2 Watts College-based programs to receive 2022 President’s Medal for Social Embeddedness

Students and people wearing orange jumpsuits sit on chairs in a circle in a prison classroom.

"Inside" and "outside" students and their instructors from the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program in a classroom at a state correctional facility during a recent semester. Photo courtesy ASU Center for Correctional Solutions


An Arizona State University program designed to help alumni of the foster care system overcome obstacles to succeed in higher education and a criminal justice course that includes students from ASU campuses and men and women incarcerated at Arizona state correctional facilities will receive the 2022 President’s Medal for Social Embeddedness.

Educators from Bridging Success and the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, both based at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, will accept the medal from ASU President Michael Crow at a Dec. 8 ceremony.

These two honored programs bring the total number of Watts College-based winners of the medal since 2020 to six. Two were awarded to Watts programs and one to an ASU team that included a Watts graduate student in 2021. One medal was presented to a Watts-based program in 2020.

Watts College Dean Cynthia Lietz said seeing two of the college’s signature programs honored for the important work they do fills her with pride.

“Our college is committed to building more vibrant, healthy, equitable communities,” Lietz said. “To have two of our programs identified specifically for their collaboration with community partners receive the President’s Medal for Social Embeddedness is especially meaningful.”

Enviable graduation rates for foster care alumni

Bridging Success cited three major accomplishments in the past year in its application for the award: Successfully creating an advisory council promoting and supporting higher education for foster care alumni; attaining significant increases in the admission and enrollment of such students at ASU and high retention rates; and achieving graduation rates significantly higher than the national average, said Justine Cheung, the program’s manager.

Cheung said the medal acknowledges the hard work by everyone involved with the program since its inception more than seven years ago. She said learning of the award made all those concerned “think bigger and broader about next steps to continue to move the needle forward.”

Exterior of an office above which a sign read "ASU Bridging Success"

Bridging Success office at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions in the University Center on the Downtown Phoenix campus. Photo by Mark J. Scarp/ASU

“It’s a real honor for Bridging Success to be chosen for the President’s Medal for Social Embeddedness and a wonderful way to acknowledge the amazing relationships we have with our community partners,” Cheung said. “This work, supporting higher education aspirations of young people in foster care, is so important but also incredibly challenging.”

In a recent evaluation of the program, the Watts College-based Morrison Institute for Public Policy found Bridging Success saw a 47% increase in admissions of foster care alumni to ASU and a 31% hike in enrollment, Cheung said, with an 82% retention rate that is comparable to the 86% rate for the entire university.

Moreover, while Bridging Success students have taken slightly longer to graduate than the ASU average, 53% complete their undergraduate degree, higher than the 31% national average cited by the federal Government Accountability Office, Cheung said.

‘Inside-Out’ has more than 150 alumni

Inside-Out is a program of the Center for Correctional Solutions at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry. Originally founded in Pennsylvania, it is now taught at several U.S. universities. At ASU, the undergraduate class combines 10 “outside” students with 10 incarcerated “inside” students to learn together in a prison setting, said Associate Professor Kevin Wright, the center’s director.

Inside-Out seeks “to break down the walls of the classroom and prison to empower students to positively impact their communities,” according to its award application, through increasing empathy and understanding and providing opportunities for its alumni to perform transformative work in prison as well as in the community.

Eight Inside-Out classes have been taught by six trained instructors in three prisons, with over 150 students identifying as alumni, according to Wright. Twenty-two “outside” students have enrolled in graduate school or law school and 23 “inside” students are now in the community. Zero inside students have returned to prison.

Each year, the center facilitates an art show called “Inkarcerated” with the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry for artists who are incarcerated. "Outside" and "inside" student alumni curate and exhibit the art in a professional gallery setting to be viewed and purchased by the public, with all proceeds going directly to charity.

So far, three shows have featured the work of more than 250 artists across six prisons, with more than 300 works sold. More than $23,000 has been raised for the Children First Leadership Academy, the Pinal County Family Advocacy Center, Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona, Boys & Girls Club-MLB/D-Backs Branch and the Arizona Cancer Foundation for Children.

Wright said Inside-Out has always focused on learning in the community, with the community.

“We’re excited to receive this honor acknowledging the efforts of our students, facilitators, community partners and supporters,” he said. “The President’s Medal is validation for a program that has impacted so many lives, inside and out of prison.”

Watts College-based programs and people were honored with the President’s Medal for Social Embeddedness in 2020 and 2021.

In 2021, the medal was given to two Watts-based programs, the School Participatory Budgeting and Thrive in the 05. Also that year, Stephanie Zamora, a Watts graduate student, was part of the Guadalupe COVID-19 community response team, which received the medal. In 2020, Crow presented the medal to the Watts-based Survivor Link program.

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