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Central Washington University

CWU Administrator Recognized for “mission: to help people get their GED and a better job”

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Ramon Cardenas, director of the HEP program at Central Washington University, poses for a portrait in a classroom in Yakima on May 14. Amanda Ray, Yakima Herald-RepublicThe Yakima Herald-Republic, in its publication El Sol de Yakima, recently chronicled the work of Ramon Cardenas, the director of the CWU High School Equivalency Program, which is a federally funded program that serves migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families by providing free General Educational Development (GED) instruction and placement into a career, military, and or higher education. This is the English translation of the article written Lorena Cervantes Zepeda. 

Its mission: to help people get their GED and a better job

Originally from Chicago, Illinois and the son of Mexican parents, Ramón Cárdenas, like many young people, had to work in the field to support his family, without losing sight of his project to go to college.

He graduated in the criminal justice area and has worked in the HEP program of Central Washington University for 15 years. First, he worked as a recruiter and now, at 41 years old, he is director of the program.

"My mission is to help people achieve their dreams, starting with getting a GED and then a better job," he said.

Who is Ramón Cárdenas?

My parents emigrated from Michoacán, Mexico, to work in agriculture, they met in Chicago and decided to start a family. I am the oldest of 10 brothers and I am very grateful to them because they gave me the opportunity to go to university, and in some way, I was the example for my brothers to study their career.

What are your challenges as a child of immigrant parents and in your work?

I grew up as a Mexican, went to school without knowing English. For me learning the language was very difficult, I did not understand the teachers, I learned alone, listening, there were no support programs. I was growing as a farmer, the work in the field is very heavy, I learned to harvest and I understood that the field is not for everyone, I had other projects, I wanted to study, get ahead and support my parents. It was at that moment that I learned the importance of school and took the challenge of graduating. As director of the HEP Program, my challenge is to incorporate more people, motivate them to obtain their GED and see that they can aspire to better jobs. That is my daily challenge, to get more people to graduate in this program.

What are the main functions you have as director of the HEP program?

As director, I am in charge of coordinating the whole program, but one of the main functions is to connect with the community and at the same time support my recruiter, and make sure to reach the goals.This program aims to support 110 people per year, of which at least 69 percent must graduate, which represents 76 students per year. It is a very ambitious goal, because we are talking about 7 out of 10 students who must complete and obtain their GED, thinking that the majority (of students) have incomplete high school or high school.

In addition, they come to take their classes after working long hours in the field or in the wineries, since it is one of the requirements to be able to have the right to the resources of this program, that the beneficiaries work or have worked in areas related to the farming.

What is the HEP program?

It is a program created for immigrants and their families who work in areas of agriculture. Its purpose is to help them get their GED and to be able to have a better job. It is a very ambitious program, which asks us to graduate students in an average of 4 months, so our challenge is to teach them 4 years of high school in a minimum time. It is a great effort of the students, because when they get their GED, the next step we have to take is to connect them with the university so they can continue their studies or help them to get a good job. They are difficult goals that we must meet, we as program managers and students, because if we do not, it can disappear (the program). All of us who work here, we have an important function, we all support the students achieve their goals.

In your career, have you felt any kind of discrimination or were you made to feel that you occupied a different place than the one that corresponds to you?

Analyzing my life, as a student, I saw that the teachers did not connect with us, the Latinos, that somehow keeps you behind, but I was lucky enough to meet a counselor who explained the benefits that I could have and encouraged me to continue in the university and to obtain financial aid to continue.

Now as a manager I have not had that kind of problems, although there is always someone who learns that it is a program associated with agriculture and they think that what we do is help undocumented people. They are ill-intentioned people, because this program makes no distinction and is thinking of people who contribute to the growth of the economy with their workforce, in the field.

What are your goals, how do you see yourself in 10 years?

Here I have worked for 15 years, I like to grow, I want to learn more things. I know the HEP program and I like it because I identify with people, but it does not allow me to climb more. Being part of the workforce of Central Washington University I can move to other levels, without losing my essence of continuing to help my people.

What message would you give to those people who do not know that there are programs like HEP?

My advice is to not get discouraged. If they are working in the field or warehouses, look for information, there are people who know where to look and they can guide them. We are also, always open to give that help, we take them by the hand to get your GED and it is in Spanish. Having that document (GED), the work possibilities are better, in addition there are technical careers with short trainings that certify them in some technical career. For those who wish to obtain their GED, we ask them to come to us, they can call us at 509-452-0639 and we give them all the information they need to know to start fulfilling their dreams.

Photo: Ramon Cardenas, director of the HEP program at Central Washington University, poses for a portrait in a classroom in Yakima on May 14. Amanda Ray, Yakima Herald-Republic

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