In 2014, a group of faculty began offering WashU liberal arts courses to students incarcerated at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center. Those courses grew into degree programs, which were enriched with reading groups, lectures, chess, and performances, and supported through tutors and research assistants. Since its founding, the Prison Education Project has awarded 35 degrees, launched a re-entry program, expanded to a women’s facility, and supported the design and development of a Learning Management System created by incarcerated programmers, for incarcerated students. Join us for a conversation with Sean Armstrong, dean, University College, Jim Brock, WashU 2021, PEP alumnus and re-entry alumni coordinator, Rob Henke, PEP founding director, and Kennedy Young, WashU 2022, PEP tutor and book club facilitator, who will discuss the program, the joys and challenges of learning and re-entry, and the students who amaze and inspire them. The event will be moderated by Pat Matthews, associate dean for academics, University College. 

This event is presented by University College in partnership with WashU Engage.

About our panelists 

Asquith “Sean” Armstrong, dean, University College Starting 

November 1 of this academic year, Dean Sean Armstrong officially began his leadership role at University College. Sean comes to Washington University with two decades of experience in education, first as a public high school social studies teacher in Orlando, Florida, then in an academic advisory role at what is now called Lake-Sumter State College, and then at the University of Central Florida where he was an academic administrator, designing programs and supports for students continuing their education. He also brings his own varied educational experiences to the position, beginning with a bachelor’s degree in history, a master’s degree in public personnel management, and a doctorate in higher education and policy studies. In his role at Washington University, Sean will complete the transformation of University College as a new school for continuing education, creating and expanding pathways for economic mobility and career advancement for residents of the St. Louis region.

Jim Brock, WashU 2021, PEP alumnus and re-entry alumni coordinator 

Jim Brock is the Alumni Coordinator for the Prison Education Project at Washington University in St. Louis. In this role, he serves as a primary support person and contact for PEP alumni as they transition back to the St. Louis community. Jim builds and supports the alumni network, including facilitating weekly alumni program peer meetings and, in collaboration with the Reentry Advocate, identifies resources and opportunities to benefit alumni. Jim received his Bachelor of Science in Integrated Studies from Washington University in St. Louis. 

Rob Henke, PEP founding director, professor of Drama and Comparative Literature, director of Graduate Studies, M.A. in Performance Studies 

Robert Henke is Professor of Drama and Comparative Literature at Washington University. He is the author of three books on Renaissance theater, and is presently completing, for the Arden Shakespeare series, a monograph on the influence of Italian theater on Shakespeare. He has edited four essay collections on Renaissance theater, including A Cultural History of Theatre in the Early Modern Age. He helped found the Washington University Prison Education Project, and served as Co-Director from 2014-2018 and Director from 2019-2021. In 2020, he founded the “Missouri Citizens Alliance” for a national organization called Braver Angels: a group that works for communication and empathy across political divides.

Kennedy Young, WashU 2022, PEP tutor and book club facilitator 

Kennedy is a John B. Ervin Scholar at Washington University, where she majors in Sociology and African and African American Studies with a minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is a fierce advocate for reducing reentry barriers for formerly incarcerated people and challenging punitive sentencing. A Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, Kennedy’s research currently investigates the racialized social impact of the Armed Career Criminal Act in the Eastern District of Arkansas. Her commitment to justice has led her to intern with the Arkansas Federal Public Defender Office, where she worked on client and death penalty mitigation with archival research, and ArchCity Defenders, where she provided housing-focused case management to clients. On campus, she’s worked extensively with Washington University’s Prison Education Project as a teaching assistant, writing tutor, book club facilitator, and reentry committee member. In her work, she confronts systems of oppression by materializing community care and solidarity. In July 2020, along with five others, she co-founded the STL Reentry Collective, which is a local coalition that manages a mutual aid fund and reentry resource guide for formerly incarcerated people. Since July, the Reentry Collective has raised and redistributed over $60,000 to 91 formerly incarcerated people. Kennedy’s long-term goals include pursuing a joint JD/PhD to combine scholarship, direct practice, and advocacy to combat inequality in the legal system and catalyze public justice. 

About University College 

Washington University has offered outstanding continuing education and professional programs since 1908. As the needs of their students increased, University College, the professional and continuing education division, was founded officially in 1931 and has been serving the St. Louis region ever since. While their programs and offerings have evolved, their mission has remained the same: to give adult students the opportunity to experience the excitement of attending and earning a degree or certificate from a world-class research institution. With more than 40 programs of study, you'll find degrees and certificates that will help you advance your career, explore new fields, and grow personally and professionally. Even those who aren't seeking a degree will find their place—our open enrollment policy allows students to take evening undergraduate courses on a non-degree basis while exploring their interests. 

About WashU Engage

WashU Engage is an initiative co-led by the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement and the Washington University Alumni Association, which aligns with the university’s commitment to supporting habits of lifelong learning and leadership for alumni, and advances the Gephardt Institute’s mission of cultivating informed and actively engaged citizens. The mission of WashU Engage: is to expand the current WashU Engage model and plan and produce several civic and community engagement activities throughout the year for WashU alumni and parents to deepen their connection to each other, their community, and campus life.

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