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  • Writer's pictureElliot Washor

Elliot Washor's TGIF 3.18.2023

“Are you with me now?” AJ Ryder


Seated next to me on my plane ride back to San Diego from Newark was Ryan, a mechanical engineer who works for Apple. Ryan grew up in Cranston, RI. He knew about The Met but didn’t go there. When we got around to talking about colleges, he told me he went to Northeastern and loved it because of their Co-op program. This program has Northeastern students do internships and travel experiences. He said that this was the most important thing about going to college. Being able to experience work and getting to know people in the field gave him a leg up. It also gives most students at Northeastern that leg up since they have a 93% job placement rate 6 months after graduating.

It turns out that Learning to Leave has a segment devoted to Northeastern because Julie Lamers from ASA wrote a policy piece for the book and mentions that she got her interest in real world learning from her dad, Kenneth Ryder who was president of Northeastern. Kenneth Ryder wrote a book about the school’s Co-op program called Cooperative Education in a New Era. In Learning to Leave, I explain my connections to Northeastern as well and how those connections influenced me. Over the years, Northeastern has evolved their Co-op program. Similar to ImBlaze, they have a proprietary tech platform where students can find internships. The big question is why did this program not catch on at many more colleges? Why doesn’t the real world penetrate the college walls as a way to find meaning and purpose, not to mention future employment? The reality is that college is meant to do precisely the opposite. Like a monastery, colleges temporarily cloister young people from the word outside so they can think and socialize only from within its walls. Nowadays more than ever, colleges provide everything you might need inside those walls i.e. restaurants, fitness centers, theaters, medical services, etc. At a time in life where you want to explore and discover the whole world, you are subjected to a four-year experience that runs short of reflecting the diversity of the world outside its walls. Many parents feel their children are safe sending them to college and students feel a sense of security because most are not completely responsible for taking care of themselves financially.

A few days ago, I was at a College Unbound Board meeting where the difficult work of re-entry from prison and attaining college degrees was an agenda item. Some board members started talking about the failures of colleges to work with this population. They were looking for examples of college re-entry programs that were successful. I was thinking how could colleges know much about supporting people coming out of prison when they have their own re-entry problems with students upon graduation? I mentioned that unions had lots of success with working with people coming out of prison because of the sense of belonging to a community of practice, not to mention paying people to work and learn. Most colleges could offer neither of those options. Then, one board member said something like, “We have to understand, there’s a comfort level of being incarcerated. And, there’s a discomfort level of re-entering. Then, I realized the problem with colleges is they haven’t acknowledged their own problem of students feeling a comfort level inside the college and the discomfort of re-entering into the world beyond the college walls. Both prisons and schools have the same problem and have largely ignored it.

On Friday, evening I had dinner with Bip Roberts, a former major league baseball player and co-host for the Oakland A’s pre-game show. Our meeting was about the work he does with people coming out of prison. It turns out that his organization, Uncuffed has an agreement with Google to train inmates on Google certifications and upon release they have living wage work and a community of practice. Bip is also working on transitional housing. Our role in this is two-fold. First, we discussed the role College Unbound can play in enrolling people in Uncuffed for college credit and degrees. Next, his work also includes youth in the juvenile justice system starting at the age of 16. These students are eligible to be in the same Google certification program. This could be another Fellows initiative.

Then, I asked Bip what’s it like for players to re-enter from being in the bubble of professional sports? Bip’s expression said it all. They have trouble re-entering and adjusting as well. Once again, as Dennis will tell you so many athletes never finished school. Bip has access to every player on every baseball team and as a personal example he never finished college and was ready to enroll and lead the way. Finally, I read Lexi’s TGIF and saw her younger sister is involved in a re-entry program as well. Without anyone knowing what the other is doing, it is amazing how many connections there are in our BPL world to re-entry.

A few more things

When I arrived in Oakland on Thursday, I went to my hotel room and on my way I saw this sign:

It turns out that neither Equity Fellows nor I knew we were in the same city, at the same time and at the same hotel. I was in Oakland for a meeting with Paul Cobb, Publisher of the Oakland Post and eight other community newspapers in the Bay Area, Dr. Phil Polakoff and Gary Reeves. Gary set up a podcast with Paul, Phil and me called PEP. It was filmed and produced by Al Attles Jr. and Just J at the Oakland Post. We had a blast doing it.

Next time, Equity Fellows meet in Oakland they definitely have to get time with Paul. His stories from the Civil Rights era of the ‘60’s are amazing.

In this photo with Gary, Phil, Paul and me is Carla Thomas, Global Features Editor. She will be doing stories on BPL in the Bay Area.

Be well!

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