Inquiry: The Journal of the Virginia Community Colleges

Author Bio(s)

Elsa Spencer has been an Associate Professor at Piedmont Virginia Community College for the past seven years, focused on teaching general biology and human nutrition. She is interested in making science and mathematical education accessible and meaningful to everyone. Joanna Vondrasek is Professor of Biology at Piedmont Virginia Community College, where she has taught general biology and genetics courses for 16 years. Her interests are focused on creating laboratory activities that engage students in the scientific process.


Federal second chance Pell grants were recently made widely available to incarcerated students in the United States to fund undergraduate education. Piedmont Virginia Community College was a pilot site for this expansion and began full scale implementation of transfer-oriented associate degrees at three correctional centers in its service area. The college did not have a biology laboratory curriculum that would meet general education requirements and be feasible in a correctional center, where students do not have internet access or even reliable computer (word processing or spreadsheet) access and where materials are restricted for entry. This paper will serve to introduce the laboratory curriculum that was created to accompany a non-majors general biology laboratory course with materials that were pre-approved to pass through security screening in at least one local correctional facility. The lab manual (at this link) contains student information and instructions as well as a linked suite of files, photos, sample data, and instructions for any instructor to quickly deploy with just a USB flash drive and facility laptop (with no internet). Incarcerated PVCC students enrolled in this course benefit from a hands-on lab experience that mirrors the on-campus lab as much as possible. We hope that by publishing this laboratory manual, we might assist others in developing high-quality laboratory experiences for incarcerated students. Every student deserves a second chance.



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