CPP’s Project Rebound new director continues its mission of empowerment

By Christie Counts, Sept. 27, 2022

The new Executive Director of Project Rebound, the six-year-old program aimed at easing the shift for formally incarcerated students into college, said she drew experience and inspiration from her own family’s history with incarceration.

Transitioning from incarceration into the higher education system is no easy task without the proper support and resources and Project Rebound assists formally incarcerated students with mentorship, tools, community and a foundation to start anew.

Understanding how formerly incarcerated people use education to transform their lives has been a perpetual passion for Barragan, beginning from a young age.

“I am system impacted,” said Melissa Barragan. “My dad was incarcerated for many years, so education has always been kind of the grounding source for me, but there was always this question of, what would our lives look like if he had received a higher education in prison. It was from that interest I knew I wanted to work with the formerly incarcerated population.”

In addition to overseeing grants and strategic planning, the executive director is a part of the statewide collective called the Project Rebound Consortium. The Consortium is composed of 14 other executive directors for Project Rebound across the CSUs, where they can enact statewide decision making.

Barragan now co-chairs the research committee for the statewide consortium and is a founding member of the Project Rebound Research Lab. The Project Rebound Research Lab began last year to expose highly marginalized populations to research in academia.

Courtesy of Priscilla Terriquez

“We had a cohort of initially 10 students last year, they worked with a faculty mentor on their campus to develop a research project and we provide supports on developing for those projects throughout the span of two semesters and it culminates in a summer research symposium where they present their research,” said Barragan. “The purpose of the research is to build a pipeline of future faculty and researchers that have experience with being formerly incarcerated.”

According to Barragan, many students reach out and demonstrate interest in pursuing education while still being held behind bars. Project Rebound directs and advise students whether they should transfer to a two-year or four-year higher education program once they are released.

If the formally incarcerated ends up at CPP, Project Rebound provides them with a host of services, from academic support, financial support and social support, they make sure students are successful while at CPP, this includes a sense of community and dignity in their personal stories.

“Really one of our missions is to create a sense of pride in Project Rebound, because there is a lot of stigma around being formally incarcerated,” said Barragan. “This sense of community and strength in numbers, encourages students to share their story and learn that there isn’t shame behind their story, but power behind that story.”

Program Coordinator Priscilla Terriquez became involved with Project Rebound while completing her undergrad in 2018. After entering the program and utilizing her resources, Terriquez soon realized Project Rebound was a resource she didn’t know she needed, offering her a sense of community rather than loneliness.

“It wasn’t until I joined this program that I met people like me, with similar backgrounds and they also felt the feelings I was too. And the program coordinator at the time really helped me come to terms with what I lived with and it’s okay to own my narrative,” said Terriquez.

Often many of the formerly incarcerated students accepted into CPP find barriers while navigating through the campus departments, Terriquez, assists students through the many processes, such as, admissions, registrars, cashiers, financial aid, scholarships, tutoring, advising, career counseling and anything else they may find difficulty with while adjusting to the higher education system.

Project Rebound aims high to inspire, impact and give hope to each student that enters the program, picking at society’s stigma on reintegrating formally incarcerated individuals into the higher education system and ultimately civilization.

“The program is giving the formally incarcerated population not just hope, but resources connected with hope, and Project Rebound has given hope resources, in the form of academic support, financial aid and fellowship,” said Renford Reese, a professor in the Department of Political Science and former director of Project Rebound.

Since its arrival at CPP in 2016, Project Rebound has successfully given its members a new beginning, handing them the tools and support that will earn them success in society. Project Rebound staff is continuing to expand their program into a robust system where students will receive the protection, encouragement and aid they are seeking.

“Hundreds of graduates from Project Rebound, are graduating at a much higher rate than the average CSU student, we are showing through our investment in this population, that we as a society should invest in them just like we invest in any other student, or graduate students, because they are too our citizens,” said Reese.

For more information, please visit Project Rebound’s website.

Feature image courtesy of Priscilla Terriquez

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