Lourdes Reyna’s earliest memory is in the orchards.
That’s where her parents, both seasonal farmworkers in Yakima, would line an apple bin with a blanket as a playpen for Lourdes and her little brother.
As soon as the children could carry a bag, they joined their parents picking fruit. Up at 4 a.m., she’d get dressed, help make lunch and ride to the orchard with her family. The kids would always fall asleep in the car on the way home.
“We were so tired at the end of the day,” Reyna says. “Picking fruit is very hard. I don’t know how my parents are still doing it for a living.”
She wanted to go to college, and her parents wanted that for her too. With no experience of college and very little English, however, Reyna’s parents worried about their daughter’s safety and happiness on campus. They also struggled with the complexities of admission, registration, financial aid, and housing.
Since 2007, families like the Reynas have found answers and welcome at Washington State University’s La Bienvenida, a Spanish-language orientation for parents or caregivers of students who come from seasonal-farmworker backgrounds.
For the students, La Bienvenida is their required WSU orientation, with information on student groups, registering for classes, financial aid, and the like. For families, it’s a chance to learn about programs and costs, to see how their child will live on campus, and to meet other parents.
“I think more than anything, La Bienvenida allowed me to see that I could go to college, that it was a possibility,” Reyna says. “It helped my mom build connections that made her comfortable sending us there and leaving us there.”
She says “us” because Lourdes Reyna was the first Reyna sibling, but not the last, to become a Coug. She was followed to WSU and La Bienvenida by her two younger sisters, Samantha and Anjelica. Her brother attended another institution.
“Having the program in Spanish told me that WSU is inclusive,” she says. “The people I met there, you truly felt they cared.”
La Bienvenida is a mandatory part of CAMP, the federally funded College Assistance Migrant Program for students whose families work in seasonal or migrant agriculture jobs.
In 2022 for the first time, La Bienvenida was offered on WSU campuses in Pullman, Tri-Cities, and Vancouver, thanks to a gift from Bob and Karen Felton. The expansion meant La Bienvenida served more than 350 students and families last May and June.
The goal of La Bienvenida is to ease the transition to college and set the foundation for a successful first year, both of which are strong predictors of college success, says Marcela Carillo Pattinson, director of undocumented initiatives at WSU, which includes oversight of La Bienvenida.
The success has been dramatic. The number of participants who continue to their second and third years of college and on to graduation can be more than a third higher than for other students of color at WSU Pullman.
The majority of students served by CAMP and La Bienvenida are first-generation college students, so programming includes a lot of basic information. But families also meet with specialists from the Human Development department who can help lead discussion of potentially touchy topics like social life at college. Families who participate in Pullman stay in residence halls and eat in dining halls.
Says Michael Heim, director of the CAMP program, “When you have parents who are trying to navigate a system they haven’t been through, it helps to say, ‘Here’s what that looks like.’”
He adds, “Parents are the same no matter their culture or nationality—they want the best for their kids.”
The success of programs like CAMP and La Bienvenida, plus the wide range of multicultural student services, has brought growing numbers of Latino students to the university.
In fact, WSU serves one of the largest numbers of undergraduate Latino students of any college or university in the state, according to data from Excelencio in Education, a nonprofit organization that researches and promotes Latino student success in higher ed.
“WSU is becoming a destination for our Latinx communities within Washington,” says Heim.
Lourdes Reyna—now Lourdes Reyna Alcala—graduated in 2012, majoring in criminal justice and sociology. She’s a community health development manager at Greater Oregon Behavioral Health Inc. in Hermiston.
She says she had accepted another college’s offer of admission before a friend invited her to visit WSU with her.
“It was during La Bienvenida,” she says. “The vibe when I walked into that room was so motivating. I had visited multiple campuses and I never felt this kind of vibe before. I knew right away WSU is where I needed to be.”
Steve Nakata ’86 contributed to this article.