“They Belong Here”
The road to a bachelor’s degree begins at Arizona Western, where red and white signs that say “I’m going to college!” dot the sprawling campus.
Several of the students at ASU Local – Yuma were participating in the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) at Arizona Western, an academic and cultural support initiative with on-campus housing for young people who have a background in agricultural work. Agriculture is the main industry in the Yuma region, which produces more than 90% of the country’s leafy greens in winter.
“These students come from backgrounds where they may have had to get up very early to cross the border,” said Rafael Encinas, academic advisor and transition coordinator for CAMP at Arizona Western. “Their parents might not be able to spend much time with them because they were always moving around or working in the fields.
“So our students crave recognition and want to be part of something. We try to develop a relationship to let them know they belong here.
Miguel Mejia, a psychology specialist in the ASU Local – Yuma cohort, was part of the College Assistance Migrant Program at Arizona Western, which gave him the sense of community he needed to pursue higher education.
“My father didn’t finish high school. In his senior year, he joined the military in Mexico, and he did so for nearly 11 years. After that he worked in the fields and held different jobs, and growing up he always told me that the most important thing you have in your life is education, and he really wanted me to continue.
“So that has always been my motivation – my family,” said Mejia, who wants to stay in the Yuma area after graduation and help other young people go to college.
ASU’s partnership with Arizona Western ensures a smooth transfer of credits, which is essential so that students have not wasted time or money. When transferring, they can choose from over 140 undergraduate degrees available through the hybrid program.
The Yuma cohort has a range of majors. Vasquez said criminal justice is common for students who want to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection or as correctional officers. Business is also popular.
“Our students are entrepreneurs because being so close to the border is a very entrepreneurial spirit,” she says.
“Some of them have already started small businesses in Mexico or online.”
Phil Regier is the university’s dean for educational initiatives and CEO of EdPlus – the unit that hosts ASU Online.
“Our goal with ASU Local, and in providing students with the ability to graduate through ASU Online, is to continue to make accessible, quality education available to all learners, regardless of their physical location,” Regier said. “By working with the ASU Learning Enterprise, ASU Local students not only have access to all of the support and engagement resources available to our ASU Online students, but also have the unique opportunity to come together and work alongside other ASU students in their community.
ASU Local Video – Yuma at Arizona Western College: Arizona State University (ASU)
Video by Ken Fagan/ASU News
Fighting “impostor syndrome”
A few weeks ago, Laura Juarez, Academic Success Advisor at ASU Local – Yuma, led a discussion on first-generation college students.
Many students were unaware they were first generation, having never heard of the term before.
Typically, the concept isn’t taught until graduate school, which is when Juarez and Vasquez first learned about it. That’s why the two women make a conscious effort to explain the challenges and strengths of the first generation to the Yuma group.
Vasquez shared a personal story with students about her time in graduate school at ASU, when late at night she read an article by the researcher Laura RendonRendón, who was previously a professor at ASU, is now based at the University of Texas. describing the experiences of first generation students.
Vasquez was so moved by what she was reading that she started crying and made a video of herself to send to a friend.
“And I just remember crying and just saying to him, ‘This is us. There is a story about us. We didn’t know it existed and it wasn’t standardized. It was easy to feel like you were the only one.
“Fast forward five years later, I met the researcher in person. I showed him the video and said, ‘Thank you for writing this and impacting my path.’ she is one of my mentors.
“Laura (Juarez) and I aim to expose you to this search early on because you’re going through it now,” Vasquez told the group.
Students shared how, even though their families have been tremendously supportive of them, they cannot fully grasp the college experience.
“They don’t know what you’re going through and they don’t understand how difficult your classes are,” said Lizabeth Hernandez, a business administration student.
“The doubts are still coming to the surface, and it’s scary.”
They spoke of “impostor syndrome” – lingering feelings of self-doubt no matter what they accomplish.
Juarez described how, as a first-generation student herself, she left her community of San Luis to attend college and university before returning to work at ASU Local – Yuma.
“It’s this feeling of, ‘Should I leave? Can I get out of this?'” she said.
“You never stop being first generation. I’m a first-generation pro and I still feel that sometimes,” she said.
“But there is a beauty in it. We navigate in systems that are not intended for us.
The purpose of the presentation was to explain that even if they face challenges, such as financial difficulties or a feeling of isolation, the very presence of college students demonstrates strength and resilience.
Students studied the researcher’s model of “community cultural wealth” Tara YossoYosso is a professor at the University of California, Riverside.who described how first-generation students arrive with assets such as “family capital”, values instilled by their families or the “linguistic capital” of being bilingual.
Lorena Martinez, a business management student, said she wished she had known about the “cultural wealth” model when she was completing her scholarship applications.
“I was only at one club at (Arizona Western College). What else could I put (in the app)? said Martinez.
“But looking at this, I realize that I have so much more that I could have talked about, but I didn’t. Sometimes we know more Spanish than English, and we could have the impression that it does not do us enough to move forward or to leave San Luis or Yuma, when in reality, it should push us forward.
“We have already crossed one border, and we can cross another.”
“You Can’t Do It Yourself”
When Gloria Gomez was in high school in Mexico, she wanted to go to college but couldn’t see a path for her. Her family was low-income, and she didn’t think she could qualify to attend college in Mexico.
“I was upset because I had dreamed my whole life of going to college,” she said.
“But my life changed when that person at church told me about community college, the FAFSA, and how you can charge for your tuition.
“The scary part was that I had to do things on my own. It was completely new. I hadn’t been to the United States since I was in fourth grade. I was born here, but felt like I was in a foreign country.
So Gomez attended Arizona Western before transferring to ASU Local – Yuma, where she is majoring in biological sciences with a concentration in biomedical sciences, and wants to be a family doctor. His classes are getting harder and harder, making it even more essential to have resources such as year-round academic and career support through success coaches and in-person activities.
Student-centric programming covers a range of topics, from creating a professional LinkedIn page to crafting an elevator pitch for networking events.
“Being a first-generation student, learning how to integrate into the country, learning the financial system, learning the school system – it’s all been an experience. But I’ve come this far,” she said.
“I’m a very introverted person and it’s hard for me to ask for help, but I’ve learned over the years that you can’t do it on your own. There is someone who needs to help you at some point in your life.
Gomez shares an apartment with her sister and works part-time in retail while taking classes. She worked hard to learn to balance her responsibilities.
“You will shed a lot of tears, but overall it will be worth it, because you will have job satisfaction and more doors will open for you in the future, and you will be able to say, ‘I have made it through college, and I can make it through anything else.”
She had advice for future STEM leaders in her community:
“I would say to Latin women, we need more of you in STEM. It’s not that scary.