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How to Go to Prison

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People who are incarcerated are a scientifically-underserved group of people who are not able to gain access the internet, let alone science museums and lectures. They  stand to benefit tremendously from education and are often overlooked as an eager learning community. The INSPIRE program (Initiative to Bring Science Programs to the Incarcerated in Utah) seeks to tap into that opportunity and enthusiasm by bringing academic scientists inside correctional institutions to provide science lectures and conservation programs.

Developing the INSPIRE program has required creativity and persistence. The program relies on the willingness of prison and jail staff to try new strategies for programming, the time and enthusiasm of individual scientists to build engaging lectures and materials, and the hard work of a lean program staff.

INSPIRE lecture

Recognizing the potential and necessity for similar programs in other universities and other corrections facilities, INSPIRE Director Nalini Nadkarni offers “How to Go to Prison,” a concise digital document that outlines how to set up and maintain operations of the innovative project.

Navigating carceral systems can be daunting to individuals looking to launch programming, and the guide aims to demystify this process. This “How-To” guide explores some of the most challenging aspects of operating a program like INSPIRE- how to establish and maintain contact with institutions, how to evaluate programs, and how to generate project sustainability. By making the document free and publicly accessible, INSPIRE hopes to encourage other science engagement programs to expand their reach to a novel audience. Incarcerated people across the country stand to benefit from deeper science knowledge and a potential identity shift, from being unconnected to science to actively engaged with science learning.

We are interested in input from people outside INSPIRE about this guide. If you have ideas about changes to this guide, or reflections on ways it has informed a new project or activity, we welcome your comments.

This document was written by Joshua Horns, Nalini Nadkarni, Allison Anholt, Megan Young, and Jeremy Morris, School of Biological Sciences, University of Utah

STEMAP Published in Bioscience

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Beyond the Deficit Model: The Ambassador Approach to Public Engagement


Scientists are increasingly motivated to engage the public, particularly those who do not or cannot access traditional science education opportunities. Communication researchers have identified shortcomings of the deficit model approach, which assumes that skepticism toward science is based on a lack of information or scientific literacy, and encourage scientists to facilitate open-minded exchange with the public. We describe an ambassador approach, to develop a scientist’s impact identity, which integrates his or her research, personal interests and experiences to achieve societal impacts. The scientist identifies a community or focal group to engage, on the basis of his or her impact identity, learns about that group, and promotes inclusion of all group members by engaging in venues in which that group naturally gathers, rather than in traditional education settings. Focal group members stated that scientists communicated effectively and were responsive to participant questions and ideas. Scientists reported professional and personal benefits from this approach.

Read our new paper here: Bioscience_STEMAP_2019

INSPIRE Paper Published in Science Communication

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Baseline Attitudes and Impacts of Informal Science Education Lectures on Content Knowledge and Value of Science Among Incarcerated Populations

Nalini M. Nadkarni and Jeremy S. Morris

Many public audiences lack access to traditional science education. We examined baseline perceptions and the impacts of science lectures on incarcerated adults in two correctional institutions. Although incarcerated populations are often characterized as having poor educational backgrounds, being disinterested in learning, and having few tools to seek science education, our incarcerated audiences were interested in, capable of, and desirous of science education. We found positive baseline attitudes about science and a significant positive effect of science lectures on content knowledge, attitudes, and behavioral intentions related to science, suggesting that informal science lectures may be an appropriate portal to science education for this population.

Read the rest of the paper here: Baseline Attitudes INSPIRE

INSPIRE lecture