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Master of Professional Studies
(Offered only in Sing Sing Correctional Facility)
“Earning the MPS degree from New York Theological Seminary gave me the opportunity to rebuild my life, and to assist others seeking to rebuild theirs.
Today, I serve my community in the very same way I once served my incarcerated brothers—with compassion, a real sense of relatedness, patience, teamwork, and love. I still acknowledge a truth I learned as a student at NYTS, that to whom much is given, much is required. It is this truth that places me and other graduates on the front lines of community pro-active work. This is our road to redemption.”
—Juan A. Roldan, MPS Class of 2005
Since 1982 New York Theological Seminary has been one of the most unusual programs in theological education in the nation. Each year up to fifteen students who are currently incarcerated in New York State enroll in the Seminary’s accredited Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree offered inside the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York.
Candidates for the program must apply to NYTS through a regular application process. Those who are accepted are transferred to Sing Sing ( if they are not already housed there), where they enroll in a one-year, 36-credit graduate degree course of study. Candidates must demonstrate promise for leadership and an active faith commitment, hold an accredited undergraduate degree, and meet all of the Seminary’s other standards for admission. Many elect to move from medium- or even minimum-security prisons to the maximum-security environment of Sing Sing in order to attend the program.
Once enrolled, candidates attend classes five days a week. The MPS curriculum provides foundational study in the various disciplines of theological education: Old and New Testament, foundations of ministry, church history, theology, ethics, pastoral care and counseling, religious education, and program design and administration. Candidates for the program are expected to be a part of a community of learning that is committed to the intellectual, moral, and spiritual dimensions of ministry and service. They must forego regular weekday visits during the year they are in the program in order to meet the attendance requirements for classes. Instruction in classes is provided by members of the Seminary’s core and adjunct faculty. Courses are designed to be relevant to the prison environment, with a strong emphasis on spiritual integration, community accountability, and service to others. Candidates for the degree are also required to work in field education within Sing Sing under the supervision of the NYTS Program Director, Dr. Edward L. Hunt. They serve as peer counselors, chaplain’s assistants, or tutors in one of the educational programs offered within the facility. Candidates must have a 3.0 GPA to be in good standing and graduate. A special graduation service is held inside Sing Sing each year on the second Wednesday of June at 6 in the evening, with members of the NYTS board of trustees, faculty and administration, and candidates’ family members and other guests in attendance.
The MPS degree program at Sing Sing is a transforming experience. Graduates serve in facilities throughout the State as chaplain assistants, peer counselors, or teachers. A number have developed inmate-initiated service programs and several are teaching college-level courses offered through Hudson Link, a non-profit educational program that grew out of the network of the Seminary’s MPS alumni and offers an accredited college degree in a number of prisons in southeastern New York.
Other graduates, who have been released, have continued to carry that transformative work forward in society outside the walls of the correctional system. A significant number are currently working in ministry or social services. Several are leaders in the national re-entry movement, including Julio Medina, Executive Director of Exodus Transitional Community; Eddie Ellis, Executive Director of the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions; William Eric Waters, Program Coordinator for the Osborne Association; and the late Dr. Lonnie McLeod, Jr., consultant on re-entry programs to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Others continue to serve within the correctional system, including Sean Pica, Executive Director of Hudson Link; and Imam Salahuddin Muhammad, a chaplain at Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, New York. Still others are serving as pastors and leaders of other religious congregations. The recidivism rate for graduates from the NYTS M.P.S. program is well under 10% over the life of the program and close to zero for those who have been released over the past five years, compared to a 49% recidivism rate generally in New York State.
This documentary above is of NYTS MPS Graduate Gregory Frederick
More than 400 candidates have now completed the program and earned their MPS degree inside Sing Sing. The Seminary receives no government funding to support the program apart from the provision of classroom space by the Department of Corrections. Yet the social benefits of the program, of services within the prison system, to churches and other community organizations, and to the wider society, are obvious. Students in the program pay no tuition or fees. NYTS provides 100% scholarship support, including paying for all textbooks that students use (and keep following graduation). NYTS must raise this support for the program each year through donations. We invite you to consider helping us to sustain this program with a gift.
The MPS seeks to prepare candidates who are:
- informed biblically and theologically, and in the historical development of Christian thought and tradition
- skilled in the practice of ministry for personal, ecclesial and social transformation
- committed to the call of the Gospel for reconciliation, justice, evangelism and transformation
- centered in a spiritual tradition which is dynamic in its formation and open to God’s continuing revelation
- skilled in the practice of ministry within their immediate contexts, committed to their own faith and tradition, and global and inclusive towards diverse religions and denominations
- equipped to create organizations, ministries, and/or programs that lead to the betterment of their immediate communities inside the prison system and for life beyond bars
Candidates for the MPS must
- possess a BA or BS degree, or the equivalent (120 undergraduate credits) from an accredited four-year college
- demonstrate evidence of an ability to do graduate level study
- be able to articulate an understanding of their call to ministry in a manner that is appropriate to their own experience and faith tradition
- meet institutional requirements set by New York State Department of Corrections
- have two strong recommendations, including one from a prison chaplain
Application, Acceptance, and Enrollment
Due to the unique location and circumstances under which this degree is offered, the application, acceptance, and enrollment process requires several steps.
Applications for the MPS program are available throughout New York State Correctional System through the offices of the chaplains, and from the Director of Prison Programs at NYTS. Applications are not found online as persons who are incarcerated do not have access to the internet. Applications are due by February 1 of each year for admission into the program for the following September. Completed applications are to be mailed or forwarded to the:
Director of Prison Programs
New York Theological Seminary
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 500
New York, New York 10115
After an initial review of an application to check for completeness, the Director of Prison Programs forwards a list of all applicants’ name to Deputy Superintendent of Programs at Sing Sing, New York State Correctional Services Educational Department, and Department of Corrections Classification and Movements, who must all approve the candidate before the application can be considered. The approval process is generally completed within two month. NYTS can only admit candidates who have been approved by all three departments.
Final decisions regarding admission are then made by the Director and Admissions Committee at NYTS. Up to 15 candidates are admitted annually, who are transferred to Sing Sing (if not already there) during the month of August to begin the program the ﬁrst week of September.
The MPS is a 36-credit degree with a fixed curriculum that includes biblical studies (First and Second Testament), theology, history, ethics, and mission and ministry studies. Students work together throughout the year in a common classroom, with different professors coming in each day during the fall and spring semesters or for month-long intensives in January and May. Community building through the classroom experience and project development and implementation are integral aspects of the program. While several of the courses in areas of mission and ministry are designed specifically to meet the unique needs of candidates serving within a correctional system, all courses in the program seek to engage the students in ways that are relevant to prison ministry, with emphasis placed upon spiritual integration, community accountability, and service to others. Like all programs at NYTS, the MPS curricular design reﬂects a commitment to the integration of theory and practice. Critical thinking and reﬂection upon experience are central to the MPS program.
Five courses are offered each semester, and one course in each intensive month. In addition, each student must enroll and complete Supervised Ministry each semester. Semester-long courses are offered for 3 credits each, while intensives and Supervised Ministry are 2 credits each. Candidates who fail to complete a course within any semester are unable to graduate, and are removed from the program. The courses offered in the MPS program are: First Testament; Second Testament (with Exegesis); Introduction to Theology; Church History; Religion and US American Society; Religious Ethics; Foundations of Ministry; Introduction to Pastoral Care and Counseling; Program Administration, Organization and Design; Foundations of Religious Education; Preaching; Community Building and Personal Responsibility.
Textbooks. NYTS provides all textbooks and photocopies of all additional assigned readings for all courses at no cost to the students. Textbooks are ordered by the Director and shipped in directly from publishers or the Seminary’s designated book store at Columbia University. Assigned readings are mailed in bulk packages into the facility well enough in advance of classes to allow for them to be processed and distributed to candidates in the degree program. Individual study Bibles for students in the program are donated annually by the Massachusetts Bible Society, and a number of publishers provide textbooks at low or no cost. Students are
allowed to keep textbooks when they graduate, making their selection a valuable part of the overall process of preparing them for effective leadership within the correctional system.
Student Services. Students in the MPS program have ongoing contact with and access to the Director of the Program, who holds ofﬁce hours 3-4 days a week and is on call at all other times. Students also have contact with and access to the various supervisors within Sing Sing with whom they are assigned to work during the course of each semester. There is a Catholic chaplain, a Protestant chaplain, a Jewish rabbi, and a Muslim imam available to the students within Sing Sing, and various other outside religious counselors or chaplains who are allowed to come in and meet with candidates. The NYTS Director offers additional support in terms of medical and counseling referrals.
Supervised Ministry Sites. Supervised Ministry is a key component of the MPS program. Several ministries are in place within Sing Sing, including mental health care, General Education Diploma (GED) tutoring, Youth Adolescent Prevention Programs (YAP), and ministries with youth at risk. MPS graduates from previous classes are often already working in these programs within Sing Sing, creating a peer-learning community within the program itself.
Library services. NYTS maintains a small collection of reference works and computers with Bible software in a reading area adjacent to the NYTS classroom in the Sing Sing chapel area. Sing Sing has an additional library of approximately 25,000 volumes, mostly related to law, but with some general resources in maintains areas of liberal arts. In cases where a book is not available through these two libraries resources, students can request it from the Department of Corrections through interlibrary loan, and the book will be sent to them at Sing Sing usually within two weeks from another library within the Department of Corrections. Students do not have access to online resources or the internet due to prison regulations.
Community Life. Community life is built into the academic program at Sing Sing. Students take courses together during the entire year. Regular opportunities are provided for community prayer, Bible studies, worship, and personal sharing. A two-week orientation similar to an extended retreat takes place at the beginning of each year. Weekly group sessions and individual counseling sessions are available to those who request and need them. Finally, the curriculum includes preparation and counseling for re-entry as an integral part of the overall program. Successful re-entry starts long before a person leaves prison. The MPS incorporates this philosophy into its curriculum.
Community Resources or Involvement. Each student in the NYTS MPS program at Sing Sing is required to make a contribution to the greater community at least once each semester, and to share their contributions with the rest of the class. Students hold a fundraiser each year involving the entire population to help send children with HIV to summer camp (inmates in New York State receive 50 cents a day as wages for work that they do inside the facility such as sweeping or emptying trash; the collection that is taken up comes mostly from the savings inmates make from these daily wages). The MPS students also sponsor a food drive for the homeless who are beyond prison bars, collect non-perishable canned goods from the general population (about 30 bags annually) that are then sent to food pantries in nearby areas.
The MPS holds partnerships with several churches, including the First Presbyterian Church of Ossining and Rye Presbyterian Church. The program likewise partners with the Prison Educational System, through which inmates can earn their high school diploma, learn to read and write, and can receive a GED; and Hudson Link, a non-proﬁt organization providing an accredited undergraduate degree in several correctional facilities within New York State. Hudson Link and other educational programs within the New York State Correctional System employ graduates of the NYTS MPS program as teachers and counselors throughout the state, providing opportunities for the students to put their graduate degree to use in peer education.
For further information on the MPS program at Sing Sing, including information concerning visiting the program or attending graduation on the second Wednesday evening of each June, and on how to help support the program with a donation or gift, contact:
Director of Prison Programs
New York Theological Seminary
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 500
New York, NY 10115