The WSU College Assistant Migrant Program was recognized as a finalist for a national award given by the Latino education organization Excelencia in Education.
CAMP Director Michael Heim said this was the first time CAMP received a nomination for the award.
Heim said the Examples of Excelencia award recognizes programs that have track records of helping Latinx students succeed in higher education. About 170 programs were nominated nationwide. There were 12 finalists honored at the Celebración de Excelencia event on Friday in Washington, D.C.
“I think that one of the main points that was highlighted for our program is that we do a good job at all of the work that would support students toward succeeding in their first year at the university,” he said. “We also had very high retention rates.”
Established at WSU in 2006, CAMP works with first-generation students who have a personal or familial background in migrant or seasonal agricultural work. It focuses on student academic success, personal growth and student retention.
“Most of our students are coming from families that have only done farm work,” Heim said. “When you have a student come to the university, it could be a cultural shock for students coming to a new setting.”
Heim said the program empowers students to bridge academic success with personal success, helping them find balance in college and take advantage of opportunities and resources.
“Being a first-gen and coming from an underrepresented community and also low-income and changing your environment and moving away from home, there’s connections that CAMP is able to provide for our students,” he said.
Tanya Rivera, freshman speech pathology major, said the program helped her find a community of mentors and students who support her. Arriving a day before classes started due to a family emergency, CAMP members helped her move in and took the time to get to know her.
“When you’re a first year here and you feel alone, you’re far away from home, I think everybody really supports each other, especially the mentors,” she said. “They want to see what you’re about, what your background is, where you’re coming from.”
She said CAMP staff made an effort to get her to meet other CAMP student.
“They really took the time to put themselves out there and help me before they helped themselves,” Rivera said.
Rafael Pruneda, CAMP academic coordinator and retention specialist, said CAMP accepts a minimum of 50 first-year students each academic year. Students or their parents had to work in an agricultural job for at least 75 days within the past two years to qualify for the program. They must also be first-generation students.
Pruneda said CAMP students receive a wide variety of services, including free one-on-one tutoring, counseling and advising. They also participate in annual team building and leadership retreats. A $1,000 stipend is given to each student.
“From the get-go, they are a part of our family,” he said. “We really stress that and let them know we are here and that they are not alone and that we are going to be able to provide that mentorship, that guidance, and also the academic piece of knowing that we’re checking up.”
Heim said retention is a strong focus of the program. From 2013 to 2018, CAMP had a 98 percent retention rate.
Pruneda said retention has been high due to the mentorship aspect of CAMP. He said CAMP builds trust and community for staff members to understand students’ backgrounds.
“I think so many times our students come in resilient, but they’re broken down sometimes, feeling overwhelmed from not having the home, culture and their families around. We really offer that mentorship,” Pruneda said.
While in the program, students attend a University 101 and University 104 class, he said. The classes are designed to help students navigate through college and prepare for their careers. Students are also required to visit their professors at least eight times per semester.
“We really mentor a family of scholars. We strive to help them,” Pruneda said. “The expectations set for them is at a high level. We want them to succeed and be high-performing.”
Yissel Zazueta, CAMP tutor lead and senior human development and Spanish double major, said CAMP students have access to tutors from from 4-7 p.m., Monday through Thursday. They are required to attend at least two hours of tutoring. Some of the tutors and mentors are past CAMP students.
“[CAMP] really impacts the first-generation students here at WSU. It includes them in a different way and make them feel like they have a home,” she said.