Rising Scholars Honored with Innovative Program Award

The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office - College Collaborative was recognized with the prestigious 2023 Innovative Program Award from the Western American Correctional Healthcare Services Association (WACHSA) on October 27, 2023. Participants of the program from six colleges including Mission College were in attendance to receive the honor.
The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office - College Collaborative was recognized with the prestigious 2023 Innovative Program Award from the Western American Correctional Healthcare Services Association (WACHSA) on October 27, 2023. Participants of the program from six colleges including Mission College were in attendance to receive the honor.


SANTA CLARA, CA The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office - College Collaborative, in partnership with six local community colleges, including Mission College, has received the prestigious 2023 Innovative Program Award from the Western American Correctional Healthcare Services Association (WACHSA).

WACHSA annually acknowledges excellence in correctional healthcare delivery through its "Distinguished Service Award." This award recognizes institutions and agencies that have made significant contributions to the field of correctional health by developing programs that demonstrably enhance the health outcomes of inmates.

The College Collaborative program, which also includes Ohlone, San Jose City, Gavilan, Evergreen, and Foothill colleges, has made remarkable strides in advancing correctional health through innovative programs that have substantially improved inmate well-being. The award was presented on Friday, October 27.

This recognition is based on notable contributions to correctional healthcare, including the development of education programs for staff or inmates, publication of articles or books on correctional health, engagement in research related to correctional health, and efforts to improve the public perception of correctional healthcare.

"Mission College is deeply honored to be part of the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office - College Collaborative and to receive the Innovative Program Award from WACHSA. We are committed to providing education, hope, and opportunities to justice-impacted individuals through our Rising Scholars Program,” Mission College President Dr. Seher Awan said.

“This recognition affirms the hard work and dedication of our faculty, staff, and partners in creating pathways for positive change. We believe in the transformative power of education and its ability to change lives, and we remain committed to expanding our program to serve even more students in the future.”

Rising Scholars Baking Class. Incarcerated woman baking in industrial kitchen . They wear orange tshirts under black aprons.

Mission College's Rising Scholars Program proudly supports the College Collaborative's mission by serving students in the Elmwood Correctional Facility, Main Jail, and Reentry Resource Center. The program is committed to providing incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals in the South Bay/Bay Area with ongoing higher education opportunities, empowering them to rebuild their lives and reach their full potential within the community. The program also supports students upon release and throughout their transition to campus.

“We start by giving students a second chance and hope with the opportunity to begin their college education while incarcerated. Then we fully support their transition upon release every step of the way on campus to continue writing their next chapter and ultimately complete their comeback,” Program Specialist Steve Duong said. “Our action and growth are a reflection of our dedication, collegewide, from faculty, classified professionals and administrators to passionately serve justice-impacted students.”

In the current academic year 2023-24, the program has expanded its course offerings from 10 to 20 and has seen a threefold increase in the number of students served, growing from 151 to 450 students this semester alone. Mission College now offers the most courses and serves the highest number of students within the College Collaborative.

These students who have benefited include Jared So'oto and Jessica Gonzalez. So'oto’s journey serves as a testament to the transformative power of education and the resilience of the human spirit. Before his time at Elmwood Correctional Facility, his life was mired in uncertainty and unfulfilled dreams. However, an unexpected invitation to a college class at Elmwood sparked a profound transformation.

Mission College’s professors teaching style and the knowledge imparted breathed new life into him during a dark period, providing a renewed sense of purpose. His journey at Mission College, supported by dedicated faculty and staff, illustrates that it's never too late to pursue one's dreams and find a deeper purpose in life.

"I don't know how to put it in words, but you all came and saved my life. I was thinking about ending it, and (Mission) gave me this spark … prior to all this, I did say a prayer when I was in jail, and I just asked for some type of sign to help me find my purpose or how I can be of service or just be better, and here we are," So'oto said.

Before her time at Elmwood Correctional Facility, Gonzalez lacked any prior desire for college due to a lack of information. It was during her incarceration that she discovered a newfound perspective on education. Education became a source of hope and purpose, inspiring her to consider new possibilities and leading her to Mission College upon her release.

"I didn't have the desire for college before, but with the information and the confidence I gained while incarcerated, it changed everything for me. Education gave me something to look forward to and a sense of purpose. It had a major impact on my mental health and motivation,” she said. “College classes gave me hope and a reason to get up each day. Mission College stood out because of the supportive staff who went the extra mile to guide us. It changed my outlook, made me think of a different future, and helped me step out of my comfort zone."

Mission College's academic curriculum encompasses a diverse range of subjects, including Hospitality Management - Culinary, Communications, Sociology, Psychology, Social Justice, and Mechatronics. They are also looking to expand course offerings at the Main Jail in Spring 2024.

Key milestones in the program's history include:

  • Providing services to Elmwood Correctional Facility since 2002-2003.
  • Approval of the Rising Scholars Grant application in October 2022.
  • Launching the first college class in Santa Clara County Main Jail in Spring 2023.
  • Offering courses to Elmwood's female population starting in Fall 2023.
  • Introduction of a new program in Mechatronics at the end of October 2023.
  • Commencement of a new class, "Introduction to Hospitality Industry" (taught in Spanish), also beginning at the end of October 2023.

One noteworthy feature shared by all participating colleges is the provision of supplementary services to their students, including health services, accessibility accommodations, and childcare support. These services, which are on par with those available to other students, come at no additional cost to participants within the County's College Collaborative System. Students have the opportunity to seamlessly continue their coursework at any of the collaborating colleges after their release from custody, with all associated costs remaining waived.

“The College Collaborative System gives incarcerated students transformative influence over their future. We are proud and encouraged by their success in pursuing and achieving their education goals,” said Dr. Patrick Marshall, Inmate Rehabilitation Manager, Santa Clara County Office of the Sheriff.

Mission College persists in eliminating obstacles by offering complimentary child care, free bus passes, free parking, the waiver of health fees, scholarships, and substantial assistance with fundamental needs. Commencing in spring 2024, Mission College will initiate the provision of free tuition to all residents within the institution's service area. Mission College remains committed to breaking down barriers and addressing systemic poverty through the transformative force of education and equal access for everyone.

Benjamin Demers
Director of Marketing and Public Relations
[email protected] 
About Mission College

Mission College is a leading institution of higher education dedicated to providing accessible, high-quality education that empowers students to succeed.

With a commitment to student success, equity, and innovation, Mission College offers a diverse range of academic programs, exceptional faculty, and supportive services to foster a thriving educational community. 

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