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$1.4M NSF grant will support technology education for women post-incarceration

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

LAWRENCE — Over the past 40 years, the population of women in state prisons across the United States has increased by 834 percent. While men continue to be the vast majority of the prison population, the rate of incarceration of women is growing.

Of the 1 million women under some type of criminal justice supervision on any given day, 60 percent have a child under the age of 18, so it is especially important that women leaving incarceration have the knowledge and skills to find jobs or continue education. Yet their involvement in the criminal justice system interrupts such opportunities, and most post-incarceration programs connecting people to these educational and employment resources are not designed for women.

An interdisciplinary research team led by Hyunjin Seo, University of Kansas associate professor of digital/emerging media, Docking Faculty Scholar in the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications and fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, secured a $1.4 million National Science Foundation grant to support research that will address this challenge. The project, “Technology Education for Women in Transition: Broadening Participation Through Innovations,” will offer evidence-based technology education for women who have been recently released from incarceration.

“I am excited to implement our technology education program to enhance their post-incarceration opportunities, in particular job searches,” Seo said. “We expect technology skills to be extremely helpful as they navigate different aspects of today’s society.”

Additional members of Seo's team:

  • Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender & sexuality studies
  • Megha Ramaswamy, associate professor of preventive medicine & public health
  • Marilyn Ault, director of Advanced Learning Technologies in Education Consortia (part of KU’s Center for Research on Learning)
  • Karin Chang, executive director of Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium (part of KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research).

KU’s work will also be supported by postdoctoral fellow Marissa Wiley and graduate and undergraduate research assistants. The team will collaborate with Baek-Young Choi and Sejun Song, both associate professors in the School of Computing and Engineering at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research supported the preparation of the proposal to NSF and will manage the award.

The three-year technology education project will offer women in transition the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills needed for job applications, employment and other post-incarceration adjustments. In addition to taking weekly classes taught at Kansas City public libraries, women will access a member-only site and accompanying mobile application for online tutorials and virtual meetups.

“We have designed our program to respond to participants’ expressed interests and needs,” Seo said. “It will cover topics such as online resume building and online information assessment and will continue with elementary coding skills and computational thinking.”

As the participants focus on technology education, the team will also research the effectiveness of different learning modalities. They’ll study the association between the increase in knowledge and skills the women develop in technology education and how that affects their sense of self-efficacy and their perception of social support. In addition, the team will track employment and recidivism rates among participants.

Not only will this project support 300 women who are adjusting to life after incarceration, the team will develop the online tools participants use with an eye to scaling this model for STEM education. Based on the evidence the team members gather, they’ll create a body of knowledge that others can use to shape post-incarceration programs in other places. This research will answer questions about STEM learning for adults, study mechanisms to help people adjust after incarceration, identify strategies for reducing recidivism and build on existing KU research on digital inclusion for underserved populations.

“Dr. Seo’s research is impressive and exciting,” said Ann Brill, dean of KU’s journalism school. “Throughout this project, her goal has been to have a direct impact on improving the lives of the women involved as well as tackling the underlying systemic issues.” 

This research team is uniquely qualified to tackle this multifaceted challenge. Seo is the director of the KU Center for Digital Inclusion, which offers technology education to underserved populations including women in transition and low-income minority older adults in Kansas and Missouri. Britton has experience researching social adjustments among underserved women and directs the Center for the Study of Injustice at KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research. KUMC’s Ramaswamy has worked with women in transition for 15 years and leads the research on several sponsored research projects offering sexual health literacy programming and other related research with women incarcerated or leaving incarceration. Ault has led numerous projects on technology education and program evaluation, and Chang brings years of experience in program evaluations, particularly for STEM education programs, to the team.

On the UMKC team, Choi has been involved in several initiatives promoting STEM education among women and underserved groups, and Song, who directs the Trustworthy Systems and Software Research Lab at UMKC, has researched trustworthy information and computing systems and software.

Follow the team’s progress on Twitter through the Center for Digital Inclusion and look for a website along with Twitter and Facebook accounts for news and information about this research and related projects.

Photo courtesy of Hyunjin Seo.

Cooperation, not competition, is best approach to public relations, professor says

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

LAWRENCE — Though battling the competition and looking out for No. 1 might appear to be the best public relations strategy, a University of Kansas professor argues that approach is, at most, the second-best practice in the field. In a new book, the researcher contends that cooperation and building positive relationships is, in fact, the superior practice — and backs the claim with evidence from the fields of evolutionary biology, philosophy and rhetoric.

