Animation as a Medium

I’ve been a huge fan of anime and animation in general for my whole life so I thought I’d use this space to share a few of my thoughts about a medium that I love.  (By the way, all the clips I added here are pretty short.)

At this point, becoming enchanted by Disney’s animated films as a young child is practically a universal experience and an integral part of growing up.  However, Disney style animation that caters towards kids is not the only kind of animation out there.  Over the last two decades Japanese animation, or anime, has seen a steady rise in popularity here in the west. And in particular, its popularity has exploded over the course of the last six years.  Back in 2012, the anime streaming service Crunchyroll had a mere 100,000 paying subscribers, making it a niche streaming service that catered to a relatively small community of fans.  However, last month the service announced that it had reached the 2 million subscriber threshold, a massive 20-fold increase in 6 years. The service now boasts over 45 million registered users and is one of the 10 largest online video streaming services out there (though it obviously lags behind leaders like Netflix).

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This charts the number of paid subscribers to Crunchyroll from September 2012 to February 2017.

Animation as a medium excels at telling stories that are fantastical in nature.  What really makes it shine is that it immediately creates a level of separation between the fiction on the screen and reality.  The fact that the show is either hand drawn or rendered immediately sets up an expectation that the world inside the story is different from reality, which makes it easier for the audience to suspend their disbelief.  To add to this, the nature of the medium also allows for the seamless integration of magical effects into the fabric of the show. When a live action show wants to add effects, the effect must usually be computer generated and then added in after filming. But, the juxtaposition between a computer rendered effect and a live actors and settings can often feel jarring and take away from the immersion.  And, an effect created at the time of filming using real-world techniques lacks the mysticism and feeling of wonder that is so important in fantasy and fairy tales for the simple reason that it can be explained with real world physics. It is far easier make an effect feel like it belongs to the world of the story in animated shows as the artist simply has to draw them both in the same art style.  Also, if we take a look back to old classics like Cinderella, many of the effects in these films probably would have been impossible to do in live action with the technology of the time. For example, I can’t imagine the fallowing scene where Cinderella’s dress transforms would have been feasible in live action with the technology available in the 1950’s.

Another benefit of the medium is that it allows for the creators to have a great deal more artistic freedom.  Creators can get away with more exaggerated expressions and actions in animation than they can in live action, again because of the separation from reality. We expect real people to act in a certain way, but the same expectations are far weaker for those that are animated.  What can reasonably feel like a hyped up battle scene in Dragonball Z would probably end up as just a bunch of dudes screaming way too loudly at each other in live action.

This is a clip from an anime called Nichijou that uses extreme and absurd reactions to great comedic effect.  Such a reaction could never even be considered in live action. It’s just not feasible and would make no sense if the show wasn’t animated.

Finally, animation in the west has this stigma as being a children’s medium.  And to be honest, with how successful Disney has become, it makes sense. But animation isn’t a medium that’s made just for kids.  Over the years it has also been used to depict topics far beyond what would be appropriate for children.  I think the best example of this would be the 1988 film Grave of the Fireflies created by Studio Ghibli and director Isao Takahata.  Yes, this is the same studio that brought us wholesome classics such as Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. But whereas those two are great children’s movies, Grave of the Fireflies is a devastating and heart wrenching drama about the true costs of war.  In this movie, animation transcends the medium and strikes at the heart of what it means to survive as a human.

Grave of the Fireflies is a fantastic film. I definitely recommend watching it, but be warned, it will make you Sad.

Youjia Wang

Edit: I noticed that in a place or two I accidentally forgot a

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Self Objectification in Black Box

Image result for black box eganJennifer Egan’s black-box is a short story told in sections comprised of 140 characters or less via Twitter. It is told from a 2nd person point of view with a semi-didactic style. The events take place in an overly patriarchal, suggestibly dystopian society. The society at hand is characterized by an exaggerated version of the self-obsession that exists in the neoliberal individualist world that we live in. Our female protagonist, which I will refer to as Lulu, is a spy that belongs to a government directly opposing the hitherto mentioned individualism. She tells us:

In the new heroism, the goal is to renounce the American fixation with being seen and recognized. In the new heroism, the goal is to dig beneath your shiny persona… The power of individual magnetism is nothing against the power of combined selfless effort. You may accomplish astonishing personal feats, but citizen agents rarely seek individual credit. They liken the need for personal glory to cigarette addiction: a habit that feels life-sustaining even as it kills you. (Black Box, 21)

