First generation college students from migrant and farm working backgrounds face unique challenges when they arrive on campus.

The goal of Washington State University Pullman’s College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) is to give these students guidance throughout the admissions process and intensive, personalized, academic and social support after they enroll.

The program has been named one of five finalists in the baccalaureate category to be recognized as an Example of Excelencia, a prestigious honor given by one of the country’s leading Latino education organizations. It was chosen from 166 nominations nationwide.

CAMP Director Michael Heim will attend the Excelencia in Education’s annual Celebración de Excelencia this week in Washington, D.C. where his program will be recognized and the winner of the competition will be announced.

In a congratulatory letter to Heim, Excelencia in Education President Sarita Brown described the competition as the only national effort to identify, honor and promote evidence-based practices that accelerate Latino student success in higher education.

“By promoting and celebrating what works in serving Latino students in higher education, Excelencia increases awareness about the positive impact of the growth of the Latino population and programs that serve them well,” Brown said. “Examples of Excelencia inspires leaders to implement innovations that can serve all students.”

Heim said only a small handful of the 43 CAMP programs nationwide have ever been selected as an Example of Excelencia finalist. Joining CAMP as finalists in this year’s competition are initiatives from California State University at Northridge, University of Texas at Austin, California State University at San Marcos, and Ferris State University in Michigan.

A compelling case

Heim believes it is CAMP’s long, proven track record that caused members of the selection committee to take notice of the program. CAMP has exceeded the performance standards set by the U.S. Department of Education for over a decade.

“Our work has always been top-tier, high level,” Heim said. “Over time we have built a case with our data that is compelling.”

WSU CAMP was established on the Pullman campus in 2006 and serves 50 incoming first-generation students from migrant and seasonal farm working backgrounds each year.

Lucila Loera, executive director for the Office for Access and Opportunity and principal investigator for the CAMP grant, said the program’s strong partnerships across campus play a big role in the program’s success. Being a finalist in such a competitive process is reason for everyone who has been associated with CAMP to take pride in this accomplishment.

“It recognizes our intentionality with this work, our good understanding of the students we serve, and our great diverse staff,” Loera said. “This tells us we can be proud of that, but it also motivates us to keep improving.”

A strong community

WSU freshman Tanya Rivera felt CAMP’s impact immediately upon arriving on campus in August. A family emergency called her out of the country just as she was getting ready to make the trek to Pullman. When she finally arrived the day before classes began, she felt frantic not knowing many people on campus and wondered if she was taking care of everything that needed attention.

Remembering she had been invited to participate in CAMP, she reached out to the program’s mentors.

“Before I knew it, I met so many students that have the same background as me and we began to do everything together,” Rivera said. “I still visit my CAMP mentors two or three times a week to talk about school, or how I’m feeling that day, even things like where is a good place to eat in town.”

The strong sense of community created by the CAMP staff and students means the world to Rivera, who grew up in Wenatchee picking apples with her parents and siblings. Her goal is to become a speech pathologist someday.

Heim said the ultimate reward for the hard work he and his staff perform is watching CAMP students graduate and find their dream jobs. CAMP alumni are working in a wide range of careers including medicine, engineering, teaching, veterinary medicine and law.

“When our students graduate, it confirms our intuition about the students we are serving, that they are capable of graduating despite the odds, they are worthy of being here on campus, and they had it inside of them to succeed the whole time,” Heim said. “They just needed people to believe in them.”