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NMSU social justice symposium to host labor activist, CAMP student success stories

  • By Minerva Baumann
  • 575-646-7566
  • mbauma46@nmsu.edu
  • Mar 29, 2022
Head and shoulders of 4 people
head and shoulders of a woman

The seeds of farmworker families have grown far and wide in the 20 years since New Mexico State University’s College Assistance Migrant Program began in 2002. During this year’s J. Paul Taylor Social Justice Symposium April 1–2, a panel of these CAMP alumni will share their life stories along with keynote speech from iconic labor activist Dolores Huerta.

“CAMP is about creating those safe, welcoming spaces across campus where a set of people with similar values, investments and dedication provide a place for life transformations to happen,” said Cynthia Bejarano, Regents Professor and principal investigator of the program. “I know there are lots of places like this on campus and we guide our students through those doors.”

NMSU CAMP has impacted the lives of 564 students who say they’ve found not only success but also significance. The 17th annual J. Paul Taylor Social Justice Symposium’s theme is “Cultivando el Futuro: Celebrating 20 Years of CAMP Success.”

The symposium was founded by revered New Mexico legislator and long-time educator J. Paul Taylor, who celebrated his 101st birthday in August 2021. NMSU’s College of Arts and Sciences established the symposium in 2005 when Taylor suggested bringing resources of the university and community together to address areas of concern for underserved populations in the region.

The two-day virtual event, will begin at 6 p.m. Friday, April 1 with a welcome, a recorded video message from J. Paul Taylor and brief description of CAMP, followed by an in-person blessing from the Tortugas Pueblo in front of the CAMP offices at Milton Hall. This year’s Community Awards will honor Mariela Munoz, a nurse at Memorial Medical Center, and Sandra Martinez, a Columbus, New Mexico elementary school teacher, both former CAMP students. The panel discussion with CAMP alumni from each NMSU college now working across New Mexico and the U.S. will continue until 8 p.m.

The second evening’s keynote speaker will be Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers Association and considered one of the most influential labor activists of the 20th century. Her talk will be followed by a Q&A session.

The public is invited to tune in via Zoom video conferencing on both evenings.

NMSU CAMP was awarded a five-year, $2.1 million grant in 2017 and its funding is up for renewal this year. These funds help students transition to the college environment as freshmen with a $1,500 scholarship, book stipends and meal allowances as well as peer mentoring and support. While the financial assistance is important, most alums say it’s the personal support from the recruiters and mentors like director Martha Estrada and staff members Ricardo Trejo, Yvette Cortez and Cynthia Bartow, who make CAMP feel like a family.

Concepcion Mendoza has spent the last 10 years at Wanzek Construction, first as a project engineer and now as senior quality manager. At Gadsden High School, she never knew college was an option until she met a CAMP recruiter who showed her what was possible and convinced her parents to let her attend NMSU. She picked up the travel bug while participating in what is now called “Aggies Without Limits,” where student engineers spend the summer building community projects in developing countries.

“I’m still involved in ‘Aggies Without Limits,’ helping them go on their trips and supporting them,” Mendoza said. “Here at Wanzek, I am big part of the recruiting and mentoring of new young people that come in, especially women entering the construction industry. That’s the favorite part of my job when I get to ride around the projects with new, young engineers and get to tell them my story.”

Dr. Carlos Cano, a physician at the University of New Mexico Medical School, credits the study techniques he learned through CAMP with helping him to achieve his dream of earning a biology degree and becoming a doctor.

“I get to do a lot of different things and wear a lot of different hats. I'm able to both be in the clinic and at the hospital,” Cano said. “There are multiple levels to getting into medical school so being a person of color, it’s important to me to be an advocate for those people who are historically underrepresented in this profession. It’s very satisfying, getting to teach residents and see them grow through their career.”

Raymundo Chavira joined the CAMP program originally more than 10 years ago, but had to drop out before completing his degree to provide financial support for his family. After reaching out to CAMP again, Chavira learned he needed only six courses to complete his degree. Today he is teaching third grade bilingual students in his home town of Deming.

“I contacted CAMP and by the end of the year, I was graduating from college,” Chavira said. “I mean, my life changed completely after I graduated. I feel like I’m doing the right thing, like this is the job that I needed. I feel connected with my students because all these kids – eight and nine years old – they have the same background as me. I am uniquely in a position to understand where they're coming from and to help them gain the skills that they’re going to need.”

Osvaldo Munoz, an executive with the Marriott Corporation, currently manages the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center. Within a month of enrolling at NMSU, Munoz had to have emergency surgery. He woke up in the hospital with his CAMP recruiter sitting at his bedside. “These people have made an impact on my life,” Munoz said.

Advice from his CAMP mentors also helped him pivot from being failing chemistry major to becoming a Hotel Restaurant Tourism Management star. Munoz worked three years with Marriott in Las Cruces and has been sprinting up the corporate ladder with Marriot International ever since. He’s recently accepted another promotion – his fifth in eight years.

“The only reason I've even been able to get these promotions is because of my high performing staff. We work together. We’re a team,” said Munoz. “I'm only capable of so much, but if I have a team behind me, we can accomplish anything. I think that mentality, growing up and going to New Mexico State and seeing the way that the CAMP staff cared for every single student is what has set me apart from everybody else. And just as I take the time to teach and coach and mentor younger managers that just graduated college or maybe it’s their first management job, I tell them ‘Don't forget to pay it forward to the next set of managers.’”

These CAMP alums and others will join in the panel and engage in Q&A. For a full agenda and bios on the speakers, visit the J. Paul Taylor Symposium site.