April 28, 2016

White House Honors Prison Education Director

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Robert Scott, executive director of the Cornell Prison Education Program, was recognized as one of 10 White House “Champions for Change” on Wednesday for his work with the Cornell Prison Education Program.
Scott joined CPEP as executive director in 2013 and since then he said the program has expanded significantly.
“When I arrived in 2013, we were at one correctional facility in Auburn, NY; today we’re at three correctional facilities, and by the end of the upcoming year, we’ll be in another one,” Scott said. “Basically, four prisons within a one-hour drive of Cornell’s campus.”
Scott said a key factor in this change has been his vision to expand CPEP through collaboration within the community, rather than Cornell alone.
“At a moment when there is receptivity to new initiatives in prison higher education, Rob stands out as a model of a leader who approaches his work with limitless energy and with complete integrity,” said Mary Katzenstein, american studies and government, a member of the CPEP advisory board.
Scott emphasized his collaborative vision for the future of CPEP.
“It’s a ‘Cornell plus many other ingredients’ vision of what is needed, so this means we have to spread ourselves all over the region,” he said. “We have to keep our doors open.”
According to Katzenstein, CPEP’s growth is largely due to both Scott’s steadfast vision and his “indefatigable” nature.
“Through all the challenges of building a relatively new program, Rob has been a steady force keeping his eye on CPEP’s mission, Katzenstein said. At a time when interest in prison education has been reignited, he has also forged ahead with real creativity to facilitate collaborations at the local, state, and national level.”
Scott said the developments he has implemented in recent years will continue as he pursues the ongoing expansion of education opportunities across the state of New York.
He highlighted that prisoners transferred with little or no warning can pose challenges to their education, but said these problems can be resolved through collaboration.
“If someone has received, let’s say, 15 credits from a prison with Cornell, and they’re sent somewhere far away, that would normally mean that they don’t have any kind of college education at all,” Scott said. “If we can all team up and get the state of New York to work with us, then we could seamlessly transfer them to another program and allow those students to maintain their identity and their life action of working on classes.”
Scott has also played an instrumental part in implementing several new programs within the three correctional facilities including a prison debate club, which will debate the Cornell Debate Team in May, and expansion to the Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus, NY.
Scott said he has also worked to help develop CPEP’s unique provision and emphasis of education in the physical sciences, in addition to the more typical humanities.
“That’s not what you’re going to find in your typical prison vocational-oriented college program, which is a lot of basic, practical skills. We’re actually trying to include a wide range of college curriculum,” Scott said. “We teach philosophy classes; we teach ethics; we introduce people to neuroscience with guest lecturers from across all the colleges at Cornell. There’s really a rich curriculum and a program of excellence that stands above the fray.”
Scott said he plans to increase the size of the program significantly in the next few years.
“We’ll reach 200 incarcerated students by the end of 2016, and we’ll probably reach over 100 volunteers and educators from Cornell campus and offer about 75 to 80 classes,” Scott said. “In the future, we’d probably like to become even larger, but really focus on wider services as well as partnering with different organizations in the Ithaca community, colleges, and correctional facilities.”