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SCIENCE Class is a winner of a 2020 Cross-Pollination Grant

What is “SCIENCE Class” and how will it fill important gaps in opportunities and services being provided within STEM?

SCIENCE Class is Science Communication with people who are Incarcerated to provide Equity and Connections through Education. Science has been historically inaccessible to and exclusionary of many demographics including adults outside of the formal education system, underrepresented minorities (including women and Black & Latinx populations), and incarcerated communities. To address these important gaps in STEM inclusion, our program aims to couple science expertise with lived experience (from some of our instructors) in order to provide education to the incarcerated community of San Diego County.  As such, we, a group of graduate students in collaboration with an equity research center at UC San Diego, are bringing science to incarcerated adults from underrepresented backgrounds in an effort to increase STEM exposure and science literacy. Thanks to a great partnership with the San Diego Sheriff's Department, our program brings an innovative educational approach centered around a small instructor-student ratio and a high degree of interactive engagement. Classes in institutional settings are frequently lecture-based, and not necessarily engaging, but our class involves hands-on activities, real hypothesis-driven experiments, and artistic exploration of scientific concepts.

How have the members of the community that will be served by "SCIENCE Class" been involved in building this proposal?

Our science classes serve one of the most vulnerable populations of the San Diego community, the incarcerated population. Our classes are specifically designed to incorporate student input so that the class material is a direct reflection of community interests. We solicit feedback from the students throughout the course and use this feedback to modify and improve our program to better respond to our students’ interests.  Examples of this include aligning several of our courses with job training programs that the students are involved in (such as culinary and construction), including a “student choice” lesson in every course where we teach about some science-related topic that the students choose, and we are currently teaching a class in Spanish to serve the large Spanish speaking population in San Diego County jails. We also encourage students to ask questions, whether they are relevant or not to the theme of the class, to ensure that we are engaging students in topics that interest them and inviting them to partake in a "knowledge exchange" where we can also learn from them. We strive to ensure the examples and topics we cover are relevant to the everyday lives of our students, including a lesson on how ancestry kits work and why the ocean in San Diego gets dirty after rain. 

What progress has already been made?

This program has been successfully running for over a year in the San Diego County jail system. It was implemented at the East Mesa Reentry Facility, a men’s facility, at the beginning of 2019. This past year, we have run 4 courses of 6 lessons each and this quarter (Winter 2020) for the first time we expanded the program to serve Las Colinas Reentry Facility, the women’s jail. We have served approximately 15 incarcerated students per course and involved a total of 16 graduate student instructors.  Our course topics have included: DNA, the science of cooking, the science of construction, marine biology, and science through the ages. Throughout the development of our program, we have established liaisons with jail administration and learned how to navigate the jail environment. We have continuously improved on how the course both teaches important scientific concepts and connects science to everyday life.

Where can we find more about your community efforts online?

You can find more about SCIENCE Class at and on Twitter.