The UCI Underground Scholars Program creates a pathway for incarcerated, formerly incarcerated and system impacted individuals into higher education.

The UCI Underground Scholars Program creates a pathway for incarcerated, formerly incarcerated and system impacted individuals into higher education.

We prioritize our services for formerly incarcerated students. We define system-impacted as a person who is legally, economically, or familially affected in a negative way by the incarceration of a close relative. System-impacted also includes people who have been arrested and/or convicted without incarceration.

Underground Scholars Initiative (USI) is the student org that works in partnership with the UCI Underground Scholars Program which is lead and run by UCI staff. USI is completely student-run. The two organizations are separate and aligned. To learn more information on USI at UCI click here.

Check out this interview with our esteemed Director of the UCI Underground Scholars program, Hector Cervantes.



We provide support to incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and system impacted students by conducting outreach events, supporting them through community college, preparing them for the UC, sharing educational resources on how to apply to UCI, coaching them through the UC application process, offering campus tours, and workshops to navigate the education system.  


Our retention program provides formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students with a space on campus to meet and study, academic tutoring and advising, peer coaching, leadership development, student employment, community events, and workshops on how to navigate UCI. 


We advocate for currently and formerly incarcerated students and their families. In addition to individual advocacy for students on campus and on parole/probation, we engage in local, state, and national policy advocacy to remove barriers and create opportunity for currently and formerly incarcerated people. We also train formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students to be policy advocates.

History of the Program

In 2018, the Underground Scholars Initiative (USI) student organization was established at UCI. After three years of providing their peers with support services, USI was able to advocate for the establishment of a program. In October of 2021, the UCI Underground Scholars Program was established.

Get Involved and Stay in Touch

For questions, please contact Hector Cervantes at hcervan1@uci.edu, or Diana Greer at djgreer@uci.edu. We look forward to hearing from you.


Hector Cervantes, Director

Hector Cervantes’s work focuses on providing services to students directly and indirectly impacted by the justice system and advocating for broader criminal justice reform. Having experienced both incarceration and higher education, Hector uses this unique combination of life experiences to combat the pervasiveness of carceral system effects and to work to increase access to the university for justice-impacted persons. While completing his undergraduate and graduate studies here at UCI, Cervantes set out to help build a prison-to-school pipeline within his community.

Cervantes received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Master of Urban and Regional Planning at UCI. Raised in nearby Santa Ana, Calif., Cervantes continues to strengthen his ties to UCI and surrounding communities. In 2017, as a Policy Advocacy Fellow with Human Rights Watch, Cervantes participated in a statewide effort to pass California Senate Bill 1391. In 2018, this bill was signed into law by former Governor Jerry Brown, ending the practice of sentencing 14 and 15-year-olds as adults.

In 2018, Cervantes was part of a group effort to establish the Underground Scholars Initiative at the University of California, Irvine (USI at UCI), a student group for formerly incarcerated and system impacted students. USI at UCI hosts events to raise awareness of formerly incarcerated students, and to provide information for community college students interested in attending UCI. Most importantly, the group continues to provide a safe space that fosters growth and empowerment amongst formerly incarcerated and system impacted students on campus.

Diana Greer, Program Coordinator

Diana Greer (she, her, hers) is the Program Coordinator for Underground Scholars. She was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. She is a proud first-generation student who is breaking generational curses in her family and community that have been affected by the school to prison pipeline and mass incarceration. She attended Cal State Fullerton where she received her B.A in English with a minor in Chicano Studies. Thereafter, attended USC where she received her Master’s in Educational Counseling. Her goal is to obtain a doctoral degree so she can continue her research on the children of incarcerated parents, while teaching inside prisons and juvenile halls. When Diana was a few weeks old, both her parents became incarcerated, and their recidivism lasted throughout her life span. Through the power of education, she was able to liberate both her parents and end their recidivism. Both her parents are now college graduates ready to transfer to a university, and she hopes to continue helping formerly incarcerated students accomplish their college and career goals. She enjoys creating and performing poetry with her daughter Ariel, as a part of restorative justice practice.

Alberto Lule, Outreach/Inreach Coordinator

Alberto Lule is currently an MFA candidate at UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts. Alberto is formerly incarcerated, he was paroled from a California prison in 2016 after 13 years of incarceration. Lule recently graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Art and a Minor in Visual and Performing Arts Education. Lule’s leadership role at UCLA was being co-chair of The Underground Scholars Initiative Student Organization and Outreach coordinator for the Bruin Underground Scholars Program at UCLA. Currently, Lule has been named one of the Outreach/Inreach Coordinators for The Underground Scholars Program at UC Irvine.

Ryan Rising, Retention Coordinator/Policy Fellow

Ryan Flaco Rising, is the Retention Coordinator for the UCI Underground Scholars Program, as well as a PhD candidate in Criminology Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine. Ryan’s lived experience as a formerly incarcerated youth and adult deeply informs the work, he does around assisting formerly incarcerated students in their transition into UCI, bringing to the table a unique first-hand perspective.

