Man stands by window

Trevor Clark (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Freedom to Learn

by | May 21, 2024 | Summer 2024, What's Next

Trevor Clark ’17 came home to UC Davis to work with students he understands. In December, he started as program coordinator for the new Underground Scholars Program, or USP. Under the leadership of director Joshua “Gunner” Johnson, the program provides support for formerly incarcerated students, and those who have been impacted through arrest or conviction without incarceration or by incarceration of a close relative. Clark served almost 10 years in a Nevada state prison for a conviction related to a fatal car accident. While there, he earned two associate degrees. After his release, he transferred to UC Davis and earned a bachelor’s degree in linguistics in 2017.

What does your UC Davis degree mean to you? Does it hold special significance because of your incarceration?

I was attending community college before my time in a Nevada Department of Corrections prison. During my sentence, I finished my associate degrees, giving me the ability to transfer to UC Davis to finish my four-year degree. Earning my Bachelor of Arts from UC Davis means everything to me! It represents academic achievement, but also resilience, redemption and the opportunity for a fresh start. Yes, absolutely, the significance is magnified due to my experience of incarceration, because it symbolizes overcoming educational obstacles and reclaiming my future.

What do you do with the Underground Scholars Program? What projects are on the horizon?

I help manage our various initiatives aimed at supporting the educational pursuits of formerly incarcerated individuals. This includes growing the USP community on the Davis campus, providing resources and guidance to our USP students, and issuing grants and other financial aid. I also help advocate for policy changes to create more inclusive environments for those with criminal justice involvement. On the horizon, we’re working on expanding access to higher education to formerly incarcerated, system-impacted and currently incarcerated students and promoting the importance of education in breaking cycles of incarceration. We hope to extend the UC Davis classroom to behind prison walls eventually by offering a bachelor’s degree in sociology to our local state prisons.

What are some of the challenges that you experienced and that our formerly incarcerated students are up against in pursuing education?

The challenges are many — from financial barriers to systemic discrimination, navigating stigma and rebuilding social networks. There may be limited access to educational resources and support systems for those leaving prison. Our goal for USP is to usher these formerly incarcerated scholars to UC Davis and help them through the journey to graduation and beyond.

What do you want current students and alumni to know about the students you help?

I want them to understand the resilience and determination of the individuals we support. Despite facing immense hurdles, our students are committed to transforming their lives through education. They bring unique perspectives and experiences to the table, enriching the learning environment for everyone. It’s crucial to recognize the potential and value of formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students and to provide them with the support and resources they need to succeed.