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David Staples
David Staples, courtesy Jason Smith '23

Inaugural Augustana Prison Education Program student to graduate Saturday

"I'm thrilled to be cheering for David's success now and into the future." 

Dr. Sharon Varallo, Director of the Augustana Prison Education Program

Augustana College will celebrate nearly 500 graduates Saturday at commencement including David Staples, the college’s first graduate to have benefitted from the Augustana Prison Education Program, APEP.

Launched in 2021, APEP serves incarcerated men at the East Moline Correctional Center. Students can earn a four-year degree in communication studies or American studies, which draws upon American history, literature, politics and arts. Classes are taught by Augustana faculty and the curriculum mirrors the college’s liberal arts focus.

Staples was a member of the inaugural APEP cohort. He received an early release from prison in August 2022 after 29 years of imprisonment. He then continued his Augustana education, this time on campus, and declared a psychology major. His degree will bear no distinction regarding his APEP involvement.

Staples plans to attend graduate school, with hopes of working in counseling psychology. He will continue to work with the Illinois Innocence Project and his legal team in seeking exoneration.

Pioneered and led by Dr. Sharon Varallo, professor of communication studies, APEP plans to add up to 20 new students this fall and to serve up to 40 total incarcerated students. The program was awarded a $1 million grant and a 10-year commitment from the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation in 2022. The program launched with a $225,000 seed grant from the foundation. Additional support comes from individual, foundation and corporate donors. 

Dr. Varallo will be among the faculty participating in Augustana's commencement ceremony at the Vibrant Arena at The Mark. For ceremony information and access to the livestream, visit

"I'm thrilled to be cheering for David's success now and into the future," said Dr. Varallo.



Nicole Lauer, 309-794-7645 or

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