Michael Cerda-Jara is a researcher, scholar, and higher education professional committed to reshaping narratives and policies affecting people with incarceration histories. Hailing from Newark, CA, Michael’s journey as a formerly incarcerated, first-generation Chicano has fueled his commitment to reversing the school to prison pipeline and contributing to the discourse on the collateral consequences of mass incarceration.
Currently serving as the Associate Director for the Berkeley Underground Scholars program at UC Berkeley, Michael provides transformative academic and graduate school advising to formerly incarcerated students, and leads the organization’s retention efforts and wellness programs. He also leads the Underground Scholars Transfer Program which supports formerly incarcerated scholars throughout California with gaining admission to the UC system. Under his leadership, over 65% of applicants are offered admission to UC Berkeley and over 90% of applicants are offered admission to other UC campuses each year.
Michael is currently pursuing his Doctoral degree in Sociology at Stanford University as an Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE) Fellow. His research is focused on employment prospects for formerly incarcerated college graduates. Michael’s academic achievements include graduating with Highest Distinction from UC Berkeley in Spring 2020 with a BA in Sociology, earning an honorable mention from the department, and being recognized as one of the top graduating seniors.
Michael Cerda-Jara’s journey exemplifies resilience, tenacity, and a profound commitment to dismantling systemic barriers. Through his academic pursuits, advocacy, and leadership, he is actively shaping a future where individuals with incarceration histories are not defined by their past but empowered by their potential. Michael stands as a testament to the transformative power of education and mentorship, inspiring positive change both at an individual and systemic level.