Nevertheless, Lulu’s organization of ‘citizen agent’ -i.e. spies, differs significantly from a traditional espionage unit in two main ways: a) To share the information she has acquired, she need not be alive. Like the black box of a plane, there exists a technology in her that allows the organization to retract the information from her corpse. b) She not only thinks of herself as a pawn in a larger chess game against image obsessed individualism but tells us the story as if she’s utterly detached from her own identity. She acts as if she has no individual identity, i.e. she is fully depersonalized.Image result for espionage archer lana kane hot

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From an operational standpoint, there seems to be three strategies she actively deploys in relevant situations. She abuses the expectations that come from gender roles to play a non-threatening, attractive and sympathetic woman. She gives the illusion of verisimilitude by executing planned displays of vulnerability and physical affection. Lastly, she uses basic psychology to get the information she needs, e.g. “An angry subject will guard his words less carefully.” (Black Box, 13)

Now that we’ve covered the basics, I want to engage in what I consider to be the central theme of this story: self-objectification.  At the first layer of interpretation, Lulu lives her life in a depersonalized state. Then at section 31 and 32, there takes a place a violent rape scene. Her usual didactic tone starts to become more self-soothing and her instructions aim to make her feel numb as opposed to reach a patriotic objective. For the first time, we truly encounter ‘real’ self in Lulu, and her characteristically sociopathic detachment from her body functions as a defense against trauma.

In psychiatry, depersonalization disorder (DPD) is a syndrome characterized by a recurrent feeling of detachment from one’s self. DPD is usually secondary, arising from interpersonal trauma. (For more check out Simeon’s 2004 paper on depersonalization: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15089102) Now, almost from the get go, we can tell that Lulu comes from a severely troubled background. Thus, it’s more than plausible that Lulu’s transcended point of view is not just style nor an instrumental mechanism for a controlled display of her image, but also a direct result of the nature of her work and horrible events she bears.

Image result for dpd syndromeShe had decided or had been convinced that the point of her existence was to gather information for her government, and to perform adequately she had to sacrifice her private self. However, a total sacrifice of the private self is impossible, and she broke from character in face of extreme trauma. Conjoining this interpretation with the patriarchal dystopia at hand, we’re left with the following suggestion from Black Box: Playing into gender roles for the sake of establishing a task can be empowering in a certain context but can never be “truly” self-empowering; because playing into gender roles is by definition a sacrifice of self. But since an utter sacrifice of self is impossible, then an utter evasion from such sexual trauma remains impossible as well.

At 2016, Zara Dinnen has conducted an interview with Jennifer Egan in which she asked the author to elaborate on Lulu’s skepticism about the “veracity of an essential self.” Egan answered:

… a source of poignancy is in that struggle between the private self and mediated self, which in some sense is communal property. With Lulu in “Black Box” her thoughts are not even her own: they are, in some sense, owned by the state, the record of her work for them, and equally valuable whether she is alive or dead. All they need is her body. She is literally a media outlet. (“This is All Artificial” by Zara Dinnen and Jennifer Egan)

At the second layer of interpretation, I want to focus on the self-objectification that exists in our everyday ordinary life. Not only I enjoyed Lulu as a smart and mysterious character, but I felt a sense of familiarity and empathy too. I thought of the social situations in which I had to make decision between acting to be perceived in a certain way/or fit in vs. acting as my authentic self. It seemed that Lulu was hyper-cognizant of these choices except she always chose to act out the former out of patriotic duty.

Now I’m not disputing the role gender plays in the story, but the role of self-obsessed individualism can’t be dismissed either. Egan does not just criticize patriarchy, she criticizes a particular form of it. In the end. I believe that Black Box as a critique of self-objectification in our culture and gender roles is but a vital host to this phenomenon and not the source of it.

Most notable example of self-objectification is social media where a snippet of our thoughts or image that we have recorded is presented for everyone else to see and share or comment or re-appropriate. Personally, I saw the rise of social media while growing up. I was already a teenager when social media became popular, so I never felt as if I’m totally obligated to be a part of the trend -despite the social pressure.Image result for instagram kylie jenner

These days, social media – most relevantly Instagram, is not just a synthetic reality but in many cases the de facto reality with which young people learn to socialize. The old ‘different person online’ worry was that you meet someone online and they are different in real life. Now, I’m afraid of the Instagram profiles of the people I meet and get to know in real life because it might show me how they think they should be under the gaze of the perceived other.  Naturally, I wondered if Egan had similar ideas in mind whilst writing Black Box and was pleasantly surprised. I don’t present this as proof for how Black Box exemplifies my manic worries regarding the role technology plays in self-objectification; but, it’s some good food for thought:

