GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 27-11
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-5:30 PM


BURD, Aurora I., Physical Sciences, Antelope Valley College, 3041 W. Ave K, Lancaster, CA 93536

The California State Prison Los Angeles County in Lancaster, CA, has worked with California State University (CSU), Los Angeles since 2016 to offer inmates the opportunity to pursue a BA in Communication through classes held inside the maximum-security men’s prison. The first cohort of students is close to earning their degrees, but the CSU graduation requirement of a lab science has been a stumbling block, as the classroom facility is not a science lab and lab courses are not typically taught as correspondence courses.

Antelope Valley College (AVC), part of the California Community College system, is based in Lancaster, CA. AVC also offers classes inside the prison and the ability to earn an AA-T in Communications Studies.

In 2019, Introduction to Earth Science (including lab) was taught by AVC faculty Aurora Burd to 22 inmates at the prison. Roughly half of these students are part of the first CSU cohort while the rest are AVC students.

This is the first time a lab science has been taught inside this facility, and thought to be the first time a lab science has been taught inside any California State Prison. This course (fully transferable to both the University of California and CSU system) is a full-semester course covering an overview of geology, astronomy, meteorology, and oceanography, and the Course Outline of Record specifies that “students will examine minerals, rocks, [etc. and that] laboratory exercises will expose students to a variety of hands-on activities exploring the Earth Sciences.”

Offering the class required significant organizational effort, as a list of all desired lab materials had to be approved by the prison, then these same materials transported from the main AVC campus to the prison, where they were processed and inventoried prior to being stored in the educational facility. Some materials (such as glass plates for Mohs hardness tests) typically used in an introductory Earth science course could not be approved due to safety concerns, so alternatives had to be approved.

The course is roughly 50% complete as of the GSA abstract submission deadline, so it is too early to state whether the course has been successful. However, the students are earning grades roughly one letter grade higher than the typical students, and exhibit much greater engagement during class and more curiosity regarding the material.

  • PrisonU GSA poster 2019-09-20 1226 hrs.pdf (1.2 MB)