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Published October 05, 2018
A collaboration established over the past three years between the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming Department of Corrections has expanded operations. The Wyoming Pathways from Prison (WPfP) program recently received grants from Microsoft and Wyoming Humanities.
Created in 2016, WPfP works to provide high-quality college courses to incarcerated men and women throughout Wyoming’s five correctional facilities at no cost through faculty, staff and supervised students who volunteer to teach courses in their areas of specialization. Now, that mission has grown, thanks to a $15,000 grant from Microsoft and a $10,000 grant from Wyoming Humanities. UW President Laurie Nichols’ office matched $5,000 of these funds.
“A lot of what we try to do with grants comes down to what our strategic vision is and what we see as our objectives and obstacles,” says Alec Muthig, one of WPfP’s founders and a trainer in UW’s Information Technology department. “We’ll write grant applications based on where we want to go. It’s a matter of trying to bring in enough money to enhance the technology and courses we offer.”
The Microsoft grant was multifaceted for WPfP, according to Muthig. Obstacles for the program include long travel distances in the state and current technology in the correctional facilities. This grant allows WPfP to expand operations, including purchasing three new sets of videoconferencing equipment, so each facility has its own; and setting up a central online portal between staff and instructors.
“We can’t travel to all of the facilities all of the time when some are very far away,” Muthig says. “We need to be able to remotely teach to them when we can, but some of the technology was very old or nonexistent.”
Now, with the ability to teach more efficiently, WPfP is creating more courses with the Wyoming Humanities grant. The program has begun to offer several new humanities courses this fall and spring semesters in all five facilities, including classes in philosophy, psychology, history and English.
“When we started grant writing around prison, we started to think how we could build critical-thinking skills with a population that, generally speaking, has not had positive classroom experiences because of troubled home lives, substance abuse or a whole variety of different factors,” says Susan Dewey, one of WPfP’s founders and an associate professor in UW’s School of Culture, Gender and Social Justice. “It’s really important we engage with incarcerated people and meet them on a level where they are. We find that, working with subjects like philosophy, we can think about ways to help people think critically -- but in ways that are innovative and relevant to them as adult learners.”
Julie Tennant-Caine, deputy administrator for the Department of Corrections, has been impressed by the response from inmates taking the courses.
“What Pathways does for them is really give them an opportunity to step outside of where they are and really think about things in a different way -- and think about how they can make better decisions in their own lives,” she says. “To have someone who comes in and cares about them has had such an impact.”
To learn more about WPfP, visit www.uwyo.edu/wpfp.