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NMSU migrant program students shadow legislators

Three New Mexico State University students spent a few days in Santa Fe this month learning first-hand about what goes into making state law during the 2014 New Mexico legislative session.

From left: NMSU students Yessenia Marquez, Ramon Hernandez and Jessica Gomez shadowed legislators during the 2014 New Mexico Legislative Session. All three students are in NMSU's College Assistance Migrant Program. (Courtesy photo)

"It was an amazing educational experience for me and I was very honored for the opportunity. I got to meet so many important leaders in our state and learn from them as well," said Jessica Gomez, a junior engineering major.

Gomez, Ramon Hernandez, a senior government major, and Yessenia Marquez, a senior education major, shadowed legislators between Feb. 10-12, attending committee meetings and even sitting with state senators and representatives on the floor of the legislature.

These students have more in common than their trip to Santa Fe. Their hometown is Hatch and they are all involved in the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP). The program helps students who are migratory, or seasonal farmworkers, or the children of these workers through their first year of college and continues to assist and support these students through graduation.

Cynthia Bejarano, the principal investigator for NMSU's CAMP initiative, worked with NMSU governmental relations representatives in Santa Fe to match the students with a state senator or representative for the visit.

"We knew our students would benefit from this kind of experience," said Bejarano. "It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we are grateful to those legislators who generously offered to share their time and their insight during the legislative session. This is the first cohort of students to shadow legislators and we hope to make it an annual event."

The CAMP program is included in an appropriation request before the legislature that would expand support for both CAMP and the New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation (New Mexico AMP), which serves underrepresented minority students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Jose Montoya, NMSU's CAMP recruitment coordinator, accompanied the students while they were in Santa Fe.

"Having known these students since the first day they walked into the CAMP door, I can say how proud I was watching them interact with state legislators," Montoya said. "They were all very shy during their freshman year and now it's exciting to observe the young professionals they have become."

Gomez, who has benefitted from both CAMP and AMP, says her chance to shadow Sen. John Sapien, (D-Albuquerque) taught her how much work goes into every bill.

"I got to sit with him through several committees, one of them being the senate bill for the lottery scholarship," said Gomez. "I also got to work on capital outlay with the chief of staff, and I learned how to find bills on the bill locator and the process they have to go through in order to be passed."

Marquez, whose education degree is focused in mathematics, shadowed Sen. William P. Soules, (D-Las Cruces), a teacher at Onate High School.

"I sat in committee meetings as people were presenting their bills," Marquez said. "The senator explained to me each of the bills and answered any questions I had. He would ask me if I had any advice about the bills to let him know."

Hernandez joined Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, (D-Albuquerque). The opportunity to see behind-the-scenes of government at work was particularly exciting for Hernandez, who is planning to go to law school.

"It was a great experience and I'm thankful I got the opportunity to be a part of it, "Hernandez said. "I attended several meetings with him concerning various different bills. I learned that it takes cooperation from both sides to amend a bill."

Three students, three days and a series of memorable events at the State Capitol left a lasting impression.

"Being in Santa Fe for the legislative session was a great experience that made me aware of the many things happening in each district," said Marquez. "There are many issues and a lot of work during the session."

"During that process I learned so much about New Mexico and how the laws are passed," Gomez said. "I learned that our senators and representatives work really hard to keep the state on the right path and how much work and thought there is behind a bill."