Project Rebound’s “Bridge to Success” event introduces educational opportunities and resources for the previously incarcerated

In 2017 Welcome Titans Guide
(Courtesy of Bryon Cunningham)

Eight students gathered in Humanities and Social Sciences Room 516 at 9 a.m. Friday morning to enjoy a breakfast of pastries, fruit and coffee as they began their fall 2017 orientation.

The students talked and joked around with each other like they’ve known one another for years, even though many are new transfer students. One minute they discussed the benefits of having a gym membership at the Student Recreation Center, the next they greeted a returning member with excited cries of “Superman’s here” as he came in with the well-known red “S” emblazoned on his shirt, a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap and velcro on his shoulders meant for holding a cape.

During an ice-breaker exercise in which each member of the group played a round of “Would you Rather?” before introducing themselves, the reason they’re together became clear: They all told stories in some way related to moving past their prior incarceration in prisons across the country.

Project Rebound’s fall 2017 “Bridge to Success” was the first annual three-day program meant to introduce new and returning scholars to Rebound and the campus environment while offering them the opportunity to get their paperwork in order for the new semester.

“You need to feel connected and grounded and a part of the culture that you’re going to spend the next two, three, four, five years with. So I think the benefits of this program help to ground our Rebound scholars, to help them transition and feel a little bit safer,” said CSUF Project Rebound Program Coordinator Romarilyn Ralston.

Project Rebound, housed in Langsdorf Hall Room 647, is a program that aims to provide previously incarcerated individuals with the opportunities and resources they need to earn a college degree and avoid reincarceration.

Friday and Saturday featured a program orientation, a campus and library tour, lessons on using the CSUF portal and TITANIUM as well as the chance to obtain parking and bus passes.

A presentation on “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective College Students” was also given throughout the first two days, which Ralston said was patterned after lessons taught in University 100 classes.

“We adopted that for this program, so we’re using the same material that all first year students get and it’s mostly soft skill stuff,” Ralston said. “We look at the seven habits of highly effective college students and see what it takes to get to graduation and to build those relationships and maintain your vision for yourself.”

She said one of the main ideologies they hope to instill in Rebound scholars with the presentation is being proactive and responsible for their own life choices.

“If you don’t have a plan to execute and you don’t execute correctly, then you’re making the wrong choices,” Ralston said. “If you let things distract you and interrupt you and get off track, we know what can happen.”

The final “Bridge to Success” meeting on Aug. 25 will feature a peer-to-peer debriefing of the first week of classes and a presentation on faculty and student relations.

“Don’t suffer in silence. We actually have a name for it now, it’s called the Rambo complex,” said Project Rebound Director Brady Heiner. “Leave your Rambo complex at the door. Don’t think you have to do this all by (yourself). We’ve got resources and connections across the campus and in the community that we can leverage for your support.”

Ralston said community building is a large part of what Project Rebound offers, and they aim to have a safe space for formerly incarcerated individuals to share their experiences.

“I started to talk with people and realized that it’s necessary to connect with these people because you’ve got a shared experience and you’re all working on bettering yourselves,” said Omar Chavez, the first student to graduate from CSUF with Project Rebound honors.

Chavez has been coming to CSUF on-and-off since 2008. He was sentenced to nearly four years in prison after getting arrested in 2010 when he “took a shortcut to make some money” to help pay for school. Of his 45-month sentence, he served 20 months in a federal prison and a year of time between a halfway house and serving home confinement.

Chavez graduated with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics, worked with Project Rebound as an outreach officer over the summer and has been doing a fellowship with UCLA’s Beyond the Bars LA.

He hopes to get a job with CSUF Strategic Communications and come back to campus for graduate school.

“Project Rebound has connected me to a lot of resources that have opened my eyes to what my education can get me to, to how I can advocate and make money,” Chavez said. “Having the bachelor’s (degree) allows me to be in a position to do something.”

The program started at CSUF in fall 2016 with four scholars and now has 12 going into the fall 2017 semester. Ralston said they are expecting to have 20 scholars for the spring 2018 semester, but encourages all students to have an experience with the program so they can “understand the impact of mass incarceration.”

“I’d say the resources were indispensable but more than that, the people it connected me with and the awareness that it gave me,” Chavez said. “Romarilyn and Brady, they really opened my eyes to how big the problem is and practical solutions to it.”

Heiner said Rebound is going to start holding workshops for both skill building and peer-to-peer support this year.

“This is really our first full academic year, so we’re just actively doing public education and outreach to make this program a long-standing institution here at Cal State Fullerton,” Heiner said.

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