Our Mission

The University of Utah Prison Education Project (UPEP) seeks to transform the field of higher education in prison through quality education, research, and outreach. We foster a culture of sustained and rigorous academic inquiry inside two facilities in the Utah State Prison in Draper, Timpanogos and Wasatch. We work to create lasting impact in our state and communities by investing in people and providing them the tools necessary for empowerment and lifelong learning.

Our People

Director and Co-Founder: Dr. Erin L. Castro
Dr. Erin L. Castro is Director and Co-Founder of UPEP and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy at the University of Utah. Her research focuses on postsecondary educational opportunity during incarceration through university-prison partnerships. She is a Strategic Organizing Member of the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison.

Leadership Team:

Erin L. Castro, Director & Co-Founder

Cindy Fierros, Associate Director, Programming

Sarah Manley, Coordinator, Curriculum & Resource Room

Rachel Aho, Coordinator, Grants & Communication

Estefanie Aguilar-Padilla, Graduate Research Assistant

Caisa Royer, PHD, JD, Postdoctoral fellow


Engagement Team:

Whitney Hills, Graduate Intern, Campus Engagement & Prison Lecture Series

Elliot Morris, Staff Volunteer, Admissions

Natalie Pinkney, Staff Volunteer, Admissions

Maria Alberto, Graduate Intern, Admissions

Kehau Folau, Staff Volunteer, Re-Entry


Student Intern Team:

Estefanie Aguilar-Padilla, Undergraduate Intern, School for Social and Cultural Transformation

Erin Feeley, Undergraduate Intern & Co-Founder, College of Education/Honors College

Grayson Hull, Undergraduate Intern, College of Social & Behavioral Science

Matthew Hollman, Undergraduate Intern, School of Business

Hans Liu, Undergraduate Volunteer & Co-Founder, College of Social & Behavioral Science/Honors College

Bryn Dayton, Undergraduate Volunteer, College of Engineering

Doug Nagie, Undergraduate Volunteer & Co-Founder, College of Humanities

Diana Bahena, Graduate Volunteer, Correspondence & Communications

Julie Olaf, Graduate Volunteer, College of Social Work

Edén Cortez, Graduate Volunteer, College of Education


Outreach Ambassadors:

Anna Garcia

Eliza McKinney

Emi Ataata

Kehau Folau

Alex Lake


Research Collaborative:

Erin L. Castro, Director & Co-Founder

Caisa Royer, JD, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow



Our History

UPEP grew out of the 2016-2017 Honors Praxis Lab, Education, Incarceration, and Justice. The creation of UPEP is the result of much collaboration, and this collaboration is ongoing. We have worked in partnership with prominent college-in-prison programs across the country to build the infrastructure for UPEP and have designed UPEP in accordance with best practices established by the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison, a coalition of quality college-in-prison programs, to provide quality higher education in Draper.

Our Partners

Faculty, staff, students, and community members are integral to the success and longevity of UPEP. We are thankful for support from our many partners and donors:

Womens Enrollment Initiative
Honor's College
College of Cultural and Social Confirmation


1721 Campus Center Drive, SAEC 2220
c/o Dr. Erin L. Castro
Salt Lake City, UT 84112