CLINTON — Six men in Campbell University’s second cohort of students at Sampson County Correctional Institution were honored Wednesday for their perfect GPAs with a formal induction into Alpha Sigma Lambda, the nation’s oldest and largest honor society for non-traditional students.
Natividad Aguirre, Mark Denning, Michael Goff, Dylan Hulin, Jared Russell and Adam Sauls have maintained their 4.0 average in Campbell’s rigorous two-year associates program, part of the University’s Second Chance Initiative. The program launched at Sampson in 2019 to help currently (or previously, in some programs) incarcerated men and women develop skills and abilities to contribute to their communities, live upstanding lives and escape a U.S. criminal justice system that has one of the world’s highest recidivism rates (44 percent).
Wednesday’s ceremony was held in the same room where the first cohort of 11 students became the first inmates to earn a two-year Campbell degree during a commencement ceremony in September 2021.
Some of those graduates — most of whom are now working toward a four-year degree — were on hand to watch and cheer on their fellow students. They were joined by prison staff, N.C. Dept. of Public Safety representatives and several Campbell faculty and staff members, who were thanked by the six new honor society members as they received their certificates.
“The solution to recidivism is higher education,” said Goff. “We are bought in 100 percent. Not only do we want to make our communities better, we want to make this prison better. We’re thankful for the Second Chance Initiative for making a difference in our lives and in the lives of others.”
Dr. Beth Rubin, dean of Adult & Online Education; Nicole Winget, assistant dean of student life and support for AOE and adjunct professor of homeland security and criminal justice; Dr. John Roberson, executive vice president; and Dr. Rick Smith, director of the Sampson Correctional Institution campus; spoke on behalf of Campbell University during the ceremony and spoke of the importance of the program, which is expanding to Anson Correctional Institution (a women’s prison in Polkton) and a post-incarceration program for women in Raleigh in the near future, pending SACSCOC approval.
Sampson Correctional Institution Warden Robert Van Gorder offered inspirational quotes from William Pollard (“To change is difficult. Not to change is fatal.”) and Marian Wright Edelman (“Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.”) before offering Campbell University’s own motto, ad astra per aspera (to the stars, through difficulties) to the students on hand.
“I’ve been here for 30 years, which means it’s hard to change my ways,” he said. “But you men have made me a believer. And you have my support. Everything you’ve accomplished in this program has been achieved through a team effort. That’s the most important aspect of this program.”
The ceremony ended with words from Bob Barker, a Distinguished Alumnus of Campbell University, longtime supporter of his alma mater and advocate for reducing prison recidivism through his Bob Barker Foundation. Barker said he has supported Campbell’s efforts through inspiration from the New York-based Hudson Link program, which reduced recidivism in its system to roughly 1 percent thanks to its higher education efforts.
“I’m so happy and appreciative of what Campbell has done and continues to do,” Barker said. “I hope other schools in our state pick this up, and I hope this becomes the answer to reducing recidivism in our prison system.”