… Instagram could just as well be titled ‘Self objectification’. Obviously when you use social media to display your experience for the benefit of others, you’re pretty close to thinking of yourself in a natural state, in terms of ‘here I am’: as an object to be perceived. The imagined viewer is always there, in other words. That’s pretty horrifying!  (“This is All Artificial” by Zara Dinnen and Jennifer Egan) 

Full interview at: http://post45.research.yale.edu/2016/05/this-is-all-artificial-an-interview-with-jennifer-egan/

And the Kids Keep on Playing – Minecraft and Its Fandom

Throughout my time in high school I worked for Open World Events, an event production company based in Philadelphia. OWE produces massive STEM-inspired events across the country for young students and families. Their largest event, Minefaire, is an Official Minecraft Community event that brings together YouTubers, their fans, and players under one roof. Minefaire has four different shows in massive convention centers across the country this year alone, with three more already planned for 2019. Each show attracts between 10,000-20,000 Minecraft fans over the course of one weekend. As a very casual gamer and a complete stranger to Minecraft, I am continually shocked by the intense fandom that surrounds the game. What seems to me to be a simple game that allows players to use basic creative skills to build worlds with 3D blocks has recently become the second best-selling video game of all time, with nearly 154 million copies sold across all platforms. In an attempt to comprehend this reality that is so distant from my own, I will explore its various components and its place in the gaming community as a whole.

A significant part of the Minefaire experience and the greater Minecraft fandom is rooted in its YouTube presence. Some of the top Minecraft channels, PrestonPlayz, TheAtlanticCraft, Popular MMOs, and Aphmau boast respective subscriber counts of 7.4 million, 4.9 million, 15.5 million, and 4 million. That’s a lot of people.

Most popular video game centric YouTube channels focus on first-person shooter video games where the YouTuber attempts to kill as many other players in the most entertaining, unique way possible. Minecraft, however, is a sandbox video game in which the player is freed from the traditional video game structure and chooses what, when, and how they want to approach the game’s content. As such, Minecraft videos on YouTube are often creative, light-hearted, comedic videos that offer unique, entertaining expositions of the game. Some titles of recent popular videos include: “I WAS CRUSHED IN MINECRAFT,” “I ONLY HAVE 10 SECONDS TO MAKE IT TO THE END,” “WHAT’S BEHIND THIS DOOR IN MINECRAFT,” “TRY NOT TO LAUGH OR GRIN MINECRAFT CHALLENGE.” Here is one of these videos from UnspeakableGaming:

As Minecraft lacks a single defined objective, YouTube videos offer alternative ways for players to experience the game. They offer challenges, new skills, and entertaining commentary to viewers. In doing so, Minecraft YouTubers fully enhance players’ experiences with the game. Many YouTubers build on this experience with their own merchandise, online forums, and other social media accounts; each channel possesses its own community and fandom of sorts. The nature of Minecraft as a sandbox game makes it such that there are infinite forms their content may take. In this sense, channels are infinitely entertaining; they never get old.

At Minefaire events, many of these “famous” YouTubers are flown in from around the world to speak at the show. Their prominence is a very unique sort of celebrity; I find it difficult to fathom how hundreds of individuals would be willing to wait hours in line for a picture with someone whose face they don’t even see on YouTube.

Here are some pictures that demonstrate the scale of this event:

While it is difficult to see in these pictures, most of the event attendees are elementary school-aged children. This ties into Minecraft’s kid-friendly nature. Players don’t kill other players, but rather flex their creative muscles to find an experience in the game that appeals to them. It is all fairly wholesome; players build worlds, interact with other players, and exercise skills directly related to STEM fields. Microsoft even has a version of the game, Minecraft: Education Edition, that is designed specifically for classroom use.

The entire premise of Minefaire itself is to highlight these educational benefits of the game. Through workshops, educational speakers, YouTuber Q&A’s, and more, young students learn how their experience with the game applies to the real world.

This passage from an article about Minefaire’s show in Philadelphia last week highlights this:

“…father Chris Gordon was his two young daughters’ escort to an alternative digital universe of biomes, precious ores, the Creeper, and other creatures well-known to youngsters around the globe as Minecraft.

‘I love it — just to see the creativity. This one’s 2 years old,’ Gordon said, nodding to daughter Charlotte, ‘and she can build her own world.’

‘I like that you can do creative stuff,’ agreed sister Elizabeth, 9.”

