Category Archives: Evaluation

What do the students get from SPP lectures? Part Two

Part Two: Session at the Men’s Prison

If you haven’t already read Part One, you can do so here.
Phot0s and text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

Lecture Series students at Stafford Creek Corrections Center were attentive to Liliana Caughman‘s report of survey results. They showed signs of agreeing with all that she shared from program evaluation. They know first hand that they have gained knowledge from the series, that their environmental attitudes have become more positive, and that they prefer interactive, relevant content, just as the results said.

More exciting and illuminating was the quantity and quality of ideas they offered for improving the series and evaluation surveys. Elijah Moloney, Lecture Series Intern, Liliana, and I each circled up with a third of the students present, and gathered many salient observations and recommendations.

Huge demand

Lecture Series intern Elijah Moloney shares his views on climate change and environmental justice.

We learned that the demand at Stafford Creek to attend the series far exceeds classroom capacity–the sign up is filled almost as soon as it is posted, and many students are disappointed when they are not able to claim a seat. They said we could easily fill a classroom twice the size, and that they would be willing to undergo a pat-down search for lectures held in the much-larger visiting room. Some pointed to the value of inviting/including new folks who could represent new and diverse points of view.

Students also recognized that they prefer more interactive sessions, and want each person to have a chance to give input and ask questions. That points to increasing the number of lectures, perhaps repeating content for morning and afternoon sessions.


The students at Stafford Creek express interest in a huge variety of sustainability and environmental topics. New topic requests I heard were economic and political aspects of climate change—I agree that there is much to learn and consider in that arena! A few students spoke of their frustrations of not having their requests filled, or that they have missed the presentation when their request was met. Again, this points to the desire to increase program access and scope.

One student shared in writing that he was offended by how we described extending the environmental movement to represent all races and cultures. I am still struggling to figure out how to promote increasing environmental equity without suggesting that I am rejecting people who already identify as environmentalists or students of sustainability.


To our surprise, the students generally supported ongoing surveys; they were not experiencing survey “burn out” as we had feared. However, they had concrete suggestions for how to revise them:

  • more true and false questions, including some more difficult queries
  • since nearly all attending the lecture series have highly positive attitudes about the environment, shift to measuring each lecture’s impact on empowering action
  • provide work sheets to fill in during and/or after the session

What an awesome group of students!

In our next post we will share what we heard from the sister program at Washington Corrections Center for Women, and divulge the program revisions we have planned in response to the students’ written and spoken input.



Across cultures and values

SPP Graduate Research Assistant Brittany Gallagher helps an Oregon spotted frog take its first leap into the wild. Photo by Matthew Williams of the New York Times.

By Brittany Gallagher, External Affairs Manager, The Nature Conservancy

When I was looking into graduate schools, I searched for an environmental studies program in which social justice was an integral–and integrated–part. As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I was sensitive to inequitable global environmental policy and its detrimental effects to community economic development on both a global and a personal scale. I was interested to fill in my gaps in experience and knowledge with a more thorough understanding of environmental and social justice at home in the US. Though Evergreen’s Graduate Program on the Environment seemed like a good fit, it was the existence of the “Sustainable Prisons Project” (as it was called at the time) on campus that sealed the deal for me.

Thanks to a generous Sara Bilezikian Memorial Fellowship supporting students working for justice in the environmental arena, I was able to begin my time as an MES student even as I moved to Olympia from out of state. I had also emailed SPP staff before I arrived, applying for a job that didn’t exist yet, but thanks to some persistence and a fortuitously timed grant, I became the Education & Evaluations Coordinator for SPP. Alongside my studies, I spent my two years at Evergreen running a pair of lecture series at Stafford Creek Corrections Center and Washington Corrections Center for Women. I also worked to evaluate SPP’s various ecological conservation programs. Out of this effort grew my Master’s thesis, examining the social and human effects of participating in SPP’s conservation programs on the inmate technicians who cared for frogs, dogs, butterflies, and prairie plants.

