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From Prison to Employment: Solar Partnership Advances Notre Dame’s Mission, Values

From Prison to Employment: Solar Partnership Advances Notre Dame’s Mission, Values

When the University of Notre Dame breaks ground on a new solar project later this year, it will be a full-circle moment for Patrick Regan, whose company, Crossroads Solar, is supplying the panels for the project — and helping formerly incarcerated men and women transition from prison to employment in the process.

A former professor of political science and peace studies, Regan spent seven years at Notre Dame before leaving to start Crossroads with Marty Whalen, a Notre Dame alumnus and former career program manager in the College of Arts and Letters.

Based in South Bend, Crossroads provides jobs and life skills to formerly incarcerated individuals, both men and women, as part of its commitment to “people,” “planet” and “more than profit” — a twist on the traditional “three Ps” of corporate social responsibility.

In starting the business, Regan was inspired by two distinct experiences: working with incarcerated men as part of the Moreau College Initiative (MCI), and researching climate change in his former role as director of the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, an index that ranks countries based on their vulnerability to and readiness for climate change as part of the Environmental Change Initiative.

Established in 2013, MCI is a collaboration between Notre Dame and Holy Cross College — with support from the Indiana Department of Correction and Bard Prison Initiative — that seeks to ensure incarcerated men in Indiana have access to a world-class liberal arts education. Part of the Notre Dame Center for Social Concerns’ newly formed Programs for Education in Prison (ND-PEP), it draws men from across the state, allowing them to attend college while incarcerated and earn a bachelor’s and/or associate degree from Holy Cross.

On the faculty side, the initiative draws from both Holy Cross and Notre Dame. That includes Whalen from 2016 to 2020 and Regan from 2014 to present. Whalen got involved because of a friend, a former Notre Dame classmate, who spent time in prison.

“It’s huge, to be truthful. It’s validating for us,” Regan said of working with Notre Dame, where he was a tenured member of the faculty and an internationally recognized expert in the areas of international relations, conflict management and the politics of climate change before retirement. “Notre Dame is an institution I used to work for and liked, and it did the right thing and that’s huge.”

By “the right thing” he means supporting formerly incarcerated men and women along the path to re-entry — men and women like Noel Townsend, whose path to Crossroads originated with MCI.

Today, the former Riley High School student is the operations manager for Crossroads, responsible for profit and loss, design, quality control, supply chain management, shipping, receiving, maintenance and marketing.

He dreams of one day leading the enterprise.

“I definitely see the opportunity,” Townsend said, crediting Regan and Whalen for believing in him and his ability to serve in a leadership role within the company despite his background.

A common good

For Notre Dame, the project aligns with both the University’s newly adopted strategic framework, which calls for continued investment in South Bend and the surrounding community, and its Catholic values, which place human dignity at the center of a just and moral society.

At the same time, it’s another step for the University along the path to carbon neutrality, a publicly stated goal by 2050.

Paul Kempf is the University’s assistant vice president for utilities and maintenance.

“It’s a great opportunity and a nice marriage” between Notre Dame and Crossroads, Kempf said of the project. “If you think about the University and its mission, it’s education, of course, but it’s also, ‘How do we promote the common good?’ And this falls in line with that.”

The project, comprising 2,316 panels, will generate about 1 megawatt of electricity, or enough to power about 750 homes. The panels will sit on what is now vacant land north of WNDU studios on Indiana 933. As a clean, renewable source of energy, the panels will reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions by 600 to 700 tons annually, the equivalent of removing as many as 137 passenger vehicles from the road.

Power from the project will flow directly to campus.

Notre Dame chose Crossroads at the recommendation of other local solar companies and after touring the company’s facilities on the city’s far northwest side. KFI, the project engineer, evaluated the manufacturing and quality control processes there and issued its official stamp of approval.

According to Kempf, Crossroads’ values aligning so closely with Notre Dame’s worked in the company’s favor, even as it was unable to match some of its more established competitors on price.

Click here to read more nd.ed

Photo Credit: istock-shansekala

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