Counselor offers support, and a smile, for UC Merced students

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 24, 2012 

— Rosa Campos always knew that she wanted to work with first-generation college students, especially those from low-income backgrounds.

Being first in her family to attend a four-year college, Campos, who grew up in Planada, knows exactly what those students go through.

Campos, 26, works as the coordinator for the Fiat Lux Scholars Program at the UC Merced's Calvin E. Bright Success Center. She counsels first- and second-year students about how to be successful in college academically and personally.

"I love what I do," she said. "I see great pride and joy to be able to help the students."

The program's name comes from the motto of the University of California, "Fiat Lux," which means "Let there be light" in Latin.

Campos began working with the program in May 2011 as a graduate intern, and became the coordinator in August of the same year. Last year, the program served 100 students. This year's target is to reach 300, she said.

Campos helps students with whatever they may need. She once had a student who had never used an ATM, and she was able to assist the student. Sometimes students feel homesick or they're having problems academically, she said, and they can come to her office with any questions.

The last couple of weeks, she's been seeing eight to 10 students a day. Oftentimes, those students are struggling academically. But Campos is always available to cheer them on. "I tell them, 'You can do it, you still have time to turn it around.' "

She once had a student who went from academic probation to being on the dean's list the next semester. "It's an awesome feeling," Campos said.

Graciela Vasquez, 21, a fourth-year student at UC Merced, said Campos is very dedicated to her job. "I think she has a great passion. She works really hard to make sure that all students have what they need," she said. "She really wants the students to succeed."

Vasquez, who now works with Campos as a student assistant and lead scholar, said Campos always wanted the program to grow. That dream has become a reality, as Fiat Lux was able to expand this year.

Vasquez joined the program as a student in spring 2010. Before becoming a part of the program, she wasn't doing well in her classes because she was involved in too many activities on campus, she said. The semester after joining the program, she got straight As.

"When I joined, it really helped me to do better with time management," she said.

The Fiat Lux Scholars Program started at UC Merced in 2009 with funding from a grant, Campos said. The grant ended, but the program was able to continue with support from student fees. This summer, it received a grant to expand the services to more students, she said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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