Source: http://www2.philly.com/philly/news/minecraft-minefaire-jack-beck-oaks-expo-20181013.html]

Minecraft is a refreshing departure from other popular video games and their fan bases. It offers an educational, family-friendly, fun alternative to gaming. Unlike the League of Legends World Championship and the intense fandom that envelops the world of Esports, Minecraft and its community events have yet to be overrun by large corporations and overwhelming, world-class production. Minefaire is truly a community event, and this reflects the grounded nature of the game and of the social aspect of the larger community. Minecraft fans commit to the game for the sake of the game itself.

And the kids keep on playing. 

The Rise of the Female Gamer

Historically, games have been designed with males in mind. When game developers are creating a new game, they are focused on pleasing the male consumer because males have been the greater part of the gaming population. However, according to Entertainment Software Association, since 2006, the share of female gamers has risen from 38% to 45%. Now with almost half of the population of gamers being female and the female gamer continuing to rise, the context of the gaming tale is changing.

The old gaming culture is very male-centered. Male characters were often the only option of player. When a female character was featured, she was often over sexualized or acted as the damsel in distress. A common focus of games is a male character journeying and defeating foes to save the woman and be rewarded with her undying love.

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Source: https://www.deviantart.com/nintega-dario/art/Mario-Carrying-Peach-698670534

Sporting games based of professional sports, such as NHL, 2k, and FIFA, are available for male teams only.Unknown-4.jpeg

Other wildly popular games consist of men killing each other over and over and over again. Call of Duty, a game ranked in the top 10 games of all time on almost every source, is a first person shooter game that originally takes place in World War II (however, spin off games take place in other settings of warfare). This male dominated video game features only male characters, despite the fact that according to a survey done by Steam, 48% of women play Call of Duty.

Don’t get me wrong, many girls do play and enjoy these games, however they follow a very male centered narrative that has recently seen a shift due to the rise of the female gamer. The time for males to be the sole owners of the label “gamer” is ending. Game developers have realized that almost half of their consumers are female and are adapting accordingly to satisfy their customers.

Character choices have started to include both men and women. From being able to compete as Princess Peach in Mario games to Mrs. Pacman, women are now represented in the action.  In 2017, Sledgehammer Games released Call of Duty WWII, which added female soldiers. This not only appeals to the women gaming audience, it is also historically accurate. According to History.com, more than 350,000 women joined the military during the second World War.

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Additionally, a new game called Iconoclasts is one of the best selling games of 2018. The main character, Robin, a female, must defeat enemies, solve puzzles, and venture past obstacles in order to escape the authoritarian group “One Concern” that has just overthrown the government. Games that have female lead characters are popular among the female and male gaming communities.

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Due to the rise of the female gamer, the narrative of gaming has seen a shift to a more female inclusive environment. This feminist wave that society is currently undergoing, sometimes referred to as Third Wave Feminism, has caused for a demand for female diversity in gaming. Females are now more comfortable picking up a controller and playing a game knowing that they can be represented by another female and the ladies who have been long time gamers can feel included in the world of games.

Cassidy Tynan

When will the Fortnite fad fade?

For the last year, it has been basically impossible to avoid hearing about Fortnite. For those of you who have somehow escaped its ubiquity, Fortnite is an online, multiplayer battle royale game in which 100 competitors skydive onto an island, collect weapons and materials, and fight each other to be the last player standing. Cultural icons like Drake and Chance the Rapper have garnered hundreds of thousands of livestream views while playing, parents hire Fortnite tutors for their children, and as of July, the game’s developer Epic had earned over $1 billion from in-game purchases.

Sure, the game is fun, but its gameplay isn’t all that different from other battle royale games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, so its success feels outsized. What made it so much better than other offerings that it became unprecedentedly popular, not just within the gaming community, but in our larger popular culture as well?

What sets Fortnite apart from the rest of the field is its contagious spirit of creative whimsy. Unlike other shooter games that seek to emulate reality as closely as possible like Call of Duty or Battlefield, Fortnite makes sure not to take itself too seriously. Its candy-colored weapons include a disco ball grenade that makes your opponent dance uncontrollably. Players can earn or buy cartoonish character skins that include a gingerbread man, a tomatoheaded pizza fanatic, and a nightmarish nutcracker. You can even collect dance moves and celebrations including a sarcastic slow-clap or a dab:

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Source: https://giphy.com/gifs/A4R8sdUG7G9TG

