Summers for Laura Ybarra, Edcouch-Elsa High School senior, are usually spent in Minnesota with her family working in factories and fields sorting through fruits and picking cotton, but this year she stayed behind to attend the Migrant University Summer Experience (MUSE) program held at The University of Texas-Pan American June 5-July 18.
MUSE, in its third year at UTPA, is a six-week program aimed at motivating Valley rising junior and senior students to continue higher education, post high school.
"This program is definitely a dynamic and diverse program that is unique when compared to other migrant programs," said Andrea Gonzalez, MUSE program coordinator. "It allows our students to grow and become aware of the possibilities of college through activities and access to the college experience."
Gonzalez said she has seen the program grow in the past three years. Reaching students from Laredo to Port Isabel, attendance numbers have increased from approximately 100 students last year to 141 students this year. Gonzalez credits the increase to students' enthusiasm about the program.
"Our program has a high success rate and the students that come end up being our biggest advertisers back on their campus," Gonzalez said. "The students are always enthusiastic about it and enjoy the independent living along with the programs we offer. They receive a lot of benefits."
MUSE offers students a variety of leadership activities, dining and etiquette courses and courses in résumé writing and interviewing that correlate with the program's career fair. However, the most popular portion of the program for students is the on-campus living experience offered to MUSE participants. They are housed in University dorms to be in close proximity to their classes and internships.
Students are also given a living allowance of $100 per week with a $900 stipend at the end of the program.
"Since these students would be migrating to work during this time, the living allowances make up for the money lost to their income," said Gonzalez.
Furthermore, in order to open up the world of college on a broader scope, at the end of the program students travel throughout the state of Texas to visit universities such as Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, St. Edwards University in Austin, The University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M in College Station. To wrap up the trip, students have a day of fun at Fiesta Texas in San Antonio.
"MUSE has received nothing but positive feedback from students, educators and parents," said Gonzalez. "In fact many want to come back and repeat the program. We definitely welcome them."
Edcouch-Elsa senior, Luis Velazquez, is one of 20 students who is repeating the program this year.
"My first year in the program was great and it turns out this year it's even better," Velazquez said. "This program has helped me out a lot with school, job skills and new experiences. Next year I want to come back to work with the program to give back to what the program has given me."
Velazquez will graduate May 2011 and plans on attending UTPA to major in business management.
For Ybarra, this is her first year in the program, so being away from her family during the summer for the first time in seven years took a little getting used to.
"I have been migrating since I was 10, so being here was a little hard at first, but it got easy when I began meeting new people and learning how to be independent," Ybarra said. "I'm really glad my parents pushed me to stay. I have learned a lot dealing with college and a work environment. It's been a great experience."
Ybarra also plans on attending UTPA to pursue a career in mechanical engineering after graduating from high school in May 2011.
The MUSE program offers student follow-up meetings three times a year where Gonzalez said she learns how the program has made a difference in students' lives.
"Many of the students say that the program has helped boost their self-esteem," Gonzalez said. "Some of them weren't even aware that college was a possibility for them, but the college experience and the independent living has changed their mind and their perception of themselves in a college setting."
View a video presentation on MUSE at http://ur.utpa.edu/video/watch/fe872e7df3090c9d312. For more information on MUSE contact Gonzalez at 956/665-2203.