Solomon teaches a new inside-out course this semester

Michael Taromina, Assistant News Editor

Tom Solomon, a veteran of Bucknell University’s Physics Department since 1993, is currently teaching a course called ‘Science, Technology, and Society,’. The class is meant to discuss how science and scientists are portrayed anywhere from popular fiction to movies, the impact that science has on technology and how technology and scientific work affects people. While this may sound like any other elective, this class is unlike any other course this school offers, because it is an inside-out course.

Inside-out classes are classes that are taught inside a correctional facility. For a course to be an inside-out class, half the students are currently incarcerated people in a prison facility and the other half are college students. At Bucknell, the SCI Coal Township is the prison that 12 students take a bus to every Wednesday afternoon to be joined by another 12 students currently incarcerated.

“Ultimately, we do this because you get the best kind of learning experience when you have people with a wide variety of backgrounds, and this is about as wide a variety as you get,” Solomon said. “What ends up happening, everybody ends up learning from everybody else which is a very cool thing about the program.”

An inside-out course is part of a program that has been running for 25 years, starting at Temple University by professor Lori Pompa. One semester, Pompa decided to teach one of her courses in a local prison, and it was so successful, the program reached beyond Temple. Over the past 25 years, the program developed from a single course being taught in a prison to hundreds of courses being taught every year across the world. Many of these courses are taught in Pennsylvania, as this state is the birth place of the program.

The current course, ‘Science, Technology, and Society,’ calls in question different perspectives of the past and present world, and the inside-out portion of it allows for an array of different backgrounds and experiences to drive the conversation. A general class session mimics one at Bucknell, where both the incarcerated and Bucknell students will break into groups and discuss course material that Solomon assigns. 

Bucknell University used to host multiple inside-out courses, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on them. Because of Solomon and Professor Coralynn Davis, who plays an integral role in community engaged learning, faculty brought back the program and solidified it in Bucknell’s curriculum. 

According to Solomon, an inside-out class has been remarked by past students as “among the most significant experiences in their entire lives, with both inside and outside students saying that, as well as faculty.” 

He said that students learn to look beyond stereotypical labels, such as “convict” or “prisoner,” when exposed to the incarcerated students, and general remorse over the fact that these “are people who made one mistake years ago” and appreciate their background and pursuit of knowledge.

“The way in which people are brought up, such as someone who believed science was a geeky subject when they were younger, really allows for an exposure to different perspectives who now comment that now that they’re older, science is something worth pursuing,” Solomon said.

While Solomon loves teaching the course, he will not be teaching any inside-out course next year, but encourages all Bucknell students of any major to partake in the five available inside-out courses that will be offered in the Fall semester of 2023.

One past incarcerated student told Solomon years ago that it was a new experience but it felt “very organic and not forced at all.” The student said that seeing other students helped push them out of their comfort zone. 

For more information, Solomon said to visit Insideoutcenter.org.

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