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Celebrating Triumph Over Adversity: Norco College Graduates 36 Scholars from Inside the CRC


Norco College Rising Scholars Graduating Class of 2023 

In the heart of Norco, California, within the confines of the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC), a remarkable ceremony symbolized the power of education to transform lives. Norco College, a member of the Riverside Community College District (RCCD), held a graduation ceremony on August 8 to celebrate 36 Rising Scholar graduates. It marked the return of hope and progress after a challenging period without commencement ceremonies for those on the inside since 2019.

The graduating scholars received associate degrees in academic programs, including Social and Behavioral Science, Administration and Information Systems, and Sociology for Transfer. Their journey defied the odds as they pursued higher education from within the walls of a correctional facility.

Norco College's President, Monica Green, Ed.D., and the Chancellor of RCCD, Wolde-Ab Isaac, Ph.D., attended and offered their heartfelt remarks to the graduates. It was clear that this was a momentous occasion for the students, the College, and the entire community.

Commencement speeches echoed stories of second chances, personal transformation, and newfound educational perspectives. One speaker, who skipped school growing up, shared a profound realization: that education possesses the power to change lives in ways they had never imagined. These stories exemplify the true essence of the Rising Scholars Network​, a statewide initiative to support incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students.

In total, 85 out of 116 community colleges in California are members of the Rising Scholars Network. This life-changing program aims to support currently and formerly incarcerated students at California community colleges.

All state prison facilities have community college partnerships, but only eight of these carceral facilities have bachelor's degree partnerships. Through a partnership with Pitzer College, Norco College is one of the eight. This unique opportunity allows Norco College students to continue their education (beyond an associate degree) even after release, with some pursuing graduate studies​. This year, three Norco College alumni at the CRC, obtained a Bachelor's Degree from Pitzer College​.

The obstacles students face within the criminal justice system can be dehumanizing, and Norco College strives to treat all students as students, regardless of their background. Students enrolled in Norco College's CRC program receive an education that mirrors the quality provided on the main campus. For instance, a diverse array of 41 courses are offered to over 600 enrolled CRC students this fall semester, spanning mathematics, geography, music, history, and psychology. Norco College's proximity to the CRC makes it unique, allowing for more direct and impactful interaction with students. The CRC is literally in Norco College's backyard.

The Rising Scholars Program at Norco College began in 2017 and has served over 1,277 incarcerated students and graduated more than 193. The program's inception can be attributed to Proposition 57, a significant legislative measure that enabled incarcerated individuals to engage in a path toward their eventual release. This proposition incentivizes those actively committed to rehabilitation. Many initially enrolled in educational courses solely to reduce their time served; for instance, obtaining a college degree could translate into a six-month sentence reduction. While this incentive drew numerous participants to the program, the comprehensive support, strong network, and personal growth opportunities, like those offered at Norco College, convinced them to stay. Their motivation evolved from merely seeking time deductions to genuinely investing in themselves.

The students who persevere and ultimately graduate from this program achieve something remarkable. Their academic pursuits unfold within an environment characterized by resource limitations and challenging conditions. Tyee Griffith, the Associate Dean of Educational Partnerships overseeing the program, aims to help those on the inside from an anti-deficit approach. Griffith stated, "There is a concerted effort to advocate for parity in these circumstances, and I remain optimistic about securing equitable support for incarcerated students." She is proud to offer a path to education and personal growth that reduces recidivism and ensures brighter futures for all involved.

In a world where education can change lives, Norco College's CRC program is a hope dealer for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. Norco College recognizes the dedication of its faculty members, who are committed to providing instruction to CRC students. The recent graduation ceremony at CRC shows the community that with the proper support and dedication, even behind bars, dreams can come true, and lives can be transformed.

Congratulations to the Norco College CRC class of 2023!

Norco College Rising Scholars Graduating Class of 2023 with RCCD and Norco College Leaders 

In this photo: Norco College CRC graduates with RCCD Chancellor Wolde-Ab Isaac, Ph.D., RCCD Board of Trustee Virginia Blumenthal, RCCD Board of Trustee Bill Hedrick,
Norco College President Monica Green, Ed.D., Norco College Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Carol Farrar, Ph.D., Norco College Associate Dean of Educational Partnerships ​​Tyee Griffith, Norco College Faculty Coordinator Lisa Nelson, Ph.D, and other leaders.


  • Santiago Barrera, Administration & Information Systems, ​Social & Behavioral Science
  • Michael Barry, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Terrance Brown, Sociology for Transfer CSUGE
  • Shaun Chester, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Robert Gomez, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Daniel Gonzalez, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Justin Gutierrez, Administration & Information Systems
  • Robert Han, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Tracy Holt, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Alexander Isaacson, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Steven Jennings, Social & Behavioral Studies
  • Cordell Jones, Social & Behavioral Science, Sociology for Transfer
  • Sam Khumooro, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Daniel King, Social & Behavioral Science, Administration & Information Systems CSUG
  • David Lonigro, Social & Behavioral Studies
  • Robert Lozano, Social & Behavioral Studies
  • Jose Martinez,  Administration & Information Systems
  • Steven Mergenthaler, Social & Behavioral Science, Administration & Information Systems CSUG
  • Jeffery Morehead, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Daniel Nelson, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Edward Nunez, Social and Behavioral Studies CSUG, Sociology for Transfer CSUGE
  • Nathaniel Poplar, Social & Behavioral Science, Sociology for Transfer
  • Jaime Ramirez, Social and Behavioral Studies CSUG Sociology for Transfer CSUGE
  • Thomonte Rander, Social & Behavioral Studies
  • Forrest Reyes,  Administration & Information Systems, Business Administration for Transfer, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Cody Ridley, Social & Behavioral Studies
  • Pedro Rivera, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Devin Rose, Social & Behavioral Studies
  • Donald Rosenbek, Social and Behavioral Studies IGET, Administration & Information Systems
  • Eric Saradpon, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Robert Smith, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Dajuan Spears, Social & Behavioral Studies
  • Jaime Torres,  Administration & Information Systems, Social & Behavioral Science, Business Administration for Transfer
  • Guillermo Velarde, Social & Behavioral Science
  • Christopher Walden, Administration & Information Systems IGET Humanities, Philosophy and Arts, Social & Behavioral Studies, Social and Behavioral Studies IGET, Sociology for Transfer CSUGE, Business Administration 2.0 for Transfer
  • Matthew Witecki, Sociology for Transfer​

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