WSU students return as mentors at migrant academy

By Steve Nakata, Administrative Services

Gizelle SandovalPULLMAN, Wash. – When Gizelle Sandoval arrived on the Washington State University campus a few years ago for the Dare to Dream Math and Science Academy, the high school junior wasn’t sure wasn’t sure she wanted to be here. 

The only world she knew was helping her parents pick fruit in the Yakima Valley, and she didn’t care much for school.

The Dare to Dream Academy, an annual summer program organized by the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction’s Migrant Education Program in partnership with WSU’s College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), changed her life. Now a WSU junior majoring in criminal justice, Sandoval returned to the academy the last week of June as a mentor.

Gizelle Sandoval, center, works with high school participants in Dare to Dream
Gizelle Sandoval, center, works with high school participants in Dare to Dream Academy

“As a high school student, the program’s mentors made me feel really comfortable and provided me with a great support group,” she said. “I’m really glad to have the opportunity to now serve as a mentor for others.”

About 180 high school junior and seniors, all from migrant families around the state, were invited to the academy to brush up on their math or science skills. Those who complete the rigorous curriculum taught by WSU instructors receive high school credit.

Life-changing experience

During a math workshop, WSU sophomore Edgardo Quiroz checked on each group of students as they worked to figure out the angles and distances needed to guide their minirobots along a predetermined path.

Quiroz’s path in life seemed predetermined growing up in the small agricultural community of Cowiche, Wash. Raised by a single mother who has worked in an apple warehouse for 20 years, he might have been destined to follow in her footsteps had it not been for his experience in the Dare to Dream Academy.

Edgardo Quiroz assists Dare to Dream Academy student with robotic project programming
Edgardo Quiroz assists Dare to Dream Academy student with robotic project programming

“When I came to the academy, it was the first time in my life that I ever touched a college campus,” he said. “I fell in love with WSU’s beautiful landscape, and the people in the program were really nice.”

After the camp ended, Quiroz had a new goal in life. He returned home determined to boost his grades high enough to get accepted into WSU. Now, he is studying for a career in public relations or advertising.

Anything is possible

Fellow academy mentor Celeste Estrada, who is from Kennewick, also knows what it’s like not having a father around. Her dad was deported when she was a high school sophomore. With her mom holding down two jobs to make ends meet, Estrada suddenly found herself taking a leadership role in the family.

“I had to step up to help care for my younger brother and sister,” she said. “But I was encouraged by my mother to follow my dreams, and my dad was a big dreamer himself.”

Dare to Dream Academy mentor Celeste Estrada, center, encourages high school participants in project work.
Dare to Dream Academy mentor Celeste Estrada, center, encourages high school participants in project work.

Now majoring in human development, Estrada credits the academy with showing her how she could achieve a college education. As a result, she was eager to share her knowledge with this year’s high school students — most who have faced difficult challenges.

“I want them to know that if they have persistence and determination, anything is possible for them,” said Estrada.

Seeing the momentum

Sandoval, Quiroz and Estrada were among 20 WSU students who devoted a week of their summer to be mentors at the academy.

Sylvia Reyna, program supervisor for the Migrant Education Program, calls them the glue that holds everything together —  and not just in a logistical sense. They also are asked to bond with the participants in ways that only they can do as former migrant students.

Whether it’s intended or not, Estrada said, the mentors ultimately serve as role models who most academy students don’t have at home. It is a big responsibility, but one all 20 WSU students take seriously and are honored to have.

Now in its fifth year at WSU, Reyna says the academy’s impact on students is largely evident by the success of its mentors.

“We are seeing the fruits of our labor with kids who have attended the camp in high school, enrolled in college, and now want to be mentors in our program,” she said. “We are definitely seeing the momentum building.”


Media Contacts:

  • Anita Peralta, Educational Services & Dare to Dream Coordinator, WSU College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), 509-335-77021,
  • Steve Nakata, public relations communications coordinator, Administrative Services, 509-335-1774,

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