In the long list of work that Penny has done for her community, providing access to education is a key focus. Drawing from her own experiences, she has been an advocate for formerly incarcerated women and is helping eliminate barriers to higher education.
A policy pitch to help formerly incarcerated students
“The most significant difference that I made was through my participation and winning the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s first-ever Policy Pitch. My Pitch was on 'Eliminating Admissions Barriers for Formerly Incarcerated Citizens Upon Their Reentry.' As a result, the UM-Dearborn’s executive leadership team invited me to represent my pitch to them. In addition, I am now a member of the Prison Education Working Group and have given my testimony to the Faculty Senate on their behalf. I believe that my five-minute Policy Pitch is already positively affecting the lives of prospective formerly incarcerated students and the university’s perceptions of them. This prison-to-university pipeline is essential. An educated community is a safer and more productive community.”
How one experience can lead to new self-discoveries
“I have helped facilitate as a 'Guest Professor' for the Inside Out Prison Exchange class for two semesters. This past winter semester, Dr. Paul Draus and Dr. Anna Muller created something special, and I was so honored to assist with this wonderful program. There were four projects the students worked on throughout the semester. The group that I facilitated was the Inside Voices Art Show, where we displayed works of Art from currently incarcerated men. The event raised just under $3000 so far for the Youth Justice Fund for reentry services and rehabilitation.”
“After facilitating and working as a ‘Guest Professor’ for the Inside Out Prison Exchange, I know that I would like to be a lecturer. Once I complete my graduate degree in criminology and criminal justice, I would like to lecture at the college/university level. I never considered having such a goal before I came to UM-Dearborn.”
Starting a non-profit
“I plan to start a non-profit, ‘The Butterfly Project Education Grants,’ providing scholarships for women returning citizens. While attending Jackson Community College, I was one of seventeen inmates who earned Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society status. However, only twelve of us could pay the one-time $95 membership fee. I noticed a friend by herself crying and went to comfort her. She explained that she did not have anyone to pay the fee. Membership in PTK is important because research shows that 91% of PTK members graduate with an associate degree or transfer to a four-year school where they are eligible for additional scholarships. My goal with The Butterfly Project Education Grants is to raise funds to pay the PTK membership fee for all women attending college inside Michigan prisons.”