In the years since graduation, I have mentioned SPP in every job interview I’ve had, as well as dropping it into casual conversation on dates, and with strangers sitting next to me on airplanes. We may forget it on our super-green Evergreen campus in the “upper-left” USA, but SPP’s model is fascinating to people. Working with state agencies, prison staff and inmates, academics, and volunteers from the community gave me the skills needed to engage across cultures and value sets to achieve a common purpose. These experiences translate, and they have continued to pay off as I’ve gone on to work in international development and education, and in my current position as External Affairs Manager for The Nature Conservancy in Washington. Now more than ever, cooperation and collaboration with perhaps-unlikely partners for the good of people and the planet is the way to go, and I am proud to have been a piece of SPP’s important and continuing great work.

What do the students get from SPP lectures? Part One

Part One: Surveys Say…!

Text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager
Figures by Liliana Caughman, SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture Series Coordinator

Brittany Gallagher receives a completed survey from a student at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

Every SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture since 2009 has included surveys about the program. Before and after each lecture, we ask students to fill out surveys and hand them back, and usually they do. Lucky for us, the current lecture series coordinator, Liliana Caughman, is also a whiz kid with data. Building on the work of Tiffany Webb and Brittany Gallagher, Liliana examined answers from 15,874 before and after surveys from SPP lectures (do you see how big that number is?? It blows me away!).

The data show patterns that are impressive and statistically defensible. Here is a summary:

  • Figure 1.

    The students are gaining environmental knowledge from the lectures; not a big surprise, and always nice to have confirmation!


  • As the years pass, students are learning more from our lectures (see Figure 1). We wonder, does this mean they are becoming better students, or that the lectures themselves have improved?


  • Figure 2.

    As Tiffany Webb found in 2014, students’ attitudes about the environment have been steadily increasing over time (see Figure 2). Many students do not become more positive about the environment as a result of a single lecture, but most started with such positive regard of environmental topics that no change is still a good thing! I see this as confirmation of what we’ve experienced: that there has been a positive culture shift within Washington State prisons.


  • Figure 3.

    Liliana devised 3 criteria to describe how engaging a lecture is. She assigned a score for how much a lecture 1. provided hands-on experiences 2. empowered students to be helpful to others who are important to them 3. built community and connections between people. She compared each lecture’s engagement score with how much environmental attitudes increased for the same lecture, and found a lovely correlation (Figure 3). These results suggest that Liliana’s engagement score is valuable measure of a lecture’s quality. More importantly, I think, is that the 3 criteria become guides for guest lecturers going forward: we will ask them to make presentations with hands-on activities, ideas on how to help others, and ways to connect students to people inside and outside the prison.

Last week, we took these survey results to the classroom at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. We asked the students for their input on how the program is offered, lecture topics, and the surveys themselves. They had so much valuable feedback that I will save it for Part Two of the story. Part Three will come when we take the same presentation and questions to Washington Corrections Center for Women in March!

To kick off discussion of the lecture series, Liliana Caughman described what the word sustainability means to her. Photo by Elijah Moloney.


Environmental Justice and Hope for the Commons

by Tiffany Webb, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator

Working with SPP as a graduate student has provided more opportunity and professional experience than I could have imagined when I started as the Lecture Series Coordinator. Since then, my interest in social and environmental justice has blossomed, spurred by regular interactions with incarcerated individuals and the excitement they display for environmental topics. Thus I found myself presenting at the Just Sustainability: Hope for the Commons conference hosted by the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability at Seattle University this past weekend.

Science and sustainability lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo credit: Benj Drummond

Sustainability workshop at Washington Corrections Center for Women. Photo credit: Joslyn Rose Trivett

Lecture versus Workshop

I presented on behalf of Sarah Weber, a former SPP coordinator and MES graduate, whose thesis research focused on environmental education in prison. More specifically, her research compared teaching methods (lecture vs. workshop-style presentations) and their influence on inmate attitudes and knowledge of environmental topics. Interestingly, when reanalyzing Sarah’s research for publication, we found results that differed from the original analysis: female students benefited more from workshops and male students benefited more from lectures (see figure below). This finding is particularly helpful for ensuring that the environmental education opportunities we offer are tailored to the audience. As the Lecture Series Coordinator, I plan to use these findings to better promote environmental learning through offering more workshops for women and lectures for men.

Results from Weber research

Results from Weber’s research.

“You never know what you can’t do.”

