NewsCenter | SDSU | SDSU VISTA: Valuing Incarcerated Scholars through Academia

In August 2023, students began a transformative journey within the confines of Centinela State Prison in California. San Diego State University embarked on a mission to empower incarcerated individuals through the launch of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. 

This cross-unit collaboration is led by SDSU’s Director of the Institute for the Arts, Humanities, and Social Justice, Annie Buckley, and VISTA (Valuing Incarcerated Scholars Through Academia) Coordinator Azucena Wood Hardesty (‘23, M.A.). Their plan represents a profound shift towards valuing the potential and aspirations of those within the correctional system, offering them a pathway to personal and academic growth.

“VISTA engages units across the University and has been about three years in the making here at SDSU. It is part of a larger statewide and national effort in recent decades to bring higher education to students experiencing incarceration,” said Buckley.

This groundbreaking program embodies the belief that education is a powerful catalyst for change. The BA degree selected for VISTA is Interdisciplinary Studies and includes three creative disciplines, Communication, Journalism and Media Studies, and Art and Design, constructed to equip students with the tools they need to communicate and analyze the world around them as they work towards a shared goal of achieving the degree. 

“The major was determined in collaboration with school directors and faculty. We wanted to cultivate creative and critical thinking and empower students with the tools to tell their own and other stories,” said Buckley. ”We also considered the careers that this would open to them would most likely have fewer barriers to entry for people who are formerly incarcerated than some fields.”

What sets this program apart is its focus on experiential learning. The curriculum encourages hands-on exploration and collaboration and culminates in a capstone project in which students apply their newfound skills to create publications, radio programs, or other projects.

Eligibility for the program hinges on students’ completion of an associate degree for transfer (ADT), including meeting academic requirements such as the Golden Four and CSU General Education-Breadth

“Students at Centinela have to complete an ADT to be qualified to transfer into the program,” Wood Hardesty said. “The transfer requirements are equal to what students on campus have to provide.”

The applicability of this education extends across industries, from traditional media to emerging fields like digital strategy and online content management.

“SDSU VISTA is directly aligned with the vision and mission of the Institute for the Arts, Humanities, and Social Justice to expand access to the arts and humanities, to bridge gaps in knowledge and understanding, and to create connections with the main and Imperial Valley campuses,” Buckley said.

SDSU’s BA program for those incarcerated is a testament to the transformative power of education, breaking down barriers one degree at a time.

For more information, contact VISTA Coordinator Azucena Wood Hardesty at

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