After months of preparation and planning on the part of MTC students, staff, and faculty, in December 2023 the College hosted its first-ever Research Showcase, which brought the college community together for four days of activities that celebrated research on and around MTC’s campus.
This series of events was a celebration of research itself, of MTC’s new research capabilities, and most of all, of MTC’s student researchers, whose projects in 2023 spanned such topics as code-switching in prison, the production of spider web protein via DNA-altered goats, and data on incarcerated runners, to name only a few student poster session presentations. The Showcase also featured a keynote address by Professor Darrick Smith, of the University of San Francisco; a faculty panel including topics ranging from tardigrades to Okinawan identity to Nietzsche; and a day of research skills workshops.
The Showcase was a culminating moment in MTC’s broader mission to elevate the voices of the incarcerated, starting with the core courses that lead to the AA degree: writing courses develop critical thinking skills, the capacity to formulate original standpoints, and the ability to express oneself to a range of audiences; mathematics courses equip students with the skills to understand complex systems, problem-solving, and data analysis; courses in science, the social sciences, and the humanities open up entire bodies of knowledge, foster curiosity, develop analytical skills, and expand world views and understanding. Throughout the degree, MTC students learn to develop questions, substantiate claims, and rigorously analyze course content, to refine and strengthen their assertions.
For many years, one of the key missing pieces in supporting students’ development of rigorous independent thought, critical thinking, and persuasive expression was in the area of research: until 2021, MTC was unable to provide students access to computers, and physical library materials were similarly scarce. Students chiefly relied on volunteer research faculty to research on students’ behalf. In 2021 MTC was finally able to establish a computer lab at San Quentin; since that time, we have been continually adding resources that enable students to carry out their research.
Independent research is a hallmark of creativity and free thought: the researcher can shape their inquiry, delve into their areas of interest and insight, and actively contribute to contemporary debates. When entire segments of society are not able to freely access and contribute to the production of knowledge, not only do would-be researchers suffer, but so too does the shape of knowledge itself. On so many levels, American society has a profound amount to learn from those it incarcerates; it is to the benefit of both those individuals and the society at large that incarcerated people have access to the finest opportunities to develop their critical thinking, research, and communication skills. MTC is honored and proud to facilitate these advances.
Thank you to everyone who made the Research Showcase a success!