Citizens’ re-entry into society made easier thanks to Georgia Gwinnett College students
By Matthew Rodriguez, Class of 2020
Citizens re-entering society after prison sentences face an uphill struggle finding work and basic resources under the stigma of being labeled an “ex-convict.”
Georgia Gwinnett College students are making it easier for them to find the resources they need to rebuild their lives through a project with a Gwinnett nonprofit.
A team of students collaborated with the Greater Gwinnett Re-Entry Alliance (GGRA) to create an interactive resource map for citizens re-entering society after prison.
Three students in Dr. Cengiz Gunay’s Software Development class produced the software product for the GGRA over the course of three months this past spring. Gunay, an assistant professor of information technology at GGC, praised the students’ drive to learn outside of class.
“I didn’t have to do much to motivate them,” he said.
Gunay accredited his students’ motivation to their freedom to work at their own pace, learning and collaborating through direct interaction with a client.
Gunay said the product was presented during a GGRA meeting in May and is now fully implemented on the organization’s website.
The project uses Google Maps in conjunction with an editable list of resources, making it easier to find housing, healthcare, job opportunities and transportation for citizens re-entering society.
Joshua Sales, one of the students who worked on the project, said he and his group had to learn complex coding languages using Microsoft tutorials, textbooks and even YouTube videos with Gunay’s guidance.
Sales stressed how big an opportunity the project was for his group.
“Helping ex-offenders is something I value,” he said. “It was a rewarding project.”
Sales went on calling it a “blessing” to be able help people while developing a portfolio of work.
“Now, when we create a resume or speak in an interview, we can say we have software out there. That’s not a statement a lot of students can make.”
GGRA Vice President Brendan Spaar said his team is pleased with the finished product.
“The interface is user-friendly,” he said. “This was a very much needed resource.”
Moving forward, Spaar said he will facilitate further projects between GGC and some of the GGRA’s two dozen partners.
“We have several partners who would love to implement this kind of technology.”
Spaar suggested technology that would streamline the intake process for volunteer work as another possible student-led project.
“Most times people in need of services as well as people wanting to volunteer need to fill out a lot of paperwork and then someone has to process all of that paperwork. I see simple online portals with forms as being very valuable to a lot of our partners.”
These opportunities would allow more students to work on real-world projects for the community, helping Gwinnett, while building experience for the job market.
Gunay’s course focuses on group projects for clients outside of the classroom, giving students experience working in a professional environment. He places a special importance in students practicing communication with clients who don’t have technical knowledge.
The GGRA was founded in late 2014 in collaboration with the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s office, United Way and Prison Fellowship ministries. It operates as a referral base and help hotline for citizens re-entering Gwinnett after prison, directing them toward resources for housing, healthcare and other services.
GGC began its partnership with the GGRA in 2017 through its association with GGC alumna Karen Klett, who now serves on the GGRA’s advisory board.