance.”
Isaac Sandoval, who is now working as a web designer, credited Andy Rogers, an English professor at Perimeter College, for seeing him as more than a prisoner.
“The hope you gave me and the confidence you gave me were so important,” Sandoval told Rogers. “When I came out of prison, I was able to move forward.”
Rogers said students like Sandoval helped him become a better teacher.
“The level of preparedness in the class made me really look forward to teaching these students,” he said.
“This program is based on a model of liberation of citizenship through education and is an example of how investing in a fair chance for those with a criminal record benefits everyone,” said Nyra Jordan, social impact investor at the American Family Insurance Institute. “Both programs align to our belief that to serve our communities we need to build a movement that provides access to opportunities, social and financial mobility and hope.”
Top photo courtesy of Common Good Atlanta.