First Generation Education

Correction: “First Generation Education,” a feature published in our fall 2010 edition, referenced Glen G. Galindo as CAMP’s Executive Director. He is the Executive Director of CAMP’s alumni association, an independent organization. For more information on CAMP, visit www.hepcamp.org.

With college costs constantly on the rise, there’s no denying that pursuing higher education is a massive undertaking—the academic, financial, and emotional elements strain not only students, but their parents and guardians too. So how big of a dent can $750 make in a $10,000 tuition bill? How about a few hours of academic counseling in a jam-packed class schedule? For first-generation students, it makes all the difference in the world.

The College Assistance Migrant Program, or CAMP, is a government-sponsored college outreach and scholarship program for students from migrant and seasonal farmworking backgrounds. Established in 1972, a product of President Johnson’s War on Poverty campaign, it has grown from five school branches to 38, with a multimillion dollar backing. From advice on admission and navigating financial aid applications to transitional counseling, CAMP supports students who often cannot turn to their families for help. The program focuses primarily on helping students get into college, but they also offer mentoring through the college years. About 2,000 students benefit from the program each year, joining an alumni network of well over 20,000. Executive Director of CAMP’s alumni association Glen G. Galindo reports a college freshman retention rate of approximately 90%.

Galindo was recruited to CAMP as a freshman at California State University in Sacramento in 1986. Since then, it seems he’s held practically every position in the organization, from student assistant to his current role. He speaks quickly and passionately about the organization and what it does.

“CAMP will provide students with assistance during the application process and support during their freshman year in college. But, ultimately, preparation during high school is a student’s best friend,” he says. “All high school students greatly improve their chances of reaching their educational goals if they earn a high GPA, take the correct college preparatory courses, and take their SAT/ACTs more than once. Unfortunately, most first-generation students lack in one or all of these key points.”

CAMP is not a political organization, Galindo says. It’s funded by federal grants; as such, it can only support U.S. citizens and legal residents. “We would like to see the Dream Act legislation pass so as to give greater opportunity for youth to pursue higher education,” Galindo says. “CAMP students typically have parents with an elementary-level education. Most are U.S.-born citizens, and as first-generation students, simply need guidance and mentorship to reach and succeed in higher education.”

What follows are the stories of three CAMPers. Each student is the first in his or her family to attend college, but the similarities don’t end there. They all appreciate their families and their education. They know they are role models, and they take that responsibility seriously. They understand they’ve been given an opportunity that’s not to be squandered.

Ana Laura Meza

Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Meza moved to Oregon with her family about 15 years ago. She spends her time outdoors, when the Northwest weather allows, and she loves being with her family, listening to her parents’ stories or playing what must be a massive game of Uno—she’s one of seven children.

Meza discovered CAMP as a volunteer at a Cesar Chavez Workshop in Independence, Oregon when the program offered a class that caught her interest. “I did not know much about what I was going to do financial-wise to pay for school,” she says. A CAMP representative named Isabel met with her to explain the program and what she had to do to apply. “We got a bit side tracked dancing and laughing because of the band that was playing outside,” Meza says. “Isabel not only helped me that day to get the application, but she offered her friendship.”

Meza says CAMP gives students a chance to slowly transition from high school to college. “It gives them a small push of motivation to continue to school, to achieve their goals.” Whether it’s a little extra money or life-changing mentoring, CAMP provides essential support at a key transitional point in students’ lives.

“I loved everything about CAMP, from the borrowing of books for your classes to the mentors who kept you updated every week, and the field trips to the local universities,” Meza says. “But the most memorable thing is the people that you meet along your first year.” They bonded over potluck dinners each Wednesday, she says. “The bonds you make with other CAMP students and staff you will keep for the rest of your life.”

Meza faced a number of obstacles in achieving her education, including the price of tuition. “Every person attending college knows that books and tuition are expensive and being unemployed does not help at all,” she says. While the lack of money is a common problem for students from all walks of life, first-gen students also deal with some lesser-known, unique obstacles at home. Never having experienced college or dealt with a child in higher education, Meza’s parents did not always understand all the things she had to do to get good grades, she says. “But no matter what they were always supportive.

“I want my parents to be proud of me, see that I am taking the opportunity of living in the U.S. and not just throwing it away,” she says. “I also want to be a role model for my younger brother who is in high school. I want to show him that if I can do it, so can he.”

Meza just started her second year at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon, but she hopes to transfer to Western Oregon University in the spring and work toward her bachelor’s degree in nursing. “When I was a little kid. I always enjoyed playing ‘doctor’ with my dolls, setting up scenarios where I had to fix their broken leg, or they were sick and they needed some soup,” she says. “I remember cutting my old shirts and using them as bandages or pencils as needles. As I grew I still had the interest to help people out, and what better way than to be a nurse.”

Jump at the chance to become a CAMPer, Meza advises students considering the program. “One thing for sure is do not take this opportunity for granted, because so many students who live here in the U.S. don’t have the same opportunity as we do,” she says. “Chances like this might only come our way once.”

Jose Arrezola

Health care translators bridge the language gap during some of life’s most difficult and stressful moments. In the public health sector, it’s especially trying work, but it’s Arrezola’s passion. CAMP played a prominent role in getting him there.

