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Pueblo student honored by prestigious national essay contest

Release Date: October 26, 2015

Cora Zaletel

Executive Director, External Affairs

Colorado State University-Pueblo


Press Release

PUEBLO – Colorado State University-Pueblo student honored by prestigious national essay contest PUEBLO – A Colorado State University-Pueblo student has earned honorable mention and a $500 award in a prestigious essay contest sponsored by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity in New York, N.Y. Winners of the Prize were announced today (Monday, Oct. 26) by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and its exclusive corporate sponsor, LRN. 2015 Prize in Ethics Essay Contest winners. The 2016 Contest also is now open with a deadline of December 14.

Robert Chan, a native of Taiwan who is incarcerated in California, is set to graduate in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology through the University’s Office of Extended Studies. His essay, "From Shackles to Square Hats: Higher Education and Lifer Prisoners," examines whether public tax dollars should be used to educate prisoners or if prisoners should even have the opportunity to obtain a college education. As a lifer who is incarcerated for murder, Chan questions whether he deserves the chance to improve himself and his “future,” given that he stole all such privileges from the man he killed 21 years ago while in high school. 

“College made us stakeholders in our own lives again. This meant being responsible for ourselves, for each other, for our families and friends outside, for those injured by our crimes, for the local community, and for society at large,” Chan said in his essay. 

The Prize in Ethics Essay Contest is an annual competition that challenges college students in the U.S. to submit essays on the urgent and complex ethical issues that confront us in the modern world. Since the contest’s inception in 1989, thousands of young people have composed essays for consideration.  In November 2010, Yale University Press published "An Ethical Compass: Coming of Age in the 21st Century", an anthology of some of the most outstanding entries from the prize’s first two decades.  Last year, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and LRN partnered with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools to introduce the Prize in Ethics at the high school level.  

“Today’s college students are listening to the ethical voices within. They are drawing on their memories and the lessons of their teachers, and are concerned with the morality of their private and public experiences. They are challenging us all to make a difference,” said Elie Wiesel. 

CSU-Pueblo currently serves about 50 incarcerated students, both degree seeking and non-degree seeking, as the University is one of a few colleges to offer a full bachelor’s degree program through print-based courses. The numbers are increasing, particularly from facilities in Oregon, California, Minnesota, Virginia, and Louisiana, as Louisiana State University (LSU) recently discontinued its print-based bachelor’s degree program. 

Prisoners pay the same tuition charged to all students in independent study courses, $165.00 per credit hour. Many of them depend on family or friends to pay for their schooling costs, while others, like Chan, apply to a variety of foundations to help pay their expenses.  This year, Chan received a scholarship from the Davis-Putter Scholarship Foundation.  

Associate Professor of Sociology/Anthropology Chris Messer said Chan’s essay vividly articulates his experiences and views associated with the ethics associated with student learning in a prison context. 

“Robert was enrolled in a course with me last year, and I could immediately tell he was a gifted student who had a knack for writing,” Messer said. “Just as he did in the class I instructed, Robert asks critical questions and offers a compelling analysis. I’m more than grateful for the opportunity to have served as his faculty sponsor for this prestigious program.”

The University is working with The Virginia Correctional Center for Women and Professor Donna Levy form J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College with a small cohort of female students who are receiving scholarships from The Elizabeth Kates Foundation to assist with books and tuition. CSU-Pueblo also was approached by the Department of Corrections in Colorado to partner in applying for a Federal Pell Grant Experiment, which would provide a waiver to schools selected for the experiment to allow them to issue Pell grants to otherwise qualified incarcerated student under specific conditions.   

Several students who earned bachelor’s degrees through CSU –Pueblo while incarcerated are happy to share the impact the degrees have had on their lives:   

Miguel Zalpar completed a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2008 with a 4.0 grade point average. He has applied to numerous graduate schools, including Rutgers’s University, University of Miami, and John Jay University and authored and co-authored several articles which have appeared in "Special Problems in Corrections 2008", "Journal of Prisoners on Prison 2013" and "Critical Criminology 2014".  

Matthew Moeller completed a bachelor’s degree in Social Science and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2014.  He is a tutor in his facility’s Educational Office and currently working on a re-entry program for inmates at Minnesota Correctional Facility at Moose Lake. Minn.  He also is working with a local non-profit group on a conference this fall for the Bridge Program.: Inmate Re-Entry Program. 

The following students were honored by The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity as winners of The 2015 Elie Wiesel Foundation Prize in Ethics Essay Contest

Click on the essay titles to read this year’s winning essays.  To view previous years' winners, click here

First Prize ($5,000):
Alexandra Stewart
"Ethics of Transcendence"
The University of New Mexico

Second Prize ($2,500):
Andrew Mueller
"The Ethics of Giving: Lessons from the Ship and the City"
United States Merchant Marine Academy

Third Prize ($1,500):
Andrew King
"Human, Animals, and The Kingdom of Ends"
University of California Berkeley

Honorable Mention ($500 each):
Joshua Asaro
"Public Service in the Social Media Age: How Ethics and Perception Must Guide our Service Members"
United States Merchant Marine Academy


Robert Chan
"From Shackles to Square Hats: Higher Education and Lifer Prisoners"
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