Fortnite intentionally eschews expectations to create a weird, engrossing world that stands at the intersection of gaming and imagination. And while other games have prioritized originality and playfulness before, Fortnite invites players to join in on the creativity. In recent months, YouTube has exploded with players’ “highlight reels,” which are compilations of game clips that exhibit their skill or funny moments in Fortnite. From such videos, professional gamers like Ninja and Tfue have built huge fan followings, regularly receiving millions of views on their videos. Take the following highlight reel from player FatPlanet85542 for example: 

The video exhibits serious skill at the game, just as a highlight reel from any video game would. But what sets this apart, and has made such videos so popular for players to both watch and make, is the creative expression that Fortnite affords players in creating them. The background music, Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” is an upbeat anthem that gives the video a carefree tone. The intertextuality at play in combining gameclips with popular music feeds Fortnite’s reputation of being not just a videogame, but a freestanding member of the zeitgeist in its own right.

The video humorously zooms in on the faces of opponents just before the FatPlanet kills them, poking fun at their last moments in a moment of dark humor that only seems to work because of the juxtaposition of cartoonish graphics and mortality:

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Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DroHKIx_FZU

At one point, the player does the worm dance as an opponent tries to kill him, a display of braggadocio and skill that makes it all the more entertaining when he gets up from the dance and kills the opponent. The video concludes with one final joke as the player tosses up an image of a tombstone just before he kills the final opponent to win the game:

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Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DroHKIx_FZU

As this highlight reel shows, Fortnite has made playing the game about more than just winning; it challenges you to play creatively, think outside the box, and share how imaginative you can be with an audience of millions of other players. Not only does this drive fan engagement and build a crucial subculture of paying customers, but it has kept the game relevant for far longer than most cultural fads in the internet age.

In the spirit of this post, I have tried my hand at creating my own Fortnite highlight reel. It is not nearly as impressive as the ones referenced above, but I sought to emulate all of its best characteristics: repurposed cultural references from outside of Fortnite, some exciting plays, and a spirit of whimsy. Check it out below:

  • Joe Lovinger

Subverting Tropes in Video Games

Tropes and subversion are nothing new. Tropes range from Chekhov’s Gun to the oft-maligned “110%”. It is hard to define exactly what a trope is, but sites like tvtropes.org exist solely to track and explain tropes that exist in all forms of media. And where there are tropes, there are creators and creative minds trying to avoid being too cliché. Marvel films have received great critical acclaim for finding humorous and interesting ways to subvert the tropes audiences have come to expect in superhero movies. The Cabin in the Woods is a famous example for intentionally subverting as many tropes as possible present in the horror film genre. When any work plays with expectations, it feels fresh, new, and exciting. This is especially true in traditional forms of media because the mediums are old enough for writers and critics alike to thoroughly understand them.

But video games have their own tropes. Press A to jump. Sure, you jump a lot, so the button closest to your thumb makes the most sense as the jump button. The standard progression through a series of levels to reach an eventual conclusion and end game screen is a trope. It makes sense from a game design perspective, and allows developers to break up their games into smaller chunks that give players more obvious checkpoints and frequent feelings of accomplishment. Usually, tropes make sense.

Unlike other forms of media, though, some video game tropes exist simply because they have always existed. Some have good reason, others do not. Nearly every 2D platformer – think Super Mario Bros. or Donkey Kong – starts with the player moving to the right. There is no objective superiority to going right instead of left, and yet because games exactly like Super Mario Bros. featured levels in which the player only ever progressed from left to right, nearly every other game that has followed in its footsteps has done the same. Being able to defeat enemies by jumping on their heads is another trope that came out of Super Mario Bros. It makes little sense – why is jumping on something the only way to kill it? When was the last time you saw someone get into a fight and win it by planting their feet onto the top of their adversary’s skull? The limited combat in the early games that defined the medium was born from the limitations of the platforms they were developed on, and yet even as technology has progressed and we have the possibility to create combat systems in games that are much more complex, the notion of jumping onto an enemy to knock them out remains present in a surprising number of games. Some, like Yooka-Laylee and even more recent Mario titles like Super Mario Odyssey, still even focus on it as the primary means of combat, trying to use nostalgia as a driving element in their design.

But not every game falls victim to the oft dubious tropes common in the industry. While many games are happy to include left-to-right movement and jump-centric combat, others like to ask questions and reconsider the assumptions most games and gamers make about the medium.