Jose ArrezolaJose Arrezola

Arrezola had already participated in a high school program geared toward migrant children before he learned about CAMP. When he discovered there was a similar program at CSU Fresno, he made an appointment to meet with the director and soon found himself involved as a CAMPer. “I read and learned a great deal about CAMP, and it made a significant impact in my life. I say this because right then I learned that I was going to be part of a group of students that were migrant like me and that also shared many cultural practices like mine,” he says. “That made me feel like I was going to have a family away from home.”

The eldest of five siblings in a family from Amacueca, Mexico, Arrezola came to the United States at 17 years old. He did not speak English, but he learned during night classes after full days at high school.

He credits his parents for their constant support and motivation, but he also struggled to relate the college experience to them. “Because I am of a migrant background and my parents did not go to school, they do not understand the educational system,” he says. “My parents always knew that school will prepare their kids for a better future, but it is not comprehensive.” He says he’s met many other CAMPers with similar problems. “Unfortunately, for various reasons, our migrant parents are not educated about the school system, whether it was poverty, machismo, lack of guidance, or role models.”

Another all-too-common barrier was money. His parents couldn’t afford his tuition, but with financial aid, determination, and help from CAMP, he was able to obtain his bachelor’s degree. “[My parents] did not have the opportunity to go to school like I did. It is my priority to also be a role model to my younger brothers and sisters, because I would also like for them to have a life full of opportunities to enjoy life to its fullest extent.”

Arrezola says college was always part of his plan; he didn’t consider it “optional.” “I was going to be one of those individuals that was going to have guidance in school and also was going to represent the minority in our community,” he says. “Education for me has been my inspiration to make a positive impact in the life surrounding me. I have always believed that an educated community cannot become perfect, but an educated community for sure can make better choices and make a difference.”

Arrezola is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public health at California State University, Fresno. “I always knew that I wanted to stay in the medical field,” he says. “After I graduated from college and became a health educator, I saw the necessity and the need to educate our communities about preventative care.” At 30 years old, he’s already worked as a bilingual health educator, leading one-on-one and group sessions throughout California, particularly in rural areas, for United Health Centers, and he’s served as the Administrative Leader of HealthCare California. As a volunteer, he’s worked as a bilingual spokesperson for the American Cancer Society. “This experience has given me the option to understand that, in our society, we have different groups of the population that need a lot of help finding guidance to medical access,” he says.

Arrezola has seen the health disparities in rural communities with limited access to health care. “I felt a close connection and could relate to the concerns of these individuals from personal experience,” he says. “I also felt the need to promote awareness about cultural sensitivity because there are a great deal of barriers, such as language, religion, and communication, etc., that retain people from seeking medical care.” He plans to finish his master’s degree and pursue a doctorate in public health with an emphasis in education.

To Arrezola, if any program can help students through the college experience, it’s CAMP. “I am still involved in the program because I see that new students have the same questions that I had when I was beginning my education at the university, and I want to be able to help them in the same way that program helped me,” he says. “I am proud to say that I am still a good friend with many of the students that I met at the CAMP program. Now a lot of them are professionals in the workforce, and the network that we have built has been a great help to continuously grow in our careers.

“I would like to tell students to take advantage of a program such as CAMP,” Arrezola says. “Be serious about wanting to pursue a college education and not feel discouraged.”

Benita Flores

“My parents are from Jalisco, Mexico, and although I was born in San Diego, I’m proud to say I’m from Jalisco, Mexico, too,” says Flores. Now enrolled in her fifth year at California State University, San Marcos (CSUSM), she first learned of CAMP as a senior in high school, after being accepted to the University. “I had heard the program would help me in my first year at CSUSM,” she says “Students need someone to guide them throughout the first year of college. It’s wonderful to know someone out there cares and wants you to succeed.”

Benita FloresBenita Flores

Flores also came from a low income family. Her father and brother shared the family car, and she had trouble getting to her college classes. “I desperately needed a job to cover my expenses, which included my textbooks for college,” Flores says, so she got a job as a tutor at her old high school and took their bus. “At times it was embarrassing, since students that knew me would ask, ‘Didn’t you graduate already? What are you doing here?’ But being embarrassed was nothing compared to my determination to overcome financial and transportation obstacles.”

Flores wrote about her dreams of becoming a doctor when she was a little girl, she says, but she decided she wanted to become a nurse in high school. “Sometimes I would fake being sick because I wanted to go ask the school nurse about nursing,” she says. “Volunteering at Palomar Hospital for two years helped me notice the great satisfaction I would feel when I would receive a smile from the patients I helped. I realized how privileged I was to be able to help the less fortunate.”

And, like the other CAMPers, Flores credits CAMP for providing the support necessary to not only attend but thrive in college. “I thank the CAMP staff for the help they gave me through these past years; if it wasn’t for them, my path in school would have been full of obstacles,” Flores says. “Once you become part of the CAMP family, they guide you through your college years and the road to success becomes more visible.”

*Correction: This article originally referenced Glen G. Galindo as CAMP’s Executive Director. He is the Executive Director of CAMP’s alumni association, an independent organization. For more information on CAMP, visit www.hepcamp.org.

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