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CSUCI program that paves the way to college for farmworking families gets a boost

Source: CSUCI.EDU | March 15, 2022

For children who are the first in their family to attend college, pursuing higher education is often a family decision. This can be especially true for farmworking families who may believe they don’t have the background or finances to support their student.

A CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) program designed to show farmworking families a pathway to college has just received a $50,000 boost from Reiter Affiliated Companies’ philanthropic arm.

Called “University Culture,” the program began in 2010 and has since assisted hundreds of underrepresented families with information about financial aid, college life, what to expect from higher education—and that they do, indeed, have plenty to offer their college student.

“A lot of times, parents who didn’t go to college feel like they don’t know how to help their children. That’s a deficit or negative way to look at it,” said Channel Your Success Activity Manager Mónica Ocampo. “When we design this curriculum, we come in with an asset-based approach. We let them know ‘You have exactly what it takes to help your children be successful.’”

The grant from Reiter will launch a project within the University Culture program called Project COSECHA (Cultivating Outreach to Sustain Educational and Career Hopes and Aspirations).

“The Reiter Philanthropy Committee (RAC) in Oxnard is excited to partner with University Culture in support of Project COSECHA,” said Marilyn Peake, Oxnard Philanthropy Committee Chair for RAC. “We have a long standing relationship with the University, collaborating on a variety of projects over the past several years, but we are exceptionally proud to support this program as it helps close the educational gap by creating access to services, information, and resources for farmworker families in greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme.”

Reiter Affiliated Companies (RAC)is a global, multi-generational farming company that produces a variety of berries. The company has a long history of seeing to the well-being of their farmworking families.

Project COSECHA involves supercharging the University Culture program in a number of ways, including the creation of groups or “cohorts” of farmworking families for each of three years of the grant. The cohorts will attend events and workshops together, get to know one another, and create even more cultural strength through this little community.

Interim Assistant Vice President for Student Success & Equity Initiatives Michelle Hasendonckx, Ed.D., who supported the development of the grant with Ocampo, will help provide peer mentors for the prospective students. The peer mentors are other CSUCI students who are the first in their family to attend college and can help new students navigate the college system.

“When you’re in a group, you start to build that rapport,” Ocampo said. “They have that peer mentor support but they also have each other— community cultural wealth. This also creates motivation.”

“We hope to reach 500 people from the farmworking community,” Hasendonckx said. “This program will fund a part-time staff person and peer mentors and we plan to continue to offer this program after the grant concludes. The goal is to institutionalize this work so that it becomes part of what CSUCI does on a regular basis.”

Project COSECHA will offer culturally relevant activities, Ocampo explained, which means meeting farmworking families where they are and delivering programming where they work, play and live.

Ocampo visits elementary, middle and high schools, talks to parents after school meetings, or goes out into the fields where families are working to talk to them about the University Culture program. She invites them to workshops and family events such as “Día de Familia,” in which families can learn more about college, and have some fun with bingo or Loteria.

“Loteria is a huge game within the Latina/o culture,” Ocampo said. “It helps everybody make a connection because it’s something within their everyday lives. We go to places where families are. We may greet them after a school meeting, or events that involve the entire family. We provide support such as a kids corner, so parents are able to enjoy the program activities.”

This project is close to Ocampo’s heart as her family worked in the fields that surround the university where she now works. She admits that she, too, almost became a statistic in a population not well-represented in higher education.

“I got pregnant at 17 and had a baby,” Ocampo said. “I went to Oxnard College because I knew that if you go to college, you have a better future. I did it for my daughter and my parents. I felt like I failed them when I got pregnant.”

With inspiration from mentors at Oxnard College, she continued on to earn her degree at CSUCI. Then she looked back and tried to figure out a way to light the path for others.

“I realized a lot of these students and parents were just like me,” She said. “Not understanding college or the college pipeline. That grew my passion for working with the farmworker community.”

Ocampo also knows that families have plenty to offer their college-going offspring, because she knows how important her family was to her as she earned her degree and went on to a rewarding career.

“My mom has been a motivation for me,” Ocampo said. “I’ll talk to her about my work and she’ll say ‘Mija, I have no idea what you’re talking about but I want to support you.”