Ryan’s research interests center on creating pathways for formerly incarcerated individuals into higher education, and analyzing the evolution of programs that serve formerly incarcerated students within the university system. Ryan uses his lived experience as a formerly incarcerated student to guide his research, developing tangible findings and methods to best serve this demographic’s needs within university and re-entry services across California.

Ryan has been a part of the Underground Scholars program since his release from New Folsom State Prison in 2015. Ryan founded the Gaucho Underground Scholars Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara while completing his bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in education. There, he played a critical role in the leadership and statewide expansion of the Underground Scholars Programs, now active on almost every University of California campus.

Ryan has won many prestigious awards, including the Circle of excellence scholarship from the University of San Diego. One of the highest honors during his time at UCSB was the distinguished Michael D. Young Engaged Scholars Award, highlighting how Ryan built an entire program from the ground floor up to serve formerly incarcerated students’ needs. This is now a fully institutionalized program funded by the state of California. Ryan’s writing has been published in a variety of newspapers, as well as in the book Reclaiming Our Stories. His work is a testament to the power of formerly incarcerated students, which he has worked to produce a theory called ‘Organic Leadership’ demonstrating how formerly incarcerated people continue to produce new solutions, assist in healing, and create sustainable pathways that uplift entire communities.

Lisandra Barrera-Rising, Transfer Coordinator

Lisandra Barrera-Rising is a junior transfer student from Santa Barbara City College and plans to
graduate with her B.A. in Social Policy & Public Service. As a former athlete in her youth, her
education was delayed due to a prolonged struggle with opiate addiction and a decade-long
involvement in the criminal justice system. After being introduced to the Underground Scholars
program on campus, she found a supportive community and discovered her passion for helping
similar students succeed in higher education. Today, Lisandra attends the University of
California, Irvine and currently serves as the Recruitment Coordinator for the Underground
Scholars Program at UCI.

Ananda Van Boeyen, Retention Counselor

Ananda Van Boeyen grew up as a first-generation, immigrant and low-income student. She chose to complete her Master of Social Work, having experienced first-hand the power of mentorship and having someone believe in your dreams, dignity, and worth. Ananda has spent over 15 years working with families, early intervention mental health services, the unhoused, survivors of domestic violence, immigration detainees, and reentry services. Ananda currently works at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, supporting UCI students who are currently incarcerated. She has previously worked with Theo Lacy Facility, Santa Ana City Jail, and James A, Musick Facility. Ananda is passionate about creating a sense of community and belonging for all students while helping them find their voice and power. Ananda loves the outdoors, whether it is hiking, the beach, or napping under the sun. She enjoys being a mother, listening to music, attending concerts and festivals, reading, running, working out, listening to podcasts, and road trips.

Ananda is available to support Underground Scholars connect with on-campus and off-campus resources, retention support, wellness support, and professional and personal development. Please get in touch with Ananda at avanboey@uci.edu with questions and for support. You can also find Ananda on campus at the Transfer Student Center, 2100 Student Services II building.


UC Irvine program helps former inmates navigate college

Hector Cervantes was 8 years old when he was first put in handcuffs for shoplifting. A few years later, he was arrested for the first time on suspicion of drunk driving.

“That really sparked my entrance into the criminal justice system,” he said during a phone interview. “I was put on probation. And then shortly after that began my trajectory through the criminal justice system. I was arrested for things like not going to school, for vandalism, not being able to pay my DUI fines.”

The Santa Ana native and his four siblings were raised by a single mother. So he contends that many of his negative experiences were conditions of poverty, including his yearlong stint in a California prison for possession of controlled substances.


“Underground Scholars does more than provide a support community to formerly incarcerated students on campus. They work to educate the campus community about the perspectives of and challenges faced by formerly incarcerated studentsread more

Keramet Reiter

Professor, UCI Social Ecology

“Underground Scholars provides a critical voice and support for our students here are UCI who are formerly justice-system-involved.”

Katie Tinto

Professor, UCI Law School

As I awaited my decision from UCI’s admissions office in 2018, I received my second DUI and was jailed multiple times for fighting, public intoxication, and disturbing the peace. As a result, I began part of my first quarter at UCI on house arrest and spent some nights in jail. This made me feel as though I did not belong on campus. Fortunately, I met Hector from the Underground Scholars Initiative (USI) in the first weeks of the 2018 fall quarter before I began my house arrest, and he made me understand that the struggles that I had overcome up to that point made me deserving of the opportunity to study at UCI, for I had prevailed over barriers that other students would have faltered over. His sentiments struck me, and I gained comfort in knowing that there were people with a similar background on campus—I was not alone. … read more.

Jesus Adan

UCI Student

“UC Irvine was a totally different encounter from my community college experience. Honestly, it has its pros and cons but just the simple fact that I had gotten as far as I did makes me appreciate the campus a lot more.

My experience at UC Irvine turned phenomenally more fulfilling after I found the Underground Scholars of UC Irvine, I felt like I was at home again.

Words cannot explain the feeling inside of me when I met the men and women that genuinely understand my struggles due to their own personal experiences. … read more.”

Ester Mendez

UCI Student