Charles Marsh, Oscar Stauffer Professor of Journalism & Mass Communications, has written “Public Relations, Cooperation and Justice: From Evolutionary Biology to Ethics,” a book arguing that cooperation is superior in public relations to “contingency theory,” the dominant approach focused on conflict and competition. Throughout the book, he also shares 20 recommendations on how cooperation can be put into practice by public relations professionals.

The book is the result of years of Marsh’s research. A classics scholar, he found that the ancient Greek philosopher Isocrates advocated a cooperative approach to relationships. Though perhaps lesser-known today, Isocrates’ school was the most successful Greek academy of his time, with the most students, most acclaim and Isocrates himself making more money than his peers Plato and Aristotle, who taught elitist and competitive, conflict-oriented approaches, respectively, Marsh said. 

Isocrates' teachings that relationships and strategic communications be built on respect and the welcoming of dissent were later adopted by the great Roman rhetoricians Cicero and Quintilian. Marsh presented his findings at professional conferences over the years, and peers generally agreed with his statements but said other fields such as psychology and evolutionary biology might not agree that cooperation outperforms competition.

“This is the way business was done in philosophy and rhetoric for 2,000 years,” Marsh said. “I thought, ‘What a wonderful approach for public relations.’ The dominant theory in the field is contingency theory, or looking out for number one. If number two benefits, OK — but that’s incidental. People said, ‘Surely evolutionary biology doesn’t agree with the cooperative approach.’ It actually does.”

Marsh studied writings of Charles Darwin, who is often attributed with the idea that only the strong survive. He actually argued that species that cooperate are the strongest and have the best record of survival. Marsh writes he suspected noted evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins would not agree; he authored a book titled “The Selfish Gene,” after all. However, Dawkins wrote in later years that new research persuaded him that he should have called his book the “The Cooperative Gene.” Even skeptical psychologists and philosophers such as Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche reluctantly agreed that social cooperation is more powerful than conflict and competition, Marsh said.

One of the leading theories in public relations is resource acquisition. The widely accepted approach states that in public relations, an organization has goals, and in order to reach those goals, resources are necessary and the organization often does not control them. Therefore, to attain them, the organization must build relationships with those who do. Marsh argues in “Public Relations, Cooperation and Justice” that building positive relationships, rather than taking a me-first approach, is the superior way to achieve the goal.

The book devotes sections to how the fields of evolutionary biology, philosophy and rhetoric all support the cooperation theory, providing a shared, accepted set of knowledge. The final section shares conclusions and a list of recommendations for how public relations professionals can implement a cooperative approach to their profession. Perhaps the most important recommendation for today’s world is ironic, Marsh said. The most-known scholars in the fields he’s studied are all Western, white men. While the past can’t be changed, new evidence from those scholars, particularly in psychology and neuroscience, shows that one of the most important ways to increase cooperation is to empower women, ensuring that they have equal access to education and leadership positions and are not socially subservient to men.

“If we want to implement this as a way of doing business in public relations, here are 20 ways we can do that,” Marsh said of the recommendations section. “One way that emerged the most powerfully is that to do so, we must empower women, for public relations and society as a whole.”

Marsh said he has extended his research into economics, which already appears to support his argument in early stages as well, and that he hopes to extend his work to anthropology and further into psychology. Marsh said he wants to reach public relations professionals and scholars with his book, and by extension students who will be the next generation of leaders in the field. The dominant theory is not the only option to teach.

“To be teaching our students ‘here is how you go into these relationships, it’s a dog-eat-dog world’ is not the only way. In fact, that’s not the most effective way to build productive relationships,” Marsh said. “It’s a wonderful time to be in public relations research.”

Mike Kautsch, former School of Journalism dean, to be inducted into Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame

Friday, April 07, 2017

LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas law professor and former KU journalism dean will be inducted into the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame.

Mike Kautsch, a media law expert and one-time journalist who has long championed government transparency, will receive the award during the Kansas Press Association’s annual convention today, April 7, in Topeka.

“His service to the journalism profession is both wide and deep,” the association reported. “For KPA, he has served for years as a media law consultant. Whenever KPA has had a need for assistance, Mike has always been there, giving prompt and reasoned advice as KPA and others try to strengthen the state’s open government laws.”

Kautsch was instrumental in the drive to establish a reporter’s privilege in Kansas, working with state revisors of statutes, legislators, KPA staff and the state’s other media associations to pass that law in 2010. The shield law allows reporters to protect the identities of confidential sources without fear of prosecution.

