Sather, a University of San Diego Theatre Arts major, spent time in Texas and Kentucky visiting prison sites, speaking with prison officials and even prisoners, including one that has been a pen pal since last year and is in a maximum-security facility in Gatesville, Texas. Her visits to different sites were linked to research for “The X Project.” The X stands for Xavier, her pen pal with whom she co-wrote a one-act play, yet only met face-to-face for the first time this summer. Sather’s project is part of a bigger goal: to connect incarcerated youth and theatre production as a constructive rehabilitation/healing method.
Sather (pictured, third from left) provided a few key statistics:
• Three million people in the United States are in jail and 95 percent are released back into their communities.
• The national recidivism rate is 67 percent for those who go to prison, but commit another crime and return to jail within two years; the recidivism rate for California youth is 70 percent and incarcerated youth are three times more likely to enter adult prisons.
“I want to do this work because it does work,” she said during her presentation at last Thursday’s UC San Diego Summer Research Conference. She spoke about shadowing prison theatre program directors in Houston and La Grange, Ky., and about a documentary, “Shakespeare Behind Bars,” that spotlights an adult prison theater program. She said that witnessing the prisoners’ transformation demonstrated “the beauty of theater, seeing them come together for something that can change and save their lives.”
Sather’s presentation was one of 24 given by 26 USD Summer Scholars at the conference in La Jolla. The event attracted nearly 250 college students from local and national institutions as well as Puerto Rico and Guam. Research topics included K-12 education, social justice in education, various physical, behavioral, chemical and environmental sciences, engineering, computer science/math, international relations/political science and one text, art and activism.
“This conference is the starting point for our rising juniors in the McNair Scholars program,” explained USD Director Shelley Barajas-Leyva who had 18 students from the program among USD’s conference contingent. “They do eight weeks of research and at the end of the summer, they gain experience presenting their research and they’ll also turn in a paper.”
The McNair Scholars participants were: Diana Velazquez, Daniela Conde, Miranda Stratton, Jessica Andrade, Ruby Teague, Jessica Gomes, Denise Ambriz, Bianca Haro, Nicholas Nobles, Hannah Wolf, Yajaira Hernandez Trejo, Michelle Crawford, Elise Turner, Justin Miller, Karissa Valencia (pictured, below left), Daniela Perez, Lauren Ortiz, Fernando Masias and Daren Ginete.
Eight additional USD Summer Scholar presenters were: Sather, Gordon Nash, Nicole Stenoish, Brian Benedicks, Anne Heaton, Daniel Huh, Damien Vira and Elizabeth Webster. The latter, Webster co-presented with Stratton on a chemistry project that examined petroleum-relevant organosulfur compounds.
Student research presentations included an examination of Latino Catholicism as an approach to understand and promote parental engagement (Velazquez); Whether watershed development affected turbidity in the U.S. Virgin Islands (Teague); Examination of Beijing, China’s middle class (Wolf), Significance of youth participation for the future of the political system in South Africa and Mexico (Hernandez Trejo); and sports psychology-themed topics, one about the effects of college basketball players’ performance after shooting an air ball (Stenoish/Vira) and if correlation between becoming a Major League Baseball manager and their former MLB playing position (Heaton).
Each USD student worked with a USD faculty mentor this summer. The USD mentors were: Judith Liu, Michelle Camacho and Tom Reifer (Sociology), Lauren Benz and Christopher Daley (Chemistry), Drew Talley and Sarah Gray (Marine Science/Environmental Studies), Annette Taylor, Rachel Blaser and Nadav Goldschmied (Psychology), Lea Hubbard (Learning and Teaching, Leadership Studies), Lukasz Pruski (Mathematics), Yi Sun (History), Michael Williams and Randy Willoughby (International Relations/Political Science), Halina Duraj (English), David Cantrell (English/Law), Monica Stufft (Theatre Arts) and Terry Bird (Biology).
Goldschmied also served as a conference session moderator. He said he enjoyed advising his USD students through their projects and felt the conference was an excellent way to assess their educational and personal growth.
“Psychology is a big tent and to see the variety of research and research topics possible is very valuable,” he said. “I think for each of them, doing the research and having the chance to convey their research to others by presenting it is a valuable learning experience.”
Sather, who will continue to develop her prison theatre project even after summer ends, surely understands: “I learn best by doing.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Top photo courtesy of Danielle Sather.