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New Campus Dean Teaches Entrepreneurship to State Prisoners

By Rich Shopes

Jean Kabongo

TAMPA (August 13, 2020) -- Jean Kabongo, the new Muma College of Business campus dean at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, is busier than ever, but he still makes time for a program close to his heart, the entrepreneurship course at the Hardee Correctional Institution. 

Hundreds of inmates at the facility, an hour east of the campus, have benefitted from the weekly program since Kabongo and criminologist Jessica Grosholz, a fellow professor at the Sarasota-Manatee campus, introduced it in 2016. 

"The idea is to help them develop an entrepreneurial mindset, not only to aid in their present circumstance, but also later when they re-enter society and begin the process of rebuilding their lives,” said Kabongo, who was appointed campus dean last month. 

The popular professor – he’s been named Outstanding Professor four times by students – teaches entrepreneurship at the campus in addition to his duties as dean. 

The program at Hardee resulted from a conversation five years ago about cross-disciplinary research opportunities. Grosholz had worked closely with corrections officials and Kabongo frequently collaborated with local businesses. Their program aims to help inmates get back on their feet and shed light on how entrepreneurial training can affect decision-making and create positive outcomes. 

“We know that finding employment is one of the biggest challenges returning citizens face when they leave prison,” said Grosholz. “With this program, we hope to provide them with new tools for their so-called tool belt to successfully navigate their re-entry.” 

Initial responses from inmates and prison administrators have been encouraging, and Department of Corrections data seems to point to lower recidivism among inmates who took the classes, said Kabongo. Also, the professors occasionally hear from former inmates who have returned to school and landed good jobs. 

Encouraged by the responses, they introduced a compressed, three-day course last summer at the Sarasota County Correctional Facility, and they’ve floated similar programs at other correctional facilities pending approval of an external grant. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, those plans are on hold for now, and no instruction is occurring at the county jail or at Hardee. 

Kabongo said he hopes to attract more business and criminology professors to the program once it resumes and the expansion proposal moves forward. 

He said that in addition to benefitting inmates, the course helps the professors hone their lecturing skills and concentrate on core instructional techniques. That isn’t by design, though. Most technology is banned at the institutions, leaving pencils, paper, a blackboard and chalk as the professors’ only tools. 

“It has its challenges, but it does force you to focus on your communication skills,” he said. 

He added the program has been personally rewarding, allowing him to teach and conduct research while also providing a necessary community service. Though his new duties as campus dean take up more of his time, he hopes to stay involved in the program. 

“On one hand it’s a research project,” he said. “We really want to understand, as scholars, how entrepreneurship can help inmates moving forward have an entrepreneurial mindset and pursue their dreams by creating and following through on business ventures. 

“On the other hand, we are contributing to society because eventually these men will be released, and they will re-enter society and need to learn certain skills to help them become successful,” Kabongo said. “I see this as a signature program of USF benefitting the local community."