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Gaucho Underground Scholars Program 

Building The Prison To University Pipeline Through Recruitment, Retention, and Advocacy

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From Prisons 2 PhD's

The mission of the Gaucho Underground Scholars Program is to provide peer-driven support, assistance, and guidance to formerly incarcerated and system-impacted University Of  California, Santa Barbara students, who are adapting to the challenges of acclimating to the University while striving towards successful community and academic reintegration. It is our aim to connect formerly incarcerated UC Santa Barbara students with the resources and information that may help to increase those students' prospects of success.


Our Recruitment Strategies:

Academic Advising & Support: We provide academic and transfer advising to currently and formerly incarcerated students. This includes transcript analysis, major preparation, counseling, writing personal statements, and completing the application. 

Incarcerated Scholars Program: We do outreach, academic advising, application support, and advocacy for incarcerated students. 

GUS Ambassadors: Our ambassador program includes over a dozen ambassadors at community colleges throughout the state who support community college students and connect them to useful resources. 

Cross Enrollment: We partner with key faculty on campus to offer cross-enrollment in UC Santa Barbara classes for community college credit. This program provides students with the opportunity to experience UC Santa Barbara while attending community college and also improves their transfer application by showing admissions that they can thrive in the UC Santa Barbara environment. 


Campus Tours & Outreach: We arrange visits and tours of UC Santa Barbara for youth in continuation schools, youth under correctional control, recently released people, and others who have been impacted by the criminal punishment system. Our students also engage in outreach in communities impacted by incarceration and our allies. 


Our Advocacy work:


Access to Higher Education: We’re working to build a prison-to-university pipeline by increasing the number of formerly incarcerated people in higher education. We do this in our own program and also by advocating for policies that increase access to higher education for all currently and formerly incarcerated people. 

Capacity Building: In partnership with the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, Berkeley Underground Scholars is convening a Leadership Institute dedicated to developing, implementing, and institutionalizing on-campus support services for formerly incarcerated students. Twenty-eight community colleges have been selected to participate in this Institute. 

Access to Housing: We are currently working on increasing access to housing for students and community members with conviction histories. 

Ban the Box: We won our campaign to Ban the Box on the University of California employment application in 2017. 

Language: We advocate for the use of humanizing language when referring to people with convictions. Our common vernacular - in conversation, in the law, in media, and in academia - is filled with dehumanizing language. We denounce labels like “felon”, “ex-offender”, “inmate”, and “criminal” and insist on being called what we are - people. 

Letters of Support: We offer letters of support for parole hearings for the incarcerated students we work.


Our Retention Services:


Tutoring & Academic Advising: We have a team of tutors and advisors who work weekly with students to ensure their academic success. We also offer support with grad school and law school applications, scholarships, and fellowship applications.


Gaucho Underground Scholars Program: GUS is a program that supports formerly incarcerated students by building community, hosting events, and engaging on campus in various ways.


GUS also does outreach and tabling at community events. 

Research: We provide support and guidance for our members to pursue top research opportunities with highly acclaimed programs such as: McNair Scholars Program, RAAB Writing Fellowship, and Summer Research Undergraduate Research Fellowships.

Leadership Development: Through our Credible Messengers program. We provide training and opportunities for students to engage as leaders in GUS, USI, the broader UC Santa Barbara community, and the communities the students represent. We do this through political education, creating opportunities for students to teach & present their research, creating supported leadership roles for students, and connecting students to other leaders and mentors at UC Santa Barbara and beyond. 

Space & Other Resources: We currently borrow space from the Gaucho Recovery program and are working diligently to get our own space from the university.

Incarcerated Scholars Program

We are currently developing a program to teach behind the wall in the county jail and also the local federal and state prisons.


our students speak wisdom and empower each other through their personal narratives.

My name is Ryan Flaco Rising, I am a Formerly Incarcerated Transfer student from San Diego City College now Majoring In Sociology here at UC Santa Barbara. Transferring to UCSB was not an easy task, I moved into family housing early which was actually a great idea but it came with some stressors that were unforeseen. I was behind in my rent which ultimately left me owing money to the university right before classes started since I had a basic Financial Aid package.  I had used all my savings to move up here; didn’t have a way to pay the remaining balance and was faced with being kicked out of my classes. I started to stress out and panic being unfamiliar with this campus and lacking in the social capital that it truly takes to navigate this campus. I was forced to figure it out all on my own as there was no “Formerly Incarcerated” program here with any type of answers to help guide me and give me the warm handoff I needed to be successful in this transfer process.  The first lesson I learned was to pay attention to the multiple portals you’ll have to sign into (Portals are sign in pages on the websites, similar to accessing social media sites) Upon transferring, the three most important ones are: BARC, FINANCIAL AID, UCSB GOLD, (which requires your personal UCSB ID and Password) monitor these at all times. I didn’t quite understand this and it almost cost me getting kicked out of all my classes, but one thing they always said in the hood is, “Don’t panic.” The three natural responses of every human being are fight, flight, or freeze and one thing I have learned in college is don't freeze!  I was faced with figuring out how to overcome the obstacle of owing this money. I first went to BARC and talked with them and they told me I could set up a payment plan, (how was I going to make payments if I didn’t have any money coming in?) I then went to Financial Aid and got some suggestions on how to pay this amount; which was some student loans or turning my work studies money into a loan.  I took out those loans and since I had such a basic Financial aid package it really didn't adjust what I owed.  I was still in the red owing them and it was not a good feeling. I kept pushing forward and kept shaking as many people's hands in every department as possible building up my social capital. My social capital led me to the solution I needed in order to overcome this obstacle. I was cleared of owing any money and actually went above and beyond, ultimately created the Gaucho Underground Scholars Program. The Gaucho Underground Scholars Program gave me confidence and motivation in my efforts to make sure no other formerly incarcerated student goes through these obstacles that I experienced. This institution really wasn't designed for me and my background, so now it's become my mission to create institutional changes for all formerly incarcerated students so they can have all the tools and resources they need in order to transition into UCSB, and be the GAUCHO they were meant to be! WELCOME TO UCSB, I GAUCHO BACK!

Ryan Flaco Rising, Founder of The Gaucho Underground Scholars Program 

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