Presenting at the conference was a great experience, but my most appreciated take-away came from the wonderful plenary speakers. We heard from Bill McKibben of, the most widespread political action organization in our history; Sarah Augustine, a sociologist at Heritage College and indigenous activist; and Denis Hayes who coordinated the very first Earth Day and has gone on to do so much more.

They spoke about the global extraction industry and its impact on the environment as well as the displacement and rights violations of indigenous communities. The ecological problems they outlined were sobering, but they all offered a similar call to action. They encouraged everyone to reach beyond what you think is possible, because, as Denis Hayes put it, “You never know what you can’t do.” And while exercising political will can sometimes be uncomfortable, it is always necessary in encouraging effective change. I learned so much from these amazing people and the lessons they shared from years of environmental activism. Hearing their stories sparked a fire in my consciousness, and I feel reenergized in the work I do with SPP, the research for my Master in Environmental Studies, and in my personal life.

If you’re interested in getting involved with environmental action in the PNW, check out:

Beyond Coal WA

Climate Solutions

The E3 Network

Sierra Club, WA State Chapter

SPP at the World Congress on Positive Psychology

By Joslyn Trivett, SPP Network Manager

Dr. James Pawelski welcomes the crowd to the conference hosted by the International Positive Psychology Association

Dr. James Pawelski welcomes the crowd to the conference hosted by the International Positive Psychology Association

In late June, I attended the third international conference on positive psychology in Los Angeles. There were 1,200 participants with numerous representatives from every continent. Both the participants and the programming represented a huge diversity of expertise. I made friends with a psychiatrist from Australia, a corporate-culture specialist from the Gap, and a community college teacher. I heard the latest research on how love improves physical health, how strength-based coaching transformed a hospital unit’s job satisfaction from the 1st percentile to the 86th percentile within a year, and the benefits of aging on creativity.

It was gratifying to confirm that SPP’s philosophy and practice are very much consistent with positive psychology in practice. I presented an overview on SPP’s positive outcomes—social, economic, and environmental—and heard delighted responses from those attending.

On the topic of environmental sustainability, I attended a panel discussion on how to reduce humanity’s ecological footprint. The panel included John Fraser, our associate at New Knowledge Organization, and he and I challenged the group to pursue societal agendas that are compelling at the same time as pro-environmental. Dr. Fraser suggested SPP programming as a model for a societal shift of this kind: such a welcome compliment!

The starting place for a discussion on reducing human’s global footprint: how to acknowledge real biological limitations and pursue positives leading to sustainability?

The starting place for a discussion on reducing humanity’s global footprint: how to acknowledge real biological limitations and pursue positives leading to sustainability?

Thank you to Mark Hurst, a member of the Evergreen faculty, who invited me to present at the conference. He impressed me with his own programming in western Washington prisons; new data (from Kim Huynh at Seattle Pacific University) from his eight week, strengths-based intervention with incarcerated men show excellent, sustained increases in optimism, hope, and life satisfaction. Thank you also to SPP Co-Directors Carri LeRoy and Dan Pacholke for encouraging me to attend the conference and helping to frame my presentation.

To support the positive work of SPP, please donate or get involved; our innovative work can always use your help and support.


New Evaluations Program

By Brittany Gallagher, SPP Evaluations Coordinator and Graduate Research Assistant

­photoThis winter, the SPP began its first statewide evaluation of the effects of SPP programming on inmate program participants.  More than 400 offenders, including those who work in a variety of SPP programs as well as a control group of offenders not involved in sustainability-related programming, were invited to enroll in the study. The study was designed to examine the effects of participation in SPP programs on offenders’ well-being, plans for the future, and interpersonal relationships, as well as their environmental attitudes and beliefs.

In order to begin this study, students, staff, and faculty from SPP worked with researchers at Washington State University, the University of Washington, The Evergreen State College, and the Department of Corrections to design survey tools and complete a full Human Subjects Review (HSR) application. Once the HSR research application was approved, we submitted an additional application to the Department of Corrections for approval to conduct research in their prison facilities. SPP staff scheduled research visits to nine Washington prisons. During January and February, more than 375 offenders at these prisons completed surveys contributing to the study. Our thanks go out to prison staff and administrators who helped survey administration run smoothly and to the offenders who filled out the surveys.

