Marisa Gaetz ’20, ‘G, received an MLK Jr. Leadership Award for her work to improve the lives of those involved with the correctional system. We congratulate her on this well-deserved recognition of what she has done within the corrections field as an undergraduate and now as a graduate student at MIT. (A short video about Marisa’s work that led to her award can be viewed here.)
Since her first year at MIT, Melissa has been involved with The Educational Justice Institute (TEJI), founded by ESG’s Lee Perlman in 2017. She has served as a teaching assistant for a number of mixed-classroom courses in which MIT and incarcerated students come together in a joint learning experience within the walls of a correctional facility. As a sophomore, she co-founded and directed the MIT Prison Education Initiative, an MIT student group that seeks to educate the MIT community about criminal justice issues and how education can be used to address them. As a graduate student in mathematics, Marisa continues to lead this group, which, during IAP 2021, provided weekly opportunities for MIT students to learn about mass incarceration, policing, the legal system, and restorative justice.
Marisa designed and conducted a summer ethics course for MIT’s portion of 2019’s Summer of Hope, a program sponsored by TEJI and Boston’s Office of the Mayor that works with universities to expand the horizons of teens involved in the correctional system by exposing them to academic pathways beyond high school. In 2020, Marisa was awarded an ESG-PKG Center Fellowship to conduct work on two ongoing TEJI projects. She continued her involvement with Summer of Hope, serving as the primary person organizing and implementing the week of programming provided by MIT, which involved bringing in speakers, scheduling and leading many of the activities, and handling all logistics. Marisa also explored how technology could be used to support education in the correctional system. Initially intended to focus on seeking funding for educational tablet use, the scope of her project expanded to include an examination of alternative available technologies that allow for remote learning. She developed an intermediate solution using interactive smart boards for video and zoom conferencing. Focus on smart technology provided a new front in corrections education, allowing students from various correctional facilities to take classes together, ideal for advanced classes that often cannot attract enough students from any one facility.
Currently, Marisa chairs TEJI’s Computer Education Committee, which is a group of MIT and Harvard students committed to improving and expanding computer education programs in correctional facilities. One of their upcoming programs is an introductory computer science and career readiness program for incarcerated women that includes partnerships with employers and credit-bearing higher education institutions to foster participants’ success after their release. Marisa is working on a coding bootcamp for system-involved girls, to be launched in summer 2021, as well as an app design class for addressing community problems to launch in spring 2021.