October 4, 2007
Raul Ramos is descended from four generations of migrant workers. He spent many of his summer vacations throughout elementary and middle school tagging along with his parents to harvest crops in the hot sun.
So Ramos, the associate director of Michigan State University’s chapter of the College Assistance Migrant Program, or CAMP, understands the migrant life. Affectionately known as “Rudy,” he has a pretty good idea of what freshmen from migrant families need in order to adjust to university life.
Ramos was born in Battle Creek, Mich., while his parents were migrating to work in the fields. Even though his mother had only an eighth grade education and his father was illiterate, Ramos’s parents knew the importance of a good education and drove Ramos to continue his academic career. Now he has the opportunity to help students making the same journey. “The real rewarding thing for me is to be able to go back to my roots, and to help these students. It’s very fulfilling,” Ramos said.
CAMP was founded in 1981 by the U.S. Department of Education, and has since grown to serve about 2,400 students annually on campuses throughout the country. The MSU chapter was the brainchild of Luis A. Garcia, who is now its director. Garcia applied for a CAMP grant three times before the Department of Education was convinced his collected data showed a genuine need to accommodate the large number of migrant and seasonal farm workers in the area–people who can almost never afford to provide their children with college educations. In 2000, the Department of Education agreed to fund the MSU chapter, and CAMP was given the green light. It now accepts around 70 students a year, or 50 percent of its applicants. A majority of CAMP students are the first in their family to attend college.
The primary goal of the CAMP program is to provide academic and monetary support to freshmen students with migrant and seasonal farm worker backgrounds, helping to ensure a smooth transition to college life and a successful first year. Many students’ families are from Texas and Florida and have been traveling to work in Michigan for generations. All are either U.S. citizens or in the process of becoming permanent residents.
Because of their migrant backgrounds, CAMP students face a unique set of challenges when coming to a major university like MSU. Many students have had to cobble together their high school educations at several different schools, depending on where their families migrated to work. CAMP tries to get past obstacles like this by providing academic tutoring. The program also assists students in buying their textbooks, and can even provide winter clothing, basic health insurance, and funds for optical, dental, and emergency care to those who need it most. Another job of the CAMP staff, which has just three members, is to find ways to help students fund their additional years at MSU, as many are unable to afford student loans. This has led to partnerships with banks, and MSU has named CAMP one of its top five endowment programs.