Zachry Leadership Program collaborates with Prison Entrepreneurship Program

Former prisoners who graduated from the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) recently visited the Texas A&M University College of Engineering’s Zachry Leadership Program students.  During the session, the students learned about the challenges former prisoners face, the recidivism problem and how they could use the lessons they’ve learned about business strategy to help inmates in the program develop business plans.

The primary focus of PEP is to help prisoners focus on skills and mindsets that will aid them when they get out of prison, so they are encouraged to set up business models. Some participate in the program for practice and others make plans to launch businesses when they complete their sentences. “Students in the Zachry Leadership Program spend two semesters focusing on business skills and using their knowledge and experience to help PEP participants by being their business model advisors,” said program director Seth Sullivan.

“This is the first interaction between the Zachry Leadership Program and the Prison Entrepreneurship Program,” said Sullivan. “The founding class, 32 students who went through an application and interview process, was the first class to be introduced to the PEP and is looking forward to future involvement with them.”

The visit from PEP is one of the many opportunities given to students to help them broaden their thinking as leaders. Sullivan said that helping the PEP participants allows the students to reinforce their theme this semester--that engineering and business can have a positive impact on society.

“One of the greatest themes that we have focused on is empathy,” said Melanie Enriquez, a junior electrical engineering student. “The [Prison Entrepreneurship Program] is the greatest example of an organization exhibiting unconditional love, hope and empathy.”

Students will be donating their time and experience to PEP prisoner participants by helping with job preparation for life after prison. Enriquez said she will be participating in this program by reviewing, revising and editing papers and resumes written by PEP participants.  Their interactions with inmates are all conducted via email through an intermediary, and are anonymous.

In addition to talking about the challenges that they face, Prison Entrepreneurship Program members shared their personal stories with the Texas A&M students. “The speakers’ stories of their own, and on behalf of their friends still behind bars, made the Zachry Leadership Program students realize they were not all that far apart in their wants and goals,” said Enriquez.

“We are looking forward to working with the Prison Entrepreneurship Program in the future,” said Sullivan. “This experience benefits the students by exposing them to new perspectives and giving them opportunities to help others. The Zachry Leadership Program is always striving to provide learning opportunities such as this one for its students.”

Students in the program are exposed to subjects like business to broaden their horizons and help them apply their engineering degree to the real world. These students will be graduating with a degree from Texas A&M and having had experiences that broaden and deepen their leadership ability further helping them post-graduation in making an impact in their communities and the world.

The Zachry Leadership Program opened applications for the next cohort of students on April 10. Click here for more information and to apply.