Center for Prison Education (CPE) alumnus Antonio Rivera began his first semester at the University of Connecticut (UConn) on Jan. 17. In October, Rivera became the first CPE graduate to be released from prison, and he was granted admission to UConn as a transfer student from Wesleyan.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said CPE Fellow Lexi Sturdy ’10. “We work with really intelligent and hard-working men who really want to continue their education and take it seriously once they get out. He was the first one to have the opportunity to, and we’re really, really proud of him, and he worked really hard for it, but I think this will be a trend with all of our students coming out.”
Over the past three years, 36 men at Cheshire Correctional Institution have taken college courses taught by Wesleyan professors part-time through CPE. Rivera was a member of the original group of CPE students who were admitted in the summer of 2009.
“I think it’s no small task to get into UConn, and he worked really hard in his Wesleyan classes and got the grades in his Wesleyan classes to be admitted to UConn,” Sturdy said. “I think this will be one of our greatest successes.”
Rivera said that CPE encouraged him to pursue his education further.
“Without a Wesleyan education, I wouldn’t really have been exposed to certain types of information,” he said. “Once I came in contact with this academic information, I realized the potential usage and wanted to further it. What the CPE program did for me was galvanize untapped potential. It was very motivational.”
CPE Teaching Assistant Paul Blasenheim ’12 called Rivera one of his favorite students and described his passion for learning. He specifically noted Rivera’s self-motivation and desire to formulate his own ideas.
“On numerous occasions he came into the class having done outside research where he brought in information to claim otherwise to the lessons that the teacher was trying to give,” Blasenheim said. “He had texts and books and citations and would submit 10-page, consciousness-raising papers. He was always incredibly passionate about doing the work and he was very resistant to being told that there was a place that he couldn’t go. He refused this idea that he couldn’t look into certain things and come to his own conclusions.”
Sturdy noted that Rivera’s dedication to continuing his education after being released was significant both for him and for CPE.
“We see it at the facility all the time, how motivated these men are doing the work, and I think seeing that motivation translate to the outside is really inspiring and encouraging for the program,” she said.
Rivera expressed his excitement about being able to apply the knowledge from CPE classes and his courses at UConn to the real world.
“I’m most looking forward to getting into the field and actualizing what I’ll learn in school,” he said. “My major is Urban and Community Studies, and I’m excited about seeing the knowledge being applied to the real world, actually being able to put the UConn and Wesleyan education to use.”
As Rivera is the first CPE student to be released, Sturdy stated that his willingness to immediately focus on his application to UConn and his subsequent acceptance is an important milestone.
“This is our first success story,” Sturdy said. “The program works. This is what we were claiming we were going to do, and we did it. [The men in the program] were really proud of him, and it gave the group a new energy, a new motivation. And it also puts a lot of weight on Antonio, being the first student out, but it’s a weight he can carry because he’s been working really hard.”