MORGANTOWN, W.V.a (WDTV) - In West Virginia thousands of men and women sit behind bars. Where some may see a lost cause, WVU junior Emma Harrison, sees hope.
"Obviously a lot of them have made mistakes, done some bad things in their lives, but that doesn't mean they don't have the capacity to change," she said.
The Morgantown native found her passion for educating incarcerated people through the "Inside Out Prison Exchange," a program where WVU students and prisoners share a classroom. Harrison attended two of those classes, one at the Federal Correctional Institution in Hazelton and the other in Morgantown.
"If they are educated and are able to read and communicate effectively, that means that they'll be able to come out [of prison] and hopefully be able to get a job," she said.
This spring, the 21-year-old is a teaching assistant for the class at the Morgantown FCI. She is also double majoring in political science and multi-disciplinary studies and is in the Honors College.
"We have really good class interactions and their writing and speaking abilities definitely go up," she said.
Harrison's passion for helping prisoners ultimately led to her selection as a finalist for the Truman Scholarship, a prestigious award for students who are committed to public service.
"Emma is going to be incredibly successful," said Amy Cyphert, the Director of the WVU Aspire Office.
Cyphert continued, "She's driven, she's motivated, she's committed, and she's really smart and incredibly compassionate."
Out of nearly 800 applicants, Harrison was one of only 194 students and the only West Virginian to become a finalist for the $30,000 graduate scholarship. In addition to tuition assistance, Truman Scholars also receive leadership training, career counseling, and internship opportunities.
"Whenever I told my students that I was a finalist, I think that was the best part, telling them because they were really proud of me and my work."
Currently, Harrison is a member of the WVU Young Democrats and works for the WVU College of Law Innocence Project. Her college accolades include being named a Milan Puskar Scholar for leadership and service, and an Eberly Scholar which recognizes the top 25 students in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.
Additionally, Harrison is a campus advocate for study abroad. She has been on five study abroad trips and, at the time of publication, was boarding a flight for her sixth trip.
After graduate school, she would like to return to WVU to implement more education programs for incarcerated people.
To her peers, Harrison says, don't wait to pursue your passions.
"You can make a change now. Even though it might not be changing the whole system, changing one little thing at a time really makes a difference," she said.
Visit our related links tab to learn more about the Truman Scholarship, the WVU Aspire Office, and the Inside Out Prison Exchange.