Nicole Romero

Real life learning at UNM-Taos

By Bill Knief

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In its ten years as a branch campus of the state’s flagship university, UNM-Taos has sought to expand its services and increase the diversity of the student body by identifying those groups that might benefit most from higher education, but due to circumstances beyond their control, need a little extra help to get started, develop a clear education plan and graduate. College and Career Prep, the summer Puentes program, Upward Bound for Veterans, Upward Bound for Math and Science, the GED, English as a Second Language and Adult Learning programs, along with the recently activated CAMP Program are all good examples.

Last week I met with Jerome Samora, summer CAMP coordinator, who, along with Nicole Romero, is in charge of recruitment, and Mayra Gutierrez, Senior Academic Advisor for CAMP, to find out more about the program.

Samora explained that CAMP is the College Assistance Migrant Program. It is federally funded through the US Department of Education through the Office of Migrant Education, and it was established to identify, recruit and enroll migrant and seasonal farm worker students. Currently they are recruiting for both the summer and fall programs.

“We provide academic, social and financial support so that they can complete their first year of college,” Samora explained. “The program offers financial assistance, academic advisement, paid internship opportunities and tutoring along with getting them involved in social and cultural activities. A lot of the students we get are first generation college students.”

Gutierrez said that there were still a few openings both for the Summer and Fall programs, and the only requirements to qualify were that students or their parents had done at least 75 days of agricultural work in the last two years, which could include farming, weeding, growing crops, either for pay or crop sharing, and that they were enrolled in college and had less than 24 credit hours. “We are actively recruiting,” Gutierrez said. “We have funding for 35 students and we are not filled up yet.”

“We walk students through the process step by step,” Samora said. “We have a check list for students including the Compass Test for placement in English and math, and we are funded so that there is no charge to students.”

“I know sometimes students are not comfortable applying, not familiar with the process, so we stay with them every step of the way,” Gutierrez said. We’ve had students intern at the BLM, Dental offices, working in green houses. We try to match job placement to what they are going to school for.”

Samora added that some of the students have never been in a professional environment before. “It’s their first professional job and so we help them with etiquette—what’s the right way to behave, dress and how to deal with that world. But probably the most entertaining parts of the program are the field trips.”

“We are going to be offering two classes this summer,” Gutierrez added, “intermediate math, and biology in a hands-on educational environment. We set up experts and professionals on different sites and take students on field trips for real-life learning experience. Introduction to Field Research Methods is a cool class because we are going to take students to Ghost Ranch, Bandelier, the Sand Dunes, and explore the Hondo burn and the effects fire has on the ecosystem. You don’t just look at slides, you actually get to be a part of it and get involved.”

The CAMP program strategy is simple: to surround the student with support in order to make sure that they are successful college students and they are comfortable with the process. To achieve this, program directors work in close collaboration with other CAMP programs in the state and UNM-Taos faculty and staff members, particularly in financial aid, CASA tutoring, admissions, and student success.

“We all have dreams,” Gutierrez said. “We try to let our students know that there are other options out there. It’s all about trying to make something better out of yourself. Higher education can be a life changing experience. I know it has been for me. I got into a program like this that believed in me, that supported me, that opened those doors for me and now I can’t see myself without it. Juan Monte showed us that we are all here to grow together. He’s all about life learning.”

Samora and Gutierrez both attribute much of their personal and programmatic success to program head Juan Montes, calling him a mentor and a role model. Both agreed that he has a way of pushing students out of their comfort zone, but always with respect and caring.

“I don’t know where I would be today if it hadn’t been for Juan,” Gutierrez said

“Juan has always treated me as an adult and as a professional,” Samora added. “And when somebody treats you like that, that’s what you tend to become.”

To find out more about the Summer and Fall CAMP programs, call 575 737-3720, 575 737-3721, or just stop by 114 Civic Plaza Drive.

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