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As the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) at New Mexico State University celebrated 20 years of service to students of migrant farmworker families, the program’s success is being recognized with a nearly $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education to fund the program through 2027. The new round of funding begins July 1. In addition to federal funds, the program also receives support from the New Mexico state Legislature.
“We have served 564 students that have come through our door,” said Martha Estrada, director of NMSU CAMP. “Now that we've been refunded, that's at least 30 more students every year.”
NMSU CAMP serves students who are the children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers or students who have been farmworkers to help them transition to the college environment. As freshmen, these students receive a $1,500 scholarship, book stipends and meal allowances as well as peer mentoring and support.
“We celebrated our 20th year, and we had several festivities that focused on and celebrated the successes of our farmworker students who are now located across the nation,” said Cynthia Bejarano, Regents Professor and principal investigator of the grant. “It was wonderful to hear the stories from our CAMP alumni about how life transforming they feel the program has been for them.”
Dr. Carlos Cano, a physician at the University of New Mexico Medical School, was among several CAMP alumni who served on a panel. He credits the study techniques he learned through CAMP with helping him to achieve his dream of earning a biology degree and becoming a doctor. He not only treats patients and trains incoming medical residents but also is an assistant professor at the medical school.
“There are multiple levels to getting into medical school, so being a person of color, it’s important to me to be an advocate for those people who are historically underrepresented in this profession,” Cano said. “It’s very satisfying, getting to teach residents and see them grow through their career.”
NMSU’s CAMP is one of only 11 programs funded out of 40 across the country that competed for these grants.
“Successfully renewing such a competitive grant multiple times is an important accomplishment that provides critical support for our students from migrant farm working families,” said Enrico Pontelli, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “This latest grant, taking this program forward to 25 years, demonstrates the effectiveness of NMSU CAMP coordinated by Cynthia (Bejarano) and Martha (Estrada), working closely with their CAMP team and community supporters.”
For the 2020-2021 freshmen cohort, Bejarano said NMSU CAMP students had a 93-percent retention rate after their first year at NMSU, while 70 percent of NMSU CAMP bachelor’s graduates have stayed in the New Mexico workforce.
“Every program has common objectives as well as a separate set of goals and objectives that are unique to that institution, unique to that programming and unique to the farm-working population,” Bejarano said. “We've been successful in creating programming that works for our particular population of students. Southern New Mexico and Eastern New Mexico are our primary recruitment areas. Since last year, we have more heavily recruited in Northern New Mexico where we are recruiting Indigenous farmworkers. We’re eager to better serve this community. We also have our more traditional agricultural New Mexico communities like Hatch, the Deming area, and the Anthony area, broadly speaking.”
For the first time this summer, Estrada explained they hosted an NMSU CAMP Migrant Education Program (MEP) day. Some public schools have this program for migrant farmworker students, a sister program of CAMP. These students were invited to campus for an information fair.
“Many of these students had never set foot on campus, even though they maybe live down the block or in Las Cruces or Anthony,” Estrada said.
Students, parents and MEP program staff were able to visit several academic departments, hear from their faculty members and students who've been part of those programs, just to be exposed to different careers. At a poster fair, current students shared their research with the visiting students. They also had lunch at Taos Restaurant.
“We’ve had our students and also other CAMP students serve as virtual mentors to these kids, but this was the first time that we were able to partner with our local Gadsden Independent School District and Las Cruces Public Schools’ migrant education programs to bring them physically to campus. After visiting academic departments, our athletics department presented to our students. They let them walk the football field and throw a few footballs. The students were able to experience what being in college is like for at least half a day.”
In the next five-year cycle, NMSU CAMP is adding a health component to their STEM programming, becoming a STEM-H CAMP program.
“This new health component really came about because of COVID and because of the concerns and needs of our farm-working families,” Bejarano said. “We realized that many of our students are interested in the healthcare field.”
NMSU CAMP is partnering with the nursing school and other health departments at the university, as well as working closely with Amador Health in the community, which also serves on CAMP’s advisory board.
“I think now moving into the next five years, we're able to really see how our former students are doing in their professional careers and lives and work with them to help us in shepherding along the incoming generation of farm-working students” Bejarano said.
Ozvaldo Munoz, currently an executive with the Marriott Corporation, is one of many CAMP alumni who reflected on the program’s success.
“These students don't come from wealthy families and some of them, like me, might not have the highest GPA in the world to get big scholarships,” Munoz said. “But CAMP is there to give you an opportunity to change your life path. That’s what’s amazing.”