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PODCAST: The Founder of the Prison Scholar Fund Thrives in the Face of Adversity

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By Elizabeth Chung

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Few people can say they spent nearly 20 years in prison and then received President Obama’s Volunteer Service Award. Dirk Van Velzen, the founder and executive director of the Prison Scholar Fund (PSF), can.

On this episode of the Classy Podcast, Dirk takes us on his journey through applying to and graduating from Penn State, starting the Prison Scholar Fund, and awarding scholarships to fellow inmates who wanted to pursue education—all during his incarceration.

After his release in May 2015, Dirk spearheaded the infrastructure building and program delivery of the organization, continuing to apply his lessons learned from previous challenges.

In this episode, Dirk shares:

  • Advice for starting an organization in the face of adversity
  • How organizations can power their storytelling to constituents
  • Easy ways to remember milestones in the day-to-day grind
  • How he overcame obstacles to pursue education in prison

Resources Dirk mentioned in the episode:

  • PSF is partnering with the University of Washington
  • The grant that is no longer available to inmates: Pell Grant
  • The program that Dirk attended at Penn State: World Campus Distance Education Program
  • The book written by Dirk’s professor: The Dragonfly Effect

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