Program Supports STEM Education for Formerly Incarcerated Women

Published 8:06 am Thursday, August 4, 2022

New Orleans—A dozen women impacted by incarceration have achieved something many of them thought nearly impossible six weeks ago. That’s when they began an intensive Lab Assistant Rapid Reskilling Program to train as certified medical laboratory assistants. After successfully completing the rigorous training, the students, ages 18 to 57, receive certificates in a graduation ceremony on Friday, August 5, beginning at 11 a.m. at Union Bethel AME Church, 2321 Thalia Street (Four Freedoms Building, 2nd floor).

This is the second cohort of students to complete the training. The inaugural 11 students graduated in mid-June. This accomplishment can be life changing for women who have been incarcerated, suffered abusive relationships or grown up in homes where family members were incarcerated. It is also a dream come true for Syrita Steib, founder of Operation Restoration, who envisioned such a program more than a decade ago when she started her first job as a clinical laboratory technician after 10 years of incarceration.

Steib developed the lab assistant training program as part of a fellowship with 500 Women Scientists. Steib, a licensed and certified clinical laboratory scientist, and Operation Restoration are also founding partners in the national STEM-OPS network that promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning opportunities for people in prisons.

Pearl Thompson, who was Steib’s supervisor at Ochsner Health, listened to her young employee’s vision for providing women with employable skills after incarceration. Even though she had since retired, Thompson agreed to come out of retirement to serve as lab assistant coordinator for the training program.

“To have conversations with each of you and to know your stories inspires me so much,” Thompson said in addressing the first graduates. “You can do anything you put your minds to. And don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do something or that you are not worthy.”

Rosemary Martin, education director at Operation Restoration, describes the program as extremely successful thus far.  Several students have interviewed for positions with local healthcare facilities. Another 15 students are enrolled in the next cohort, which begins September 15 with virtual and in-person classes. Requirements include being formerly incarcerated, identifying as a woman, 18 years or older, and having graduated high school or scored six or above on the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE).