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Max Kenner, Executive Director of the Bard Prison Initiative, Wins 2014 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award

Mark Primoff
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—Max Kenner, executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), has won the 2014 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in Education. The awards recognize 10 of the year’s most amazing achievements and the innovators behind them.

On October 16, Smithsonian magazine, the flagship publication of Smithsonian Media, announced winners of the third annual American Ingenuity Awards, saluting 10 groundbreaking individuals across nine categories including technology, performing and visual arts, natural and physical sciences, education, historical scholarship, social progress, and youth achievement. Kenner was honored at this year’s ceremony, which was hosted by NPR’s Michel Martin, held at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and sponsored by BASF Corporation, The Lost Bird Project, and Prudential Financial, Inc. Called the “Golden Globes of Intellect” by Washingtonian magazine, the 2014 American Ingenuity Awards event included presenters Stephen Hawking, professor at the University of Cambridge, Centre for Mathematical Sciences; George Pelecanos, crime novelist, writer and producer of HBO’s The Wire and Treme; Daniel Libeskind, master plan architect of the World Trade Center and founder and principal architect of Studio Libeskind; and others. Honorees are recognized at the awards ceremony, in Smithsonian magazine’s special Ingenuity Awards November issue, and on a microsite at

Smithsonian magazine’s editorial team has selected an exceptional group of honorees who each embody our mission of increasing knowledge and shaping the world of tomorrow,” said Smithsonian magazine editor-in-chief Michael Caruso. “It is thrilling to be able to bring together this group of extraordinary minds, celebrate their revolutionary work, and share their accomplishments with the world.”

The American Ingenuity Awards is the continuation of Smithsonian’s long tradition of showcasing American innovation. Past honorees have included Bryan Stevenson, a public-interest lawyer and founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, which fights poverty and challenges racial discrimination in the criminal justice system; Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX and CEO and chief product architect of Tesla Motors; singer-songwriter St. Vincent; jazz musician Esperanza Spalding; Academy Award–nominated director Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild); multimedia artist Doug Aitken; writers Dave Eggers and Mimi Lok of Voice of Witness; and Jack Andraka, the 15-year-old high school student who invented a new test for detecting pancreatic cancer.

Max Kenner is executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI). He conceived of and created the BPI as a student volunteer organization when he was an undergraduate at Bard College in 1999. After gaining the support of the College and cooperation of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, he has overseen the growth of the program into a credit-bearing and, subsequently, degree-granting program in 2001. In addition to organization management and program design for BPI, Kenner oversees fundraising and management of relations with New York State and the Department of Correctional Services.

Over the last decade, Kenner has led the expansion of BPI from a pilot program with 15 students to a nationally recognized education initiative enrolling nearly 300 students across six campuses in correctional facilities throughout New York State. Kenner has become a leading advocate for the national restoration of college-in-prison and frequently speaks publicly in a wide variety of forums about the BPI model in education and criminal justice policy. He is a cofounder of the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, which supports other colleges and universities in establishing and maintaining ambitious college-in-prison projects. The Consortium currently collaborates with colleges in Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Missouri, and Washington that are returning rigorous college opportunity programs to the prison systems of their states.

Kenner also serves as vice president for institutional initiatives and adviser to the president on public policy and college affairs at Bard College. He was a 2013–14 fellow-in-residence at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University.

For more information about the Bard Prison Initiative, please visit

CAPTION INFO: Max Kenner, executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative, has won the 2014 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in Education.



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This event was last updated on 10-22-2014