Two UCF projects of local concern were recently chosen to receive the university’s support after they were selected as part of the UCF Collective Impact Community Challenge Initiative competition.

The recipients are:

  • Florida Prison Education Project, directed by a team led by Keri Watson, an assistant professor in the School of Visual Arts and Design
  • Collectively Confronting and Resolving the Injustice of Human Trafficking, developed by John Bersia, special assistant to the president for global perspectives and director of the Global Perspectives Office, and Martin Dupuis, interim dean of Burnett Honors College.
  • The two projects were chosen to help address significant community challenges that have national or global implications. They were chosen from five finalists of community-based projects.

    The Florida Prison Education Project provides educational classes to the 30,000 people incarcerated in Central Florida.

    “By 2020, an estimated 65 percent of all jobs will require post-secondary education,” Watson said. “But most prisoners in Florida have limited access to higher education despite the fact that statistical evidence overwhelmingly confirms that a college education reduces recidivism, increases employment opportunities, and strengthens communities.”

    Each year, 33,000 people are released from Florida prisons, and many settle in Central Florida.

    “As the largest university in the state, UCF is well-positioned to bring transformative education to those behind bars,” Watson said.

    Collectively Confronting and Resolving the Injustice of Human Trafficking is the product of 15 years of progress by campus and community partners to raise awareness of the problem. The situation has received some recent national and international attention, but the organizers of this project say the effort to combat trafficking is more important than ever.

    “Many people think that this happened years ago and don’t know or won’t accept that it’s going on today in our backyard,” said Bersia, also co-director of the Center for the Study of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery. “Unfortunately, Florida has the awful distinction of being a hotbed of slavery and trafficking.”

    The two project were selected because the initiative was “looking for comprehensive, multifaceted, interdisciplinary strategies that will create solutions for acute, complex community issues,” said Lisa Guion Jones, associate provost for strategy and special assistant to the president. Nearly 800 faculty and staff members helped in the selection process.