How do we evaluate our programs?

Blog post by Graduate Assistant Sarah Clarke:

In addition to coordinating the lecture series at the women’s prison, I help conduct the formal evaluation of our wider educational efforts in four corrections centers. This behind-the-scenes work comprises much of my job as a graduate assistant in the Sustainable Prisons Project. It also provides data for my thesis in the Master of Environmental Studies Program at The Evergreen State College.

Today, I conducted my first interview! A bit nervous, I rather mechanically read from the scripted questions, but I expect things to go more smoothly as I become comfortable with the process. Already, I have a sense of how some of the questions need to be reworded and which ones could be dropped altogether. I am finding that this is part of the fun and creativity of evaluation.

Thankfully, I have the help of the professional firm David Heil and Associates, which has extensive experience in the assessment of informal, science-based educational programs. With its guidance, since April 2009 I have administered and analyzed hundreds of surveys from participants in our educational programs and science projects. Imagine the scene, both before and after a presentation, as prisoners and officers share their thoughts about plant and wildlife ecology, climate change or the green economy!

Staff at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center complete educational surveys prior to the start of our endangered frog project (photo: Jeff Muse).

Staff at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center complete educational surveys prior to the start of our endangered frog project. Photo: Jeff Muse.

Interviews are the latest method to be added to our repertoire. Talking with guest presenters in our science and sustainability lecture series, I gather everything from their personal and professional backgrounds to their experiences as an educator. This information helps us develop an effective and mutually beneficial experience for everyone involved. Soon, we will begin interviewing a subset of inmates and correctional staff.

Due to the variability of our current educational programs and the small sample sizes in our science projects, our preliminary report will not include extensive quantitative statistics, though this is our long-term goal with continued funding and greater participation. For now, we are working with David Heil and Associates to assess multiple data points, which can help us determine what our next steps should be.

This evaluation is exploratory in nature, for the project itself as well as for me!

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