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ASU students organize art show to connect prison inmates to community

ASU students organize show of inmates' artworks to benefit youth charity.
July 30, 2019

Sales from 'Inkcarcerated' gallery show will benefit children's art charity

Even as they are separated from their communities, the men who are incarcerated at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence are finding a way to give back, with help from Arizona State University.

Two ASU students have organized a gallery show of art made by the men, and sales will benefit a nonprofit that provides art therapy to traumatized children.

“Inkcarcerated: Creativity Within Confinement” will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2, at the A.E. England Building at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

The students, Genevieve McKenzie, a senior majoring in criminology and psychology, and Caitlin Matekel, a PhD student in criminology, created the show through their work with the Center for Correctional Solutions in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

The event is meant to connect the men to the communities they will eventually be returning to, Matekel said.

“It’s bridging that gap between corrections, which is so hidden, and the community that they’re eventually going home to. How do we connect those two groups?” Matekel said.

This is the second art show of its kind organized by ASU students. Two years ago, McKenzie was in a project-based learning course that spent two semesters exploring incarceration.

“We spent the first semester learning about what goes into recidivism and the reentry process and the challenges that people face when they’re leaving prison,” said McKenzie, who toured a prison and reentry center and interviewed formerly incarcerated people as part of the class.

“In the spring semester, we focused on how to address it, so we planned this art show.”

The students sold all of the art and donated the money to charity — an experience that was so successful, she wanted to try it again.

Over the past several months, McKenzie and Matekel organized donations of canvases, canvas panels, pads of paper, pencils, brushes and paints to the men in Florence, many of whom attend organized art classes. Others pursue art as a personal hobby.

More than 200 works of art will be in the show, and proceeds will go to Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona, an organization that provides programs for children who have experienced family trauma, homelessness and violence. The artworks, including paintings and drawings, will be priced at about $30 and up.

The show is among the projects being done by the Center for Correctional Solutions, which is directed by Kevin Wright, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

“The center is more interested in working with people rather than on them. We don’t want to do research on them, we want to do it alongside them," Matekel said.

McKenzie is involved in a project in partnership with the Arizona Department of Economic Security to create a new employment program for women incarcerated at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Perryville.

“We interviewed around 200 women, asking about programming and the types of jobs they have had or would be interested in having.

“Now we’re working with our advisory board to create entrepreneurship training — how someone can start a career with all these restrictions placed on them and still thrive, with a focus on the power skills that go into being your own boss,” she said.

The center also developed the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program, in which ASU students travel to a prison to learn about crime and justice alongside incarcerated people. This fall, that program will be held at the women’s facility in Perryville for the first time.

The work of the center is intended to make incarceration more transparent to the public, Matekel said.

“It’s a way to communicate and have people care about this, because these people are coming home. They matter.”

Top photo: The “Inkcarcerated: Creativity Within Confinement” art show will include more than 200 artworks produced by men incarcerated in the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence. Photo courtesy of the Arizona Department of Corrections

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU researcher honored by White House with Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers

July 30, 2019

Every year, the U.S. government identifies up-and-coming scientists from each state who are deserving of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). This is the nation’s highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers.

This year, Jennifer Barrila, an assistant research professor in Arizona State University's Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics, received the PECASE award from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for her research focusing on understanding how infectious disease risks may be altered during spaceflight missions. Jennifer Barrila receiving the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers at a ceremony on July 25, 2019. Barrila is pictured with Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Photo by Donica Payne/DOE photographer Download Full Image

I am extremely honored to have been selected to receive this award, especially among this year’s talented group of scientists,” Barrila said. “It’s been my lifelong dream to contribute new knowledge in support of the human spaceflight program.”

People are living in space for longer periods of time and will continue to do so as humans travel back to the moon and eventually to Mars. Understanding the medical risks associated with these longer-duration stays becomes particularly critical as humans journey farther from the safety and convenience of our planet. This is especially important since studies have shown the immune system is blunted during both short- and long-term spaceflight.

Barrila’s work specifically focuses on how changes in physical forces associated with microgravity, such as exposure to low fluid shear conditions, or the force of fluid that flows across cells, can alter the responses of both human and microbial cells to influence infection.

“It has been a privilege to work with such brilliant and wonderful faculty, postdocs, students and staff at Arizona State University, NASA and our collaborating institutions to better understand infectious disease risks associated with human spaceflight,” Barrila said. 

Barrila first joined ASU in 2008 as a postdoctoral researcher, working with Cheryl Nickerson, also a researcher at the Biodesign Institute and a professor at ASU’s School of Life Sciences. Nickerson’s research demonstrated that certain microbes, like Salmonella, can dramatically change their disease-causing characteristics and gene expression in response to spaceflight and spaceflight analogue culture.

Many of those studies were performed when the bacteria were cultured during spaceflight and then brought back to Earth to infect the hosts. However, more information was needed about how the infection would proceed when both the host and pathogen were exposed to microgravity conditions.

Barrila’s first experience in working on a spaceflight experiment was when she helped co-lead a study called STL-IMMUNE, which launched aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in 2010. The research team performed the first in-orbit infection using human cells in order to study the molecular responses to infection when both host and pathogen were exposed to spaceflight.

Since that time, Barrila has been an investigator on four experimental payloads that either have traveled, or will travel, to the International Space Station. She has also co-led the effort of a large multidisciplinary team to apply a multiomics approach to more deeply explore the impact of modeled microgravity on the host-pathogen interaction between Salmonella and the team’s 3D co-culture model of human colon tissue comprised of both epithelial and immune cells, which was also developed using NASA technology.

Her current research advances these studies by incorporating fecal microbiota from astronauts to better understand how changes occurring to the human microbiome may alter susceptibility to infection.

In 2014, Barrila received the Thora W. Halstead Young Investigator’s Award from the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research. 

This award is a further testament to the significance of her work as well as the fruitful collaborations ASU has fostered.

Barrila is one of three ASU researchers honored this year. Sefaattin Tongay, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, who was nominated by the National Science Foundation, and Yuji Zhao, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, was nominated by the Department of Defense.

Gabrielle Hirneise

Assistant science writer , Biodesign Institute