After 18 years at the KU William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications, the final 10 spent as dean, Kautsch joined the KU law faculty in 1997 and launched the school’s Media, Law and Policy program. He continues to lead the program, now called Media, Law and Technology, writes about freedom of expression and freedom of information, and teaches courses such as Media and the First Amendment, Copyright Law and Digital Works, and Digital Privacy Rights in an Open Society. He has received a number of awards for teaching and advising KU students.

“I have felt privileged over the years to work with students and interact with KPA members and others who share my deep interest in the First Amendment and related areas of law,” Kautsch said.

Kautsch testifies before Kansas legislative committees on media-related bills, participates annually in planning and presenting a national Media and the Law Seminar in Kansas City and chairs the Media Bar Committee of the Kansas Bar Association. He is a charter member of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government and served for six years as a gubernatorial appointee to the Kansas Humanities Council board of directors. He is routinely quoted by major news outlets covering media law issues.

An Omaha native, Kautsch holds degrees in journalism and law from the University of Iowa. He worked as a reporter at the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Atlanta Journal prior to his career in higher education.

Kautsch and his wife, Elaine, live in Lawrence and have two grown children.

Former Wichita Eagle editor W. Davis “Buzz” Merritt Jr. will also be inducted.

Media advisory: Professor can discuss coverage, government communications around Zika, virus ravaging Brazil

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

LAWRENCE — Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that may cause birth defects including underdeveloped brains in newborns, has been ravaging Brazil and the nation’s government is scrambling to fight the illness in advance of the upcoming Summer Olympics. Brazil’s government has announced troops will be deployed to hand out information on how to stop spread of the illness. The mosquitoes that carry the illness also spread Dengue fever and Chikungunya, and reports are surfacing that Zika could soon reach North America.

Mugur Geana, associate professor of strategic communications and director of the Center for Excellence in Health Communications to Underserved Populations at the University of Kansas, is available to speak with media about ongoing media coverage of Zika, government communications about the illness, sharing information about fighting mosquito-borne illnesses, prevention and related topics. Geana was principal investigator of a CEHCUP-led project that worked with the University of Costa Rica and two communities on the Atlantic Slope of the country to craft communication plans to fight Dengue fever. The program proved successful in engaging the communities to address environmental factors which promote the growth and spread of the mosquito, as well as increasing knowledge about Dengue fever.

Q: What do you think of coverage of the outbreak in relation to the upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro?

A: I think that the WHO as well as Brazilian authorities are doing a very good job of keeping people informed. Nevertheless, more emphasis should be put on prevention and not only on wearing long-sleeve clothes and using mosquito-repellents, but on educating local population in endemic areas about reducing household trash and breeding grounds for the mosquito — very similar to the successful project we had in Costa Rica.

Q: What should media know about Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses such as Dengue Fever and Chikungunya in order to adequately cover the topic and inform news consumers?

A: I think that clear, objective and balanced reporting is key to avoid panic and build knowledge with the audiences. Those traveling abroad, women of childbearing age should be the primary target, pregnant women in the first semester of the pregnancy in particular, but community efforts geared toward preventing the spread of the mosquito should also be highlighted. Heavy reliance on professional, expert sources is a must on situations such as this one.

Q: In your opinion has coverage focused on any one area too much, such as focusing more on whether the illness could spread to the United States vs. the effect it is currently having in South America?

A: I think that the message, especially the most recent one from the WHO is very clear — as warm weather comes to the Northern Hemisphere, we should expect the Zika virus to reach more of North America. I think that we should take advantage of the following months and inform and educate the public — not a "reactive" approach as usually happens. I don't think that, for now, there is "too much" coverage on one specific area.

Q: What is the value of news coverage of a condition such as Zika that a majority of people are likely unfamiliar with?

A: I think that perceived risk is the number one issue. Brazil seems a remote place for many Americans, and things happening there don't strike as having a possible impact at home. Nothing can be further than the truth. Let's not forget that we have had cases of Dengue in the Southern areas of the United States and in Hawaii, and the Aedes aegypti mosquito is endemic in Mexico and the Caribbean — those are the same mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus — so we have a fertile ground already for that infectious agent to come to the U.S., mostly through travelers that have acquired the virus abroad. Nevertheless, because continental USA doesn’t have a significant presence of Aedes aegypti, secondary transmission from those infected overseas is less likely. At least that was the case for Dengue, according to the CDC. That doesn’t mean that we should be less vigilant or that we should ignore this threat, especially those travelling abroad.

To schedule an interview with Geana, contact Mike Krings at 785-864-8860 or mkrings@ku.edu.


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