Challenge, Opportunities, and Wisdom

I was fifteen when my family moved to the U.S. from a rural town in Mexico. My parents were migrant workers, so after the season, they would return to Mexico to continue working while I remained in Eastern Oregon. As a first-generation, low-income, Latino from a migrant farm working family, education was something I valued but was insecure about. All of that changed when I was recruited into the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) to attend a university. The CAMP Program is managed by the U.S. Department of Education and assists students who are migratory or seasonal farmworkers (or children of such workers) enrolled in their first year of undergraduate studies at an institution of higher education (IHE). 

In the CAMP program, I was surrounded by other students who, like me, were from first- generation, low-income, and farm working Latinx families who were struggling at a predominately white institution. It can be hard  to feel like one of very few, or sometimes the only one in the classroom or in specific spaces on campus questioning your identity and sense of belonging in higher education. Our shared narratives and the cohort’s community helped us gain a sense of belonging and made me realize I wanted to seek opportunities to mentor other students as they navigated higher education.  

During my second year of college, I became a CAMP tutor and the following year a peer mentor. I have been advising and mentoring CAMP students by providing individual support in overcoming personal and academic obstacles during their first year in college and serving as a positive social and academic role model. In addition, during the summers, I worked as a mentor for the Oregon Migrant Leadership Institute (OMLI), where I have served as a role model for young migrant students. My mentoring approach is strongly driven by inclusivity and a phrase I heard growing up: ”Todos son maestros y todos son aprendices.” (everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a learner).  

During the pandemic I decided to be innovative and to continue to find ways to connect with my students by sending weekly emails. These emails contain three main sections: wellness challenge, opportunities, and wisdom. The wellness challenge provides useful tips for improving well-being and adopting good habits to improve mental and physical health. The opportunities section includes a short list of volunteer activities, scholarships, internships, job openings and more. Lastly, the wisdom section is a simple quote or a small meditation passage. Based on a survey I conducted with my mentees they have found these emails useful and felt more connected during the pandemic. Furthermore, it is important to recognize that students bring knowledge and experience to a learning environment and while I teach and share my experiences with them, they do the same thing with me. Even though I began college insecure about my belongingness, I am now confident sharing my knowledge with others and being in this space.  

This is the reason I have also realized that my work as a mentor has not only impacted students’ sense of belonging in college but has also impacted my own sense of belonging as I take on leadership roles. I genuinely believe that education is the avenue for change in our society because when quality education is taught to every student in an environment that fosters and celebrates diversity, equity, and inclusion, actual progress can be made.  

CAMP’s sister program, the High School Equivalency Program (HEP),High School Equivalency Program (HEP), helps migratory and seasonal farmworkers (or children of such workers) who are 16 years of age or older and not currently enrolled in school to obtain the equivalent of a high school diploma. Both programs are accepting applications until February 1, 2022. Both CAMP and HEP are competitive five-year grants to eligible IHEs or nonprofit private agencies that cooperate with such institutions.  

Bio:  Ulises Trujillo Garcia is an undergraduate student at Boise State University, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. He is actively involved. Currently, he is participating in two research projects on campus. He is also the Vice-President of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Financial Officer of Chi Epsilon (The Civil Engineering Honor Society), Events Fundraising Officer for Organizacion de Estudiantes Latino-Americanos, and member of the Order of the Engineer and Tau Beta Pi (The Engineering Honor Society). Among his numerous accomplishments and awards, Ulises was recently elected as a fellow for the Micron Academy for Inclusive Leadership and participated as a 2021 fellow for the Station1 Frontiers Fellowship (SFF). Ulises wants to pursue a Ph.D. in Engineering Education to help diverse students navigate this challenging field, access resources, and increase their graduation and retention rates, and was just offered a full ride to one of the institutions he applied for.