SPP graduate research assistants have been busily entering mountains of resulting  data, and early analysis has already begun. We presented study design and preliminary results at the recent SPP Network meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah and were well received. I will also present the study at CONFOR, an international conference for graduate students, held this year in Kananaskis, Alberta.

Stay tuned for updates–as I continue my analysis I hope to have much more to share!

SPP Lecture Series Update

SPP Lecture Series Update

by Graduate Research Associate Brittany Gallagher, Education & Evaluations Coordinator

The SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture Series has been up and running at Stafford Creek Corrections Center and Washington Corrections Center for Women since 2009.  Every month, inmates at each facility have the option to attend a lecture given by a community-based scientist, university researcher, organic farmer, or other teacher well-versed in one or more topics related to science, the outdoors, and environmental sustainability.

Thanks to the cooperation and enthusiasm of staff at Stafford Creek and WCCW, up to 50 inmates are able to attend each presentation, which may take the form of lecture, multimedia presentation, or workshop.  Recent lecturers and topics have included:

Anna Thurston of Advanced Botanical Resources, Inc. lectures to a group at WCCW.

Anna Thurston of Advanced Botanical Resources, Inc. lectures to a group at WCCW.

Anna Thurston shares plant samples with her audience during a plant identification workshop.

Inmates who attend lectures are asked to complete surveys designed to measure changes in environmental knowledge and attitudes, as Lecture & Evaluations Intern Jaal Mann discussed in his blog post this spring.  Many inmates make it a priority to attend the lecture series, with one writing recently “Thank you for providing these lectures.  I look forward to them every month.”  Lectures often pique the interest of several inmates each month, who use the surveys to ask for more information on the day’s topic.  Others take more general lessons away, with one inmate noting “I learned that I should look outside at more things, and that things I’ve never thought about are interesting.”

Surveys also give inmates an opportunity to request lecture topics.  Recently requested topics include green building, aquaponics, urban farming, Mt. Rainier, geothermal systems, mammals, restoring biodiversity and a host of others.

SPP is always recruiting lecturers willing to visit a prison and share their time and knowledge with an inmate audience.  If you or someone you know would like to lecture as part of SPP’s Science and Sustainability Series, please contact Brittany Gallagher at or 360-867-6765 for more information.

SPP Evaluations Internship Experience

SPP Evaluations Internship Experience

by SPP Undergraduate Intern Jaal Mann

Editor’s Note: Jaal is one of three stellar Evergreen undergraduates who have been working with SPP during the spring quarter.  He has been an intern for not one but TWO (related!) SPP programs: evaluations and prairie plant conservation.  This week, he writes about the world of survey analysis and lecture-based environmental education.

As an undergraduate intern with the Sustainability in Prison Project for the last 10 weeks, there has been a lot to learn. I have spent much of my time analyzing the survey responses from the lecture series in the prisons, and it has been fascinating and inspiring to see some of the positive feedback that the inmates return.

Inmates learned about the benefits of shopping locally and pledged to do so in the future after attending a lecture about organic agriculture. After a lecture on energy use and biofuels, they learned how biofuels could play a role in solving energy problems and “would love to see [biofuels] to be used by our farming communities to operate their equipment.”

The lecture series is able to reach a much broader inmate population than the frog, butterfly, or native plant projects.  It is SPP’s hope that this wide variety of inmates attending sustainability lectures will take home a different view of the subject of the lecture and of the overall subject of everyday sustainability.

Many of these lectures have left inmates with lasting lifelong information and skills, such as how to use natural herbs to treat illnesses, that “not just herbicides will kill plants”, and “to be mindful of what goes down the drain.”

Evaluation of effectiveness is a complex subject, but so far it is evident that not only knowledge-based responses are improving through lectures, but attitudes about the subjects and sustainability as well.

While our evaluation techniques are still being improved, when we hear that attendees have learned “about the importance of balance needed between our use of land, care for land and the value of butterflies to the balances needed,” and that “the world is way more complicated than I ever thought,” it definitely helps us know that we must be doing something right.

SPP staff member Carl Elliot gives a lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Lecture content is evaluated using pre- and post-lecture surveys.

