White House touts NMSU program as ‘Bright Spot in Hispanic Education’

September 21, 2015 by Minerva Baumann, NMSU News Center

New Mexico State University’s College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) was named one of the country’s “Bright Spots in Hispanic Education.” More than 230 programs and organizations are now listed online in the national catalog that recognizes their commitment to narrowing the Latino achievement gap.

Cynthia Bejarano, center, meets with College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) staff members and students outside the CAMP offices at Milton Hall. (NMSU Photo by Darren Phillips)

Cynthia Bejarano, center, meets with College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) staff members and students outside the CAMP offices at Milton Hall. (NMSU Photo by Darren Phillips)

“Our students are proving how successful we are by landing jobs in their fields of expertise,” said Cynthia Bejarano, principal investigator of the program she founded in 2002. “We have accountants, CPAs, engineers and teachers who are working in New Mexico and elsewhere – Texas, Indiana, California, Ohio – so they’re really becoming the ambassadors of the NMSU CAMP program and talking about our good work.”

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. nominated the NMSU program for the honor.

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics was established in 1990 to address educational disparities in Hispanic communities. The announcement of this year’s “Bright Spots in Hispanic Education” was made at the launch of Hispanic Heritage Month Sept. 15 in honor of the initiative’s 25th anniversary.

NMSU CAMP is hosting a reunion next weekend inviting all current and former students of the program to celebrate their success.

“I am pleased to see the hard work of NMSU’s CAMP recognized nationally,” said Dean Christa Slaton, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The children of migrant farmworker families start college with significant challenges but our caring staff and faculty understand the needs of these students and provide a safe haven of support as well as the academic tools they need to succeed and it’s been working for more than 13 years.”

Bejarano points to surveys of students in the program that indicate 79 percent of NMSU CAMP students who have graduated with bachelor’s degrees are now in the workforce as professionals in New Mexico alone. The percentage is higher when we account for all NMSU CAMP alumni across the nation.

The program, which provides scholarships and book stipends as well as mentoring for students, has helped nearly 380 students from across New Mexico, West Texas, Arizona and Colorado.

Rocky Navarette, an NMSU senior mechanical engineering student, is a CAMP tutor and peer mentor for the program.

“CAMP is an extensive family that has provided me with scholarships, a job and moral support,” Navarette said. “CAMP has a sense of community rather than just a freshman going to a university on their own. They have taught me to never give up.”

In 2012, NMSU’s CAMP program, which is part of the College of Arts and Sciences, was among only eight CAMP programs nationwide selected to receive an additional five-year grant from the U.S. Education Office of Migrant Education.

“Working in the fields is not easy,” Bejarano said. “Waking up at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning to go out and pick chiles or pick onions or work in an onion shed is very arduous work. We’re able to do what other programs and financial mechanisms are not able to do, to understand the story and the lived experience of our students and help them apply those tools they have learned working in the fields to the academic setting.”

The Bright Spots initiative seeks to encourage sharing data-driven approaches, promising practices and effective partnerships that result in increased support for educational attainment of Hispanic youth.

NMSU CAMP alumnus Daniel Ramirez-Gordillo, who not only earned a bachelor’s degree, but also a master’s and Ph.D. at NMSU, is currently conducting research as a post-doctoral fellow at The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

“The CAMP program was fundamentally important for my success in college not only as an undergraduate student but as a graduate student as well,” Ramirez-Gordillo said. “This is a program that I keep close to my heart.”

To learn more about the Bright Spots initiative, visit the national online catalog at www.ed.gov/HispanicInitiative.

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