From Penn State to the state penitentiary, class is in session.
Dirk Van Velzen is a Penn State World Campus student who is currently incarcerated at the California Correctional Institute and is paying his way through college by selling calendars made with artwork created by fellow inmates.
Amy Stever, Van Velzen's academic adviser, said there are 50 incarcerated students pursuing degrees through Penn State's World Campus.
"These guys have a cloud over their head when they get out of prison," said Eric Van Velzen, Dirk Van Velzen's brother. "People won't hire them, and then if they don't have an education, it's another strike against them."
In an e-mail message, Dirk Van Velzen said proceeds from the calendar sale will help fund his education and hopefully offer scholarships to other incarcerated World Campus students. His Web site, www.prisonscholar.com, will market the calendars when they are finished.
Incarcerated students are ineligible for federal financial aid because of federal aid regulations, said Bob Snyder of the Office of Student Aid. "He's very enthusiastic," said Ted Van Velzen, Dirk Van Velzen's father. "He sent me all the artwork that will be in the calendar so I deal with whoever will produce it." CafePress.com will begin to sell the calendar on its Web site some time in late October.
"Working with the prison people, it's so hard for these guys to complete their education," Ted Van Velzen said. "They throw every stumbling block in front of them. You can't even send supplies directly. None of these things faze Dirk. He does well on his courses."
Ted Van Velzen said when his son was taking his last exam, tear gas canisters were deployed because of an event which occurred at the prison. When a can rolled into the testing room, Dirk Van Velzen finished the exam despite the gas because he feared the facility would become locked down, causing the administering of the test to be delayed by several days.
"Dirk takes his studies seriously, even considering all the obstacles," Ted Van Velzen said. "He has to have someone monitor his exams, but they are not interested or supportive for anything beyond the high school level."
He added that Dirk Van Velzen was awarded the President's Freshman Award, presented annually to undergraduate degree candidates and provisional students who have earned a 4.0 cumulative grade point average from Penn State.
Ted Van Velzen said his son was sentenced about five years ago to 10-15 years in the correctional facility for a series of commercial robberies.