Undertale is one of the most popular examples of a game that strives to do exactly this. The question it asks is, “Are enemies really enemies? Do you need to fight them?” And with that question, it toys with its players’ expectations. It puts the player into combat against monsters with the cursor automatically hovering over the fight option, and it fully expects its players to fight and slay the creatures. At the end of the game, however, it asks players if what they did was really necessary. Who was the real monster – the aggressive invader slaying creatures in their home, or those same creatures trying to defend themselves and their society against that invader? The game encourages players to play the game again, and it quickly becomes obvious that it is possible to end every encounter peacefully. The game takes on a lighter, happier tone as you progress through a second, pacifist playthrough, and the empty landscapes the player experienced on their first run are instead vibrant and filled with the life that had been killed on the first run.

It’s a really simple question that Undertale asks, and yet it makes a lot of sense. Most traditional forms of media do not involve slaying monsters and frequent combat, so why are those elements deemed almost vital to video games? Is it fun? Can’t we have fun some other ways, too?

Another great example of subversion is the game Antichamber, which really aims to question everything about the medium. If you’ve got the time, this introduction to the game (with commentary from the developer) exemplifies what it is about: 

The gist, if you couldn’t watch it, is that we don’t need to take anything for granted. Falling down into a pit doesn’t have to be defeat for the player. A choice need not be whether to go left or right – why not turn around? A wall isn’t even necessarily a wall. Just walk through it.

Next time you’re playing a game, maybe ask a few questions. It is easy enough to get used to something and expect that to be the way it will always be. But in a medium so new and unexplored, we have a lot of interesting things we can do outside of the tropes we’ve built up around it.

STEM Education for Everyone

In this day and age, there has been a major push towards encouraging previously underrepresented populations into the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Most specifically, there has been a major focus on STEM programs for young women, such as Girls Who Code and Scientista. However, there are many other underrepresented populations who have a passion for and interests in STEM, including those who many still disregard, such as students in prison. The importance of rehabilitation over punishment and penalization has been increasingly studied and understood, especially in the wake of increased incarceration rates due to the war on drugs. According to College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons by Christopher Zoukis, published in 2014, he states that 2.3 million people make up the United States prison population, with over 70% of those in prison being non-violent. The rate of recidivism, the rate in which people return to prison, decreases by an astounding amount when an individual in prison invests in their education. According to Zoukis’s data, the rate of recidivism for those with high school diplomas is 55%, and goes down to a return rate of 5.6% with a bachelor’s degree.

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So why specifically STEM Education? In its program’s mission, STEM-ucate Initiative for Reentry explains: “Recidivism research indicates that education and/or vocational training drastically reduces an individual’s chance of returning to prison. The STEM-ucate Initiative for Reentry (SIR) will educate formerly incarcerated individuals, develop their STEM skills, and provide them with the resources needed to succeed after incarceration in the 21st Century.” STEM-ucate is unique even for a reentry program because of its focus on both the education and preparation for STEM field jobs. This program has taken experts in their fields and used their knowledge and connections to not only educate men and women in prison, but to use their connections to help the students create their own network in the STEM field of their choice. Additionally, STEM-ucate uses predictive information about future large job markets such as IT to make sure their students aren’t just getting the education, but are hopefully able to put it to use as they build their new life outside of prison. 

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Dr. Lauren Wolf, a former teacher of Math in New York State Prisons, who now works with SIR.

In addition to STEM-ucate, there are other programs, such as STEPs to STEM, created by chemistry professor, Jannette Carey, and astronomy professor, James Gunn of Princeton University. This educational pilot program hopes to shift the school-to-prison pipeline to “a statewide STEM pipeline within an integrated program of community college education throughout the state prisons of New Jersey.”  These types of programs are crucial because those who find themselves involved with the criminal justice system are often left to fend for themselves once released. This might manifest as being expected to leave prison after having served their time with no resources or specific skillset to help them find a sustainable job. If the purpose of prison is to have people learn from their prior mistakes and come out a better person,  they must have the support and education in order to do so.

Leah Fogel

References:

Department of Chemistry, editor. “PRINCETON SPONSORED PRISON STEM EDUCATION PROGRAM RECEIVES NSF INCLUDES AWARD.” Department of Chemistry, edited by The Trustees of Princeton University, 13 Sept. 2016, chemistry.princeton.edu/news/princeton-sponsored-prison-stem-education-program-receives-nsf-includes-award.

Stem-ucate Initiative Reentry, editor. “Stemucate Initiative.” Stem-ucate Iniative Reentry, stem-ucateinitiativeforreentry.org/.

Zoukis, Christopher. “College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons.” Prison Education, 2014, prisoneducation.com/prison-education-facts/prison-education-reduces-recidivism/.