Podcast Episode 44: Teaching Neuroscience in Prison With Sam Doernberg and Joe DiPietro

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In Spring of 2015, Sam Doernberg and Joe DiPietro taught Introduction to Neuroscience to 10 students in the Auburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York as part of the Cornell Prison Education Program. In this episode Sam and Joe tell us the ways in which the class was the same and different from the large lecture version of the class they taught to undergraduates at Cornell. They also share just how rewarding the experience was for all involved.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:39 Welcome to Sam and Joe. How a grad student and an undergrad started teaching neuroscience in a prison: the Cornell Prison Education Program.

4:25 How Sam got involved as a grad student. Sam’s prior experience teaching at the Auburn Correctional Facility. Differences in the neuroscience course’s textbook and approach.

8:12 Having ten adult prisoners thinking about the neural basis for drug addiction was quite different from teaching Cornell undergrads. Other differences: no technology.

12:07 Not lowering the level of the material. Prerequisites at Cornell and the Auburn students’ preparation. Helping students with disparate preparation.

16:05 Motivation and time available. The student prisoners have jobs. The prison education program is highly selective, and the students’ motivation can be very personal.

20:05 When students are motivated by growth and self-esteem. What you see and hear at a commencement held in a prison. Students from 20-something to 60-something.

26:00 NOT finding out why your students were incarcerated. Teaching people, not prisoners. Education as a privilege.

31:24 How students perceive us when we teach. Teaching in an environment where the students value the experience.

34:53 Comparing an incarcerated student to a consumerist undergraduate.

37:52 A recent undergrad responds. College as a means to an end vs. an end in itself. The prisoners’ awareness of others’ perceptions of them.

42:15 How the experience affected Sam: he still teaches in a prison. Joe is almost done with his Ph.D. The experience re-kindled his passion for education.

47:34 How students inspire teachers. It’s difficult not to be affected by an experience like this one. Things that did not go to plan in teaching.

50:00 “Is this the way you would teach this at Cornell?” Give the students a bit more than you think they can handle. Doug makes the case for active learning.

  • In Episode 32, Bonni Stachowiak says be careful with your preconceptions.

Want to learn more and maybe even participate in a prison education program? Check out: