Two Auburn Engineering graduate students are participating in a different kind of educational experience in Alabama’s correctional facilities. What they have found is that education goes both ways, and that they are learning as much as they are teaching.
It was an average Tuesday in Elmore, Ala., when Eliza Banu, mechanical engineering graduate student, arrived at Elmore Correctional Facility, a men’s medium-minimum security facility. A graduate teaching assistant at Auburn with pure enthusiasm for educating, she was there to teach her first solo course, “Introduction to Engineering and Mechanics Concepts,” to inmates.
Aubrey Beal, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student, had never instructed his own class before he pulled up to Easterling Correctional Facility in Clio, Ala., a medium security men’s prison, to teach an “Introduction to Vocational Electronics” class to more than 20 students. Nearly 80 inmates signed up to take his class — an overwhelming response.
Banu and Beal are the first engineering students to participate in the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project (APAEP), a grant-supported outreach initiative that has brought education and creativity to several of the state’s prisons since it was established in 2003. Administered by the College of Human Sciences, APAEP offers 14-week courses in subjects including poetry, creative writing, literature, performance, Alabama history, drawing and photography to prisoners. For the first time, engineering was added to the slate this spring.
“We decided to open a university-wide search for graduate students to teach in our program,” says Kyes Stevens, director of APAEP. “We were originally looking for only one student, but both Eliza and Aubrey applied from engineering, and there was no way we could not accept them both.”