$ 1.4 million NSF grant to support tech education for post-incarceration women

LAWRENCE – Over the past 40 years, the population of women in state prisons across the United States has grown by 834 percent. While men still constitute the vast majority of the prison population, the incarceration rate for women is increasing.

Of the one million women subjected to some type of criminal justice oversight every day, 60% have a child under the age of 18. It is therefore particularly important that women leaving prison have the knowledge and skills necessary to find employment or continue their education. Yet their involvement in the criminal justice system interrupts such opportunities, and most post-prison programs connecting people to these educational and professional resources are not designed for women.

An interdisciplinary research team led by Hyunjin Seo, associate professor of digital / emerging media at the University of Kansas, Docking Faculty Scholar at the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications and fellow of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at the Harvard University has secured a $ 1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to support research that will address this challenge. The “Technology Education for Women in Transition: Expanding Participation Through Innovations” project will provide evidence-based technology education to recently released women from prison.

“I am delighted to implement our technology education program to improve their post-incarceration opportunities, especially job searches,” Seo said. “We expect technological skills to be extremely useful as they navigate different aspects of society today. “

Additional Seo Team Members:

  • Hannah Britton, Associate Professor of Political Science and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies
  • Megha Ramaswamy, Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health
  • Marilyn Ault, Director of the Advanced Learning Technologies in Education Consortia (part of the KU Learning Research Center)
  • Karin Chang, Executive Director of the Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium (part of the Institute for Policy & Social Research at KU).

KU’s work will also be supported by postdoctoral fellow Marissa Wiley and graduate and undergraduate research assistants. The team will collaborate with Baek-Young Choi and Sejun Song, both associate professors in the School of Computing and Engineering at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The KU Institute for Policy & Social Research supported the preparation of the proposal to the NSF and will manage the award.

The three-year technology education project will provide women in transition with the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills needed for job applications, employment and other post-incarceration adjustments. In addition to taking weekly classes taught at Kansas City public libraries, women will access a members-only site and associated mobile app for online tutorials and virtual dating.

“We have designed our program to meet the interests and needs expressed by the participants,” said Seo. “It will cover topics such as online resume creation and online information assessment and continue with basic coding skills and computer thinking.”

While participants focus on teaching technology, the team will also research the effectiveness of different learning modalities. They will study the association between the increase in knowledge and skills that women develop in technology education and how this affects their sense of self-efficacy and their perception of social support. In addition, the team will monitor employment and recidivism rates among participants.

Not only will this project support 300 women who adjust to life after incarceration, the team will develop online tools that participants will use to evolve this model for STEM education. Based on the evidence gathered by team members, they will create a body of knowledge that others can use to shape post-incarceration programs in other locations. This research will answer questions about STEM learning for adults, investigate mechanisms to help people cope after incarceration, identify strategies to reduce recidivism, and build on KU’s existing research on l digital inclusion for underserved populations.

“Dr. Seo’s research is impressive and exciting,” said Ann Brill, Dean of the KU School of Journalism. “Throughout this project, her goal has been to have a direct impact on the improving the lives of the women involved as well as addressing the underlying systemic issues. ”

This research team is particularly qualified to take up this multifaceted challenge. Seo is the director of the KU Center for Digital Inclusion, which provides technology education to underserved populations, including women in transition and low-income minority seniors in Kansas and Missouri. Britton has experience in researching social adjustments in underserved women and heads the Center for the Study of Injustice at the Institute for Policy & Social Research at KU. Ramaswamy of KUMC has worked with women in transition for 15 years and leads research on several sponsored research projects offering sexual health literacy programs and other related research with women incarcerated or leaving incarceration. Ault has led numerous technology education and program evaluation projects, and Chang brings years of program evaluation experience to the team, particularly for STEM education programs.

Within the UMKC team, Choi has been involved in several initiatives promoting STEM education among women and underserved groups, and Song, who heads the Trustworthy Systems and Software Research Lab at UMKC, has researched on reliable information and calculation systems and software.

Follow the team’s progress on Twitter via the Center for Digital Inclusion and search a website as well as Twitter and Facebook accounts for news and information on this research and related projects.

Photo courtesy of Hyunjin Seo.