I was first introduced to BTU about five years ago when Matt Durington, executive director of community engagement and partnerships, came to speak to the College of Education about funding opportunities for community outreach programs. I quickly reached out to ask for funding to host middle and high school students from several of my partner schools in Baltimore County to visit Towson University and learn more about life in college. These recruitment efforts were impactful for our partner schools, especially the opportunity for the students to eat in the TU dining halls. Thanks to BTU, we certainly made an impression with the kids who, as they left the dining hall, stuffed their pockets with cookies from the bakery.
What I have learned since then is that BTU—Partnerships for Greater Baltimore offers much more than a free meal for middle schoolers.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU) annual meeting in San Diego California. Several months earlier, I received an email from BTU about the opportunity to present at the national conference and receive partial funding. As I read more about CUMU and the conference, I knew this was a great opportunity. But I did not realize the power of CUMU and BTU until I met national members of the association and experienced the conference firsthand. As I checked in to receive my lanyard and badge, I was greeted by TU staff who informed me that CUMU is headquartered at TU. Whaaaaat? That was just the beginning of the learning curve I would experience at the conference.
Aside from being set among palm trees with beautiful water views and delicious (free) lunches, the power of the conference was in the people and the sharing of experiences of university-community outreach programs across the nation. It is rare that I walk away from a conference with a newfound passion, new friends, and a vision for ways to make changes in my community. But I did just that.
I attended a session titled “The Ripple Effect of a Bachelor’s Degree in Prison on Social Mobility and Mass Incarceration” (see photo) with Allen Burnett and Thaisan Nguon, two formerly incarcerated men in the California prison system who both received bachelor’s degrees through California State University at Los Angeles. After life sentences with no chance of parole, both men and many of their fellow prisoners changed their life trajectories by receiving educations and, ultimately, had their sentences commuted. The power of their presentation was career altering for me. I wanted to make this happen at TU and in my own communities. After the presentation, I met further with Allen and Thaisan as well as the Towson University folks who, unbeknownst to me, were already involved in this work at TU. I left the conference space with a new vision. On the flight home, I spent several hours constructing a plan to make my new work happen. I thought of my three class sections of students enrolled in SCED 304: Education Ethics and Change course. I wanted to share with them what I experienced and link it to the Ethics of Care (Noddings, 1984) and to the due process and punishment unit that we would soon explore. Allen and Thaisan have happily agreed to meet with my classes via Zoom and share their lived experiences. I look forward to sharing this powerful experience with my students. I also look toward to working with and learning from my TU colleagues already doing this work.
The work of BTU is far-reaching and powerful and I am eager to engage more fully and learn more about the work they do at Towson University and in our communities.