Dirk Van Velzen, an Inmate and an Alum

August 18, 2010 at 2:56 pm 4 comments

Stumbled across this profile today of Dirk Van Velzen ’10 Lib, who graduated this spring with a degree in organizational leadership. I thought I remembered Van Velzen as the subject of a profile in the Sept./Oct. 2006 issue of The Penn Stater, and so he was — he was featured in our regular “Everyday People” slot as one of “the 50 or so inmates across the country who are taking classes through Penn State’s World Campus.”

(Click on the image to enlarge)

That story ran a few months before I started working here, but I remember seeing it — and then hearing about all the feedback it inspired. Back then, Van Velzen was in the second year of a 10-year sentence for his conviction on a series of burglaries. Once inside, he started taking classes toward a degree (he earned an associate’s degree in 2006) and founded the Prison Scholar Fund in an effort to raise money for himself and other inmates pursuing an education. Understandably, the letters we received after the piece ran were a mix of encouragement (“Van Velzen epitomizes the need to give second chances,” wrote one alumnus) and disgust; as another alum wrote, “I am ashamed that he would in any way be associated with Penn State … shame on you for blowing this decision.”

A story that strikes certain readers as inspiring and others as repulsive? At least we know it was memorable.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

Entry filed under: The Penn Stater Magazine. Tags: .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kristian Berg  |  August 18, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    I’m going to go with inspirational. Ultimately though, the jury will be out until after Mr. Van Velzen reenters society.

  • 2. Richard  |  August 18, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    I think what is repulsive or disgusting is that we live in a country of overcrowded prisons where, for the most part, we do nothing to rehabilitate them. These people will be back out on the streets someday and we should be doing everything we can in the meantime to changes their lives and create productive citizens. If Penn State can educate an incarcerated individual and change their lives then we are changing society, one person at a time and that’s a good thing.

  • 3. R Thomas Berner  |  August 19, 2010 at 9:17 am

    I’m on the side of the inspirationals. The jury is still out, of course, but we do know that education is usually beneficial. I’m hopeful that Van Velzen turns his life around and makes many positive contributions to society.

    BTW, I also love the fact that he’s taking courses via the World Campus. Great part of Penn State.

  • 4. Dirk VanVelzen  |  August 24, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    I was touched by all the inspirational comments; Thank you for the kind words of encouragement. The jury (open of my Penn State Alums) will still be out, indead, and I look forward to meeting that challenge from business school–I’m preparing applications for MBA admissions as I write this, wherein I would learn to increase the bredth and depth of the prison Scholar Funds mission. Although correctional education has been proven over and over to reduce recidivism, educational opportunities for prisoners have diminshed. Case and Point: while my Penn State World Campus education has well prepared me to lead an organization, very few other inmates can follow this path as World Campus no longer offers paper-based correspondance courses–they have moved entirely online, which is problematic because the vast majority of prisoners do not enjoy internet access. To truly affect America’s overcrowded prison population, we need to rehabilitate offenders before they return to society. And this means we need to increase educational opportunities. This September, the PSF will compete for a Pepsi Refresh Grant–we would welcome your vote on our Facebook Profile, <>. http://www.facebook.com/PrisonScholarFund

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