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CAMP: Preparing students for the future


CAMP leaders Jessica Arreola, Ami Diaz, and Jesus Moreno study outside the CAMP resource center. Photo by Alvin Wilson.

By Alvin Wilson

Chemeketa’s graduation rate is higher than the average Oregon school’s.

Programs that help students finish school also prevent the retention and graduation rates from decreasing.

One such program is CAMP.

Julio Cortez is the CAMP counselor/adviser, and he used to be a CAMP student himself.

“CAMP stands for College Assistance Migrant Program. It’s a federal grant-funded program that assists students with their first year of college,” he said.

However, not everybody can get into the program.

“You have to have a migrant background, and you have to be eligible for financial aid. … But even that doesn’t mean that you get in because we still have to interview you,” Cortez said.

CAMP has been in existence since 1972 and operates in states beyond Oregon.

According to its website, CAMP serves about 2,400 students annually. Almost 75 percent of CAMP students end up graduating with a four-year degree.

“The service is really there to help these first generation college students make it through the first year,” Cortez said. “After that, we let them go because they have all the tools and experience they need to finish.”

CAMP helps by offering a wide variety of services for its students.

“We have mentoring, tutoring, study hall, and we do advising/counseling. We also bring them on university visits to get them thinking about transferring,” Cortez said of CAMP students.

Academic help, such as tutoring and mentoring, isn’t the only kind of help that CAMP offers.

Gianluigi Benvenutto is the CAMP director at Chemeketa; he, too, was a CAMP student.

“We have the ability to provide emergency help,” Benvenutto said. “If a student’s car breaks down, we can give them a bus pass or gas money if they are traveling from a distance away.

“Some terms we get students who have kids, so we can help provide childcare as well.”

CAMP also allows students to travel around the country.

“We took six students to Chicago for a National Hispanic Leadership conference last term, we took two students to California for a CAMP conference, and we took most of them to Washington state for a conference,” Benvenutto said.

Offering these services also allows CAMP to see at least 85 percent of its students return for a second year at Chemeketa.

“The whole point is for retention purposes,” Cortez said. “If we didn’t have a program like this, the attrition rate would be higher for this population.”

To retain funding, CAMP must show that it helps students succeed.

“We have very high standards,” Benvenutto said. “Eighty-six percent of students who enter our program need to complete their first year of college. Of the 86 percent who completed their first year, 85 percent need to continue and complete their degree.”

According to Benvenutto, the demand in Oregon is high for programs such as CAMP. Only two CAMP programs operate in the state: at Chemeketa and at Oregon State University.

“We get about 160 applications, and we can only accept 45 students,” he said.

Chemeketa CAMP officials hope to raise the number of applicants to 55 after this year.

The students who apply usually hear about the program from family or friends.

“My siblings were in CAMP before, and they told me it was a really good resource,” Juan Cuellar, a first-year nursing student, said. “Coming into college, you get scared. It’s a huge step. They told me that CAMP was going to help me understand the college life.”

Cuellar said that CAMP has helped him become more social.

“It has mostly affect my experience here socially,” he said. “It has introduced me to a whole bunch of people. During high school I was pretty shy, and CAMP helped me make some new friends.”

Students in the program can even take advantage of internship opportunities.

Anabella Flores, a first-year law major, said, “I heard about CAMP because my sister was in it. It just seemed like something I wanted to do.”

Flores said CAMP has helped her become a better student.

“They set standards for you. They know how to keep you accountable and force you to do better. They always try to encourage us, and it really inspires me,” she said.

Flores is interning for the Mexican Consulate through CAMP and was recently accepted for an internship in Washington, D.C.

“I was nominated by CAMP to apply for an internship in Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office in D.C.,” she said. “Mostly what I would be doing is administrative[work], like getting signatures or giving tours. I would also spend a day shadowing the senator, going to his conferences and hearings.”

Flores gives CAMP credit for allowing her the opportunity to apply for internships.

“I wouldn’t have known where to get started without CAMP,” she said.

After CAMP students finish their first year at Chemeketa, they have the option to become a mentor to help the next group of students.

Jesus Moreno is a second-year psychology major and CAMP mentor.

Moreno said that going to college was something he would have had a hard time doing without CAMP.

“I probably wouldn’t have the motivation to keep coming to Chemeketa if it wasn’t for CAMP,” he said. “I wouldn’t know anything about the resources here.”

CAMP mentors have to keep up with homework, as well as help the students under their supervision, to remain in their position.

“You have to have above a 3.0 GPA and meet with each of your students at least once a week for one hour. Each week there is an objective for the meetings, like working on resumes, job searching, or scholarships,” Moreno said.

CAMP also offers help for its mentors.

“If we need an academic adviser, we can still go to the CAMP counselor,” Moreno said. “They still guide you like you’re a first-year student.”

Jessica Arreola, a second-year education major, said she became a mentor because of the inspiration she got from her mentor.

Even though she is no longer a CAMP student, Arreola said she still receives help.

“They lend me calculators. I can talk to our counselor. Basically the same help the first-year students get, I can get because I’m working for them,” she said.

She also credits CAMP with her success so far in school.

“It inspired me to continue my education,” she said. “I didn’t even think I would be able to go to college. And once CAMP helped me with my first year, I felt like, ‘OK, I can do this.’ ”

Cortez and Benvenutto both said that CAMP was good for Chemeketa and for the community.

“When we recruit, we don’t only recruit for our program; we recruit for Chemeketa. We really promote higher education,” Cortez said.

Benvenutto said, “We provide many opportunities to help develop students – not just academically but by having a sense of a family or support.”

More information about CAMP can be found on their website, at

nica trip

CAMP students Landy Figueroa and Cesar Tucux Lopez talk in March with John Carrol, representing the AMOS-Heath & Hope staff in Nicaragua, about the health services they will provide for a small community. ​Picture by David Hallett​.

2014-15 CAMP students during their orientation at the 4-H Center in West Salem. ​Picture courtesy of CAMP

2014-15 CAMP students during their orientation at the 4-H Center in West Salem. ​Picture courtesy of CAMP

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