Connecting Communities: THEI's Out-of-State Engagements in June

Throughout June 2024, staff members at the Tennessee Higher Education Initiative (THEI) made significant strides in community engagement and partnership building through participation in various national events and conferences.

Exploring Reentry Services in New York

In the beginning of June, THEI's Transitional Program team members embarked on a transformative trip to New York. The team explored reentry services, connecting with influential NY-based organizations like:

THEI’s Director of Transitional Programs, Shon Holman-Wheatley, emphasized the profound impact of learning about trauma and resilience, crucial for enhancing Tennessee's reintegration efforts. Beyond professional insights, the team immersed themselves in cultural landmarks such as the 9/11 Museum and Statue of Liberty, underscoring the importance of community engagement in successful reentry.

Supporting Statewide Coalitions

THEI had the honor of joining the “Higher Education in Texas Prisons: A Collective Conversation & Networking'' convening in Austin, Texas this June. Hosted by The Alliance for Higher Education in Prison and the Trellis Foundation, the June Convening brought hundreds of higher education in prison stakeholders from across Texas together for learning and collaboration. Rachel Zolensky, THEI’s Deputy Director of Strategy and Impact, presented insights from THEI’s reentry programs alongside colleagues from Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project, and Jobs for the Future, who each offered a varied perspective from their respective programs. Learn more about the Texas convening and other incredible initiatives supported by the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison. 

Insights from the NASFAA Conference

Later in June, THEI participated in the 2024 NASFAA Pre-Conference (National Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from June 14th to 16th, which focused on improving financial aid accessibility for incarcerated students in particular.

Barbi Brown, Director of Policy & Practice, and Kristin Paine, Student Resource Project Manager, represented THEI among financial aid and program administrators from across the country. Barbi Brown offered her insights in two panels at the pre-conference, where she highlighted the unique challenges faced by incarcerated students pursuing financial aid, and stressed the need for adaptable solutions and student-centered approaches.

In 2023, THEI was awarded a grant from the Ascendium Foundation, to address some of these same challenges, through the creation of student-facing financial aid and college access resources specifically for incarcerated students. THEI is excited to begin sharing these tools with students this fall, followed by a broader distribution. 

THEI's participation in these events and conferences underscores its commitment to collaborate on addressing systemic challenges faced by justice-involved individuals nationwide. These interactions not only enrich THEI's approach to reentry services but also strengthen its network for future initiatives aimed at transforming lives through education and support.