Sorting through pre- and post-lecture evaluations is a big job! We use evaluations to understand knowledge retention and attitude changes as a result of our lectures and workshops.

To support unique educational opportunities for college students as well as incarcerated men and women, click here to donate to SPP.


SPP Research Associates Present Their Theses

By Graduate Research Associate Alicia LeDuc

Two of SPP’s former Graduate Research Associates have completed theses for the Master of Environmental Studies program at The Evergreen State College.  Liesl Plomski and Sarah Clarke selected topics related to the Sustainable Prisons Project. Both women have been integral parts of SPP since its early inception, working closely with inmates and DOC staff in two of Washington’s prisons.

Liesl Plomski presented her thesis regarding best practices in the rearing of endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs, drawing on her experience working with inmates at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Little Rock, Washington.  Plomski said she enjoyed working with inmates on the conservation efforts and that, “experiencing the importance of tuning people into a passion for positive development has definitely affected my subsequent career choice since finishing at Evergreen.” Plomski now lives in Portland, Oregon where she works mentoring at-risk youth.

Sarah Clarke completed her thesis on the impact of horticulture therapy and how working with living things affects the knowledge, behavior, and attitudes of inmates participating in the Sustainable Prisons Project.  Her work included data from four institutions working with  SPP.  Reflecting on her experience with inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Washington, Clarke said, “working with SPP has profoundly changed my life.  It has been rewarding on a personal level to work with inmates and see how interacting with nature benefits them.” One of SPP’s first Graduate Research Associates, Clarke said it was exciting to be part of a ground-breaking project from the very start. “It was a meaningful job that will be hard to replace,” she said.  Clarke now works at the Evergreen State College as a youth educator in the childcare center.

Both former SPP staff attested to the personal growth and professional rewards of working with the SPP.  Referring to her work lecture coordination and project evaluation efforts, Clarke said SPP enhanced her ability to work independently, manage time efficiently, work with a wide range of people, and change roles quickly. “I gained confidence to make judgments and take actions in new territory,” she said. Plomski agreed with Clarke’s observations, adding that working with SPP also improved her communication and analytical skills while working in a variety of different settings.

Most of all, the former Research Associates attested to the immense personal reward and satisfaction they felt when working with SPP.  Plomski said, “You come home at the end of the day and honestly feel like you’ve made society a little better, you actually did something.” For Clarke, it was, “really rewarding to witness the human healing that comes from working with nature.”  Both Plomski and Clarke have made contributions that continue to leave a lasting impact on the inmates, DOC staff, and community members they worked with over the course of their tenure with the Sustainable Prisons Project.

To view Sarah Clarke’s thesis, click here.

Liesl Plomski’s thesis is available here.

Beekeeping: More than honey

Blog post by Graduate Assistant Sarah Clarke:

There are opportunities that come along only once in a lifetime, and I experienced one this week. Project Manager Jeff Muse and I visited the Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) to debrief offenders involved in our pilot beekeeping program with biologist Sam Hapke. When we arrived, I spotted five inmates preparing a multitude of hives for the coming autumn. Jeff suggested that I get in the middle of the action, and before I knew it I was in a veil and gloves, standing among honeybees.

Unexpected opportunities like this make my job that much more unique and special. What an experience to have thousands of bees buzzing about me, enveloping my hand as I touched their hives. There are times when you glimpse that there are much larger things at work in the world than you and your affairs. This was one of those awe-inspiring moments.

Later, while seated as a group on the prison’s lawn, Jeff and I assessed the beekeeping program through evaluative surveys and a taped discussion with the offenders and Sam Hapke. One of the most important reasons for our work is to introduce inmates to useful skills in science and sustainability while engaging their minds and inspiring positive attitudes and behaviors. Our intimate conversation revealed that beekeeping is hitting the mark. The offenders indicated that they are learning marketable skills for their lives after release, be it in commercial beekeeping or by starting their own hives at home. Plus, they regard the activity as a therapeutic tool, helping them grow through hands-on problem solving and a sense of responsibility for a world beyond the prison’s fences.

From standing among swarms of bees to hearing first-hand how lives can be changed through education, I can honestly say that there is never a dull day for me at the Sustainable Prisons Project. Indeed, it’s changing my own life.