Education for All: Julie Coticchia '20 Creates a Course for Inmates
This summer Julie Coticchia '20 has been editing and creating mail-correspondence courses for inmates through the College Guild, which is a nonprofit that creates educational courses for prisoners.
She was supported by the Ajmera Funded Internship Grant from Bowdoin, which is one of nearly 100 grants offered to students through a competitive process to fund their summer internships or projects.
"We're able to reach a lot of students who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to participate in education programs at their institution," Coticchia said. Prisoners who are in solitary confinement or segregated may not be able to take advantage of classes offered within the jail or prison. However, they are allowed to receive mail from the College Guild.
The courses mailed from the College Guild are not accredited courses, rather, they aim to feed a love of learning and inspire students. "A lot of our students have said that our program has made them feel human again because they can connect with someone who is giving them feedback and helping them learn," Coticchia said.
A student who sends in an application can select a course and receive units in the mail. All of the questions are open-ended. Volunteers read the digital scans of their responses and provide feedback. At the end of each course the student receives a certificate of completion.
Coticchia learned about the position through the Career Exploration and Development Center's job and internship database, eBear. The psychology major created and completed a psychology course for the organization and has also been editing other courses. She was also able to take a tour of the Maine State Prison, which motivated her to want to continue working with the imprisoned population.
"I was just really inspired by their mission—how education is not about merit necessarily but rather about curiosity and effort. What you put in is what you get out of it," she said. During the school year Coticchia volunteers with the teen center in Brunswick and also serves as one of Bowdoin's peer health mentors.
Her summer work has prompted her to reflect on the state of incarceration in the country today. Education has been shown to lessen the chances of recidivism, she said, adding, "the fact that there are places where prisoners can't access education or there's a long wait list is a part of the problem."
"It's a problem that more people should be aware of, and if you want to see a change you have to make it," she continued. Bowdoin students can volunteer as readers for the organization if they'd like to help out.