University of Texas-Pan American freshman Ruben Hernandez has spent every summer since age 13 working with his family in South Carolina's tobacco fields as a migrant farm worker.
Despite the 10-hour work days in summer heat toiling at a tedious job harvesting the plants and cleaning the tobacco fields, Hernandez says being a migrant student has never been a negative experience for him.
Educators from his alma mater, Donna High School, nominated him for the award which recognizes high achieving high school students, and described him as a model student graduating third in his 2010 graduation class and having an extensive list of extracurricular and community service activities. Hernandez entered UTPA in fall 2010 and is currently a member of UTPA's College Assistance Migrant Program(CAMP), which provides numerous support services to facilitate success by migrant students just entering the University.
Hernandez said by working alongside his parents to help support his family, he learned many valuable lessons about hard work and sacrifice, all while never missing school. He said his parents always made sure to let him finish school and start on the first day so their work would not interrupt his education.
"My parents want me to be successful in college and have a better job, they say I deserve a better life," he said.
In high school and now at UTPA, Hernandez has benefitted from supportive educators and programs to help migrant students overcome obstacles caused by frequent interruptions in their schooling. CAMP recruiters visit area high schools to make migrant students aware of the program and work with migrant student counselors at those schools to encourage college readiness and assist students in the application process for admission, financial aid, and scholarships.
Hernandez is now focused on having a life away from the fields and said he knows he can achieve that by getting a college degree to advance toward his dream of working at NASA. While challenging, Hernandez said his goals are not impossible, thanks to his supportive parents and programs like CAMP.
"An education is important to me because it's the only way I'll be able to escape the harsh conditions of working in the fields," Hernandez said. "I am set at breaking the migrant cycle to have a better life."
Hernandez, along with the other statewide award recipients, spoke to attendees of AMET's annual conference held Nov. 10-12 at South Padre Island, Texas. AMET is a nonprofit organization that advocates for migrant students and families, provide leadership and resources to educators of migrant students and serves as a voice for migrant education programs.
Jaime Miranda, director of CAMP at UTPA and an AMET member, called the award an honor for Hernandez and the program. At the conference, Hernandez described to attendees how CAMP takes care, helps and supports its students in college, said Miranda.
"He deserved this award because of his dedication to school and never letting anything sway him from studying," Miranda said. "By receiving this award, Ruben is also opening many doors by showing others what a great program we have for students here at UTPA."
CAMP is a federal grant program through the Department of Migrant Education and was established at UTPA in 1972. There are only 36 other programs like it throughout the nation. The program is open to first-year college students who are considered migrant or seasonal farm workers and are pursuing higher education. The program's purpose is to provide students with services in academic advising, mentoring, tutoring, job search assistance, leadership development and much more. The need for CAMP has increased beyond a student's freshman year, Miranda said, so UTPA recently initiated the Migrant Student Success Office to serve sophomores, juniors and seniors as well.
"With the support of CAMP and my motivation, determination, and family's support, I will succeed," Hernandez said.
For more information on CAMP go to their website or call (956) 665-5333.