People and Programs

The creators of CPE in 2009 -- at the height of US prison expansion, when access to college in prison did not exist in CT – had one clear goal: extend the opportunity to take real Wesleyan classes to incarcerated students in our state. Fifteen years later, the heart of our project is the same. To date, the CPE has offered 198 courses across Cheshire and York. Some 93 faculty members have taught a CPE course since its inception.


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    Current Students

    CPE students at Cheshire and York Correctional Institutions earn associate degrees through our partnership with CT State Community College, Middlesex and Bachelor of Liberal Studies degrees through Wesleyan itself. The BLS degree program, launched in 2019, is a mark of Wesleyan’s leadership in the field of higher education in prison – helping to transform who liberal arts education is for. Learn More About Our Current Students

    Students take one to four classes at a time, ranging, in recent terms, from “The Gothic and the Sentimental” to “Hinduism in the Epics” to Microeconomics to “Reproduction Issues in the 21st Century.” Students participate in study halls, partnering with peer teaching assistants from Wesleyan’s campus and exploring the library resources available on individual, non-networked laptops. Bachelor of Liberal Studies students pair with a faculty advisor, to benefit from intense engagement with an academic mentor as they shape and progress through their individualized plans of study.

    Wesleyan’s creative, rigorous, pragmatic liberal education fosters personal development and social responsibility while empowering students to shape a changing world. The Wesleyan Center for Prison Education curriculum does, too. 

    “To be able to write, to be able to read, you know, Moby Dick or Cervantes, or Shakespeare, you're able to go into a whole other world that's no longer between the four walls.” -CPE alumna

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    Faculty from departments across Wesleyan University and our partner institution, CT State Middlesex, teach courses substantively the same as on our campuses. To date, 93 faculty members have taught 198 courses through the CPE at Cheshire and York prisons. More Information About Our Faculty

    “Until I was in CPE I never really had the sense that anybody cared about my education. The professors that come in here… there’s a lot of caring involved in that. That’s a major difference.” -CPE student

    “My very deep belief is that nobody is defined in terms of the worst thing they did. Nobody is defined by their upbringing or their circumstances. We are always changing and one really exciting way that change can happen is through education,” -Lori Gruen, professor of philosophy and a founding faculty member .

    “Seeing the progress and achievement of the students and the success of the alumni, Prison Education is not only beneficial to the students, but also rewarding for those who teach. I was also reminded that we should not take our usual privileged environment at Wesleyan for granted. Teaching in prison with limited access to students and materials, helped me develop the ability to adapt to a new environment. It was a great opportunity for me to reconsider the way I teach.” - Naho Maruta

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    Faculty Advisors

    CPE BLS students benefit from intense engagement with faculty advisors as they progress through their degree and explore their intellectual interests. More Information About Our Faculty

    Lori Gruen, William Griffin Professor of Philosophy and Chair of Philosophy

    Eirene Visvardi, Associate Professor of Classical Studies

    Courtney Weiss Smith, Associate Professor of English

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    CPE alumni back in the community go on to earn graduate and professional degrees, work in law offices and research institutes, in restaurant management and theater companies – translating their liberal learning into working lives as inspirations to their communities. More Information About Our Alum

    One CPE alumnus with a job at a plant nursery and more work with a local farmer now sells the vegetables he grows as part of a local collective, building on the theoretical concerns presented in his CPE ‘Intro to Environmental Science’ classroom. “(CPE) gave me a reason to wake up in the morning. It gave me a group of people with whom to associate myself, people who were on point and focused about what they were doing. We were serious about trying to better ourselves, so that when we got out of prison we would have a life.”

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    Campus Student

    Campus student Teaching Assistants work closely with faculty who are teaching courses with the Center for Prison Education, earning credit for their engagement in creating equitable access to college for peer learners in prison. TAs attend in-prison study halls as Cheshire and York, facilitating discussions and providing one-on-one academic support and partnership. Campus student Research Partners work in the CPE office, fulfilling research requests submitted by students in prison as they search offline library databases. RPs facilitate independent discovery and exploration of information by CPE student researchers  with appetite for bold inquiry but without direct  access to the Internet. More About Our Campus Students

    “I do CPE because it is the most exciting and engaging academic environment that I have experienced in my time at Wesleyan. The students that I have encountered in my time at CPE are curious and intense learners. They bring a high level of excitement, focus, and care to every study hall and it has been an amazing experience getting to know them and learn with them.” - Grace Brustin, Senior and CPE Teaching Assistant

    Spring 2024 Teaching Assistants: 

    • Caelan Desmond 
    • Ben Mitchell 
    • Felice Li 
    • Maia Bronfman 
    • Alex Stach 
    • Xiran Tan 
    • Alise Mackey 
    • Kaleo Goldstein-Coloretti
    • Sam Rapkiewicz 


    Spring 2024 Research Partners:

    • Yoni Semel
    • Emilia Thornton 
    • Lula Konner
    • Maggie Brown

    Spring 2024 Program/Communications Assistants:

    • Grace Goodman
    • Elijah Leshnick
    • Liam Waldman
  • Faculty Advisory Committee

    CPE counts on a Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC) to oversee the CPE curriculum and advise and consult on CPE’s broader educational goals and vision.  Current FAC members

    Constance Leidy, Chair of CPE FAC, Associate Professor of Mathematics

    Joseph Coolon, Associate Professor of Biology, Associate Professor of Integrative Sciences

    Jill Flanigan, Professor & Program Coordinator, Health Information Management (CT State Community, Middlesex)

    Kerwin Kaye, Associate Professor of Sociology; Associate Professor of American Studies; Associate Professor of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

    Tushar Irani, Chair and Associate Professor of Letters, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Associate Professor of Education Studies

    Ulrich Plass, Chair and Professor of German Studies, Professor of Letters

  • Alumni Advisory Council

    Current Alumni Advisory Council Members

    Julian Adler (Co-Chair)

    Elizabeth Ling (Co-Chair)

    Daniel Atzmon

    James Jeter

The CPE Team

  • Victoria Justice

    Operations Coordinator

    North College, 419A

  • Shirley Sullivan

    Program Coordinator, Cheshire CI

    North College, 420

  • Tess Wheelwright


    North College, 418