Director

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Azadeh Zohrabi

Azadeh is an activist and strategist with extensive experience in public policy, leadership development, community organizing, and management. As the daughter of two formerly incarcerated parents, Azadeh is deeply familiar with the intergenerational impacts of imprisonment. She has been active in prison reform efforts and advocacy for nearly 20 years. Azadeh previously worked at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children leading the organization’s fundraising and program management. Prior to that she worked in leadership roles as a lawyer, advocate, researcher, and organizer on statewide and national campaigns including the successful effort to end long term solitary confinement in California. Her work has been cited by courts, attorneys, and scholars and has been featured in The New York Times, The Nation, The Guardian, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Ebony, Mother Jones and Al Jazeera. Azadeh earned her BA from UC Riverside where she studied Ethnic Studies and a JD from UC Hastings College of the Law. She is an active alumna of the Women’s Policy Institute, Soros Justice Fellowship, and New Leaders Council Oakland.


Administrative Coordinator

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Daniela Medina

Daniela is a senior and first-generation transfer student who is pursuing a B.A. in Social Welfare and subsequently, an MSW. Born and raised in Oakland, California, she has been directly impacted by the effects of mass incarceration and community violence which fuels her passion for social justice on and off campus. In her community, she works with justice involved young adults in accessing support services and resources. In her role with Berkeley Underground Scholars, she coordinates services between programs and helps facilitate support for formerly incarcerated and system impacted students so that they can thrive in academia. Daniela is also a Young Professionals of Color Fellow, an ASUC committee member for transfer and non-traditional students, an HSF Scholar and a Peter E. Haas Public Service Leader.


Advocacy and Policy Coordinator

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Juan Flores

Juan transferred to the University of California, Berkeley in 2017 from Palomar Community College in San Diego. Concurrently, Juan joined the Berkeley Underground Scholars. However, he was denied housing before beginning his Fall semester. Whilst Juan continued his undergraduate degree he dedicated his efforts and time to finding solutions for those who may be denied housing based on their background check. Hence, he was appointed the Advocacy and Policy Coordinator for the Underground Scholars. Juan is also a Peter E. Haas Public Service Leader, Marco Antonio Firebaugh Scholar, Assistant Researcher at University of California, Berkeley, and the Co-Founder of a Mentorship program at REALM Charter High School.


Correspondence Program Coordinator

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Sammie Gilmore

Sammie is a formerly incarcerated first-generation student from San Jose, California, who transferred to UC Berkeley in the Fall of 2017. Having personally dealt with stigmatized experiences like addiction, homelessness, mental health, and incarceration, she is passionate about assistance for others who have been failed by government institutions as well as early intervention for those who may be on the same path. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Social Welfare and hopes to eventually become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Sammie is an active member of the Underground Scholars research cohort through URAP (Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program), an Entrepreneurial RepresentEd Fellow, a tutor at San Quentin State Prison through the Teach in Prison DeCal, and a volunteer for the UCB Food Pantry.


Cross Enrollment Coordinator and Tutor

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David Maldonado

David is a PhD student in the Graduate School of Education. He is a formerly incarcerated student and one of the founding members of BUS. He grew up in Berkeley and Oakland. David is a proud student parent and is proud to be clean and sober. After release he went to SFSU to learn statistics through Project Rebound’s concurrent enrollment program, which brings formerly incarcerated students into higher education. That experience led to his eventual transfer to Berkeley where he earned his BA in Chicano Studies and an MA in Education.

The leaders from Project Rebound greatly assisted the formation of the Underground Scholars, sharing the vision of having formerly incarcerated people do the work that brings other formerly incarcerated students into higher education. David feels strongly that if we take ideological shortcuts and applaud our efforts as individuals we risk reaffirming the neoliberal logics that focus on individual competition and the development of human capital. Those are the market logics that contribute to the crisis in the welfare state and are coconstitutive features of carcerality and criminalization. Therefore, he rejects simple recognition paradigms and instead sees activism, political education, and refusal as part of an abolition project.


Transfer Coordinators

Transfer coordinators aid prospective UC students through the transfer admissions process by doing transcript analysis, counseling, and developing a personal statement.

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Maura Barry

Maura transferred to UC Berkeley in 2017 from Berkeley City College. She is currently completing her bachelor’s degree in social welfare and subsequently, pursuing a MSW. Both formerly incarcerated and system impacted Maura is committed to reducing social adversities individuals and their families experience through the criminal justice system. As a Transfer Coordinator she is dedicated to reversing the critical effects of mass incarceration through a network of direct support for formerly incarcerated students to attain access in academia. As a 2018-2019 Haas Public Service Leader, she strives toward providing educational resources to underrepresented populations in the Bay Area.

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Michael Cerda-Jara

Michael is a formerly incarcerated, first-generation, transfer student from Newark, CA who is pursuing his B.A. in Sociology. He credits his transfer from Chabot Community College to UC Berkeley not only to his own tenacity and resiliency, but also to the Berkeley Underground Scholars Transfer Program. Now a senior, Michael is working to complete his Senior Honors Thesis on employment outcomes for college-educated formerly incarcerated people entering the labor market. Using his own lived experiences as a guide for his work, Michael hopes to change the common perceptions and misconceptions that society has on those who have experienced the carceral state. He plans to pursue a Ph.D in Sociology and with that, he hopes to contribute to the discourse on the effects of mass incarceration. Michael is a Regents’ & Chancellor’s Scholarship recipient and a SURF Fellow.

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Fernando Vallejo

Fernando transferred to UC Berkeley with high honors from Santa Rosa Junior College; he was a part of Berkeley Underground Scholars’ first transfer cohort as well as Experience Berkeley. While at Cal, Vallejo was selected to conduct research as a George A. Miller Scholar and Marco Antonio Firebaugh Scholar. Additionally, he is a research apprentice for professor David J. Harding in collaboration with the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Vallejo is also co-founder of a mentoring program for young adults at REALM Charter High School. This fall, he was selected to be one of three Berkeley Underground Scholars’ Transfer Coordinators due to his commitment to giving back and will be guiding prospective transfer students through the UC application process. Given his lived experience as an incarcerated young adult and upbringing, Vallejo is completing a B.A. in Sociology and subsequently, plans to pursue a joint graduate degree program to contribute to the dialogue about how immigration law and criminal law converge.