How the Puente Project Supports Latinx Success at SJCC

Puente Student, Jennave Martinez, photo from the Puente Project Instagram.
Puente Student, Jennave Martinez, photo from the Puente Project Instagram.

At San José City College, we want to see you achieve your goals. We value each student as a complex individual from a particular background, and we know that everyone has different needs and aspirations.

With this in mind, we are constantly striving to bridge educational and achievement gaps among our diverse student population. Our support programs, innovative learning systems, and an emphasis on community, help us fulfill our equity-driven mission to best serve all students.

And as a top Latinx-Serving Institution, we offer excellent programs like EOP&S and METAS to help create pathways to success for underrepresented students in higher-education. The Puente Project is also key to Latinx and Chicanx success at SJCC.

Today we’ll be learning more about the history of this essential program, and how Puente’s community serves as a bridge to academic success.

“All of the counselors and professors let it be known that Puente is here for us puentistas. […] everything about Puente has made me a better student.”

Angelique Garcia, SJCC Puente Student

What is the Puente Project?

The Puente Project was founded by Felix Galaviz and Patricia McGrath in 1981, at Chabot Community College in Hayward, California. 

Its mission “is to increase the number of educationally underrepresented students who enroll in four-year colleges and universities, earn college degrees and return to the community as mentors and leaders to future generations.” 

It is currently sponsored by the University of California and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. Since its founding, it has helped more than 300,000 Latinx students. 

Now let’s learn more about its roots and incredible accomplishments over the past thirty years.

A Grassroots Approach: Puente’s Rule of Three

Puente started out as a grassroots project to combat the “low rate of academic achievement among Mexican American and Latino students.” 

To better understand the challenges and obstacles causing this inequity, Galaviz and McGrath reviewed over 2,000 transcripts. They discovered three key patterns: “students were avoiding academic counseling, students were not enrolling in college-level writing courses, and students were the first in their families to attend college.” 

To directly address these issues, they created the Puente model. A three-pronged approach of “rigorous instruction, focused academic counseling, and mentoring by members of the community.”

Puente works with first-year college students, and that same approach persists today. It also consists of three phases. In their first year, Puente students must  complete key Guidance, Ethnic Studies, and English courses in the Fall and Spring Semesters (Phase 1 & 2) followed by ongoing mentoring until graduation (Phase 3). This comprehensive method is key for students who face an inequitable system. 

Sabrina Hagmann, a Puente Counselor at SJCC said, “Puente provides a space for our students to flourish in a system that originally was not made for them.” She also spoke of the importance of the counseling courses, which provide students “the social and cultural capital they need to succeed in college.”

UCRP Leadership and Writing Conferences

Puente also collaborates with the University of California, Riverside to offer students free multi-day residential conferences.

The UCRP Writers’ Conference is a 6-day opportunity for growth. Puente students from all over the state come together to improve their writing skills, learn from successful authors, and connect with their community.

The UCRP Leadership Conference is a 10-day program that cultivates leaders in the Latinx community. Sixty Puente students are selected to participate in this enriching event. They learn about the power of community involvement, how to promote academics and make a positive impact on all students in higher-education.

Puente’s Diverse and Growing Programs

Puente started out at a Bay Area community college, but it has since grown immensely. It currently operates in 65 community colleges, 38 high schools, and 6 middle schools across California. More recently, it has even crossed state lines, on campuses in Texas and Washington.

While this growing network primarily serves Latinx populations, Puente gladly welcomes all students to participate. If you or someone you know is interested in bringing the Puente Project to your high school or community college, visit the Puente FAQ page today.

Now that we know the history of the Puente Project, let’s explore how it makes a positive impact for our very own students at San José City College.

A Comprehensive Approach Creates a Bridge to a Brighter Future

Puente at SJCC creates essential pathways for our students, so we are happy to report that it is thriving here. In fact, faculty and staff are working hard to revitalize the program in new ways, so that they can help more students achieve their dreams and academic goals. 

Long-time Instructor and Puente Coordinator, Juan Gamboa is leading these efforts. “Puente is Spanish for “bridge,” and we see the Puente program as a bridge that serves as the pathway to students’ futures, a connection to their past and where students themselves are bridges connecting their families, histories, culture, dreams, community towards academic excellence, leadership and transformation.” Gamboa said. 

The Puente Project cultivates confident students who feel supported and empowered to succeed and make a difference in their community — here’s how.

Puente Values Ethnic and Chicano/a Studies

Ethnic Studies is crucial to the three-pronged approach of Puente.

“History through an ethnic studies framework is important because we encourage students to make connections between the past and present, and to see themselves as history makers not just readers of history.” Gamboa said. “Ethnic studies history reveals a hidden history of solidarity where we have stood up for each other, across race, class, gender and sexuality.”

This understanding is essential, so that students can better appreciate the struggles and resilience of their collective history. But it is equally important that they learn to celebrate the beauty in the strength and perseverance of their ancestors. 

“Ethnic studies history reveals a hidden history of solidarity where we have stood up for each other, across race, class, gender and sexuality.”

Juan Gamboa, SJCC Instructor & Puente Coordinator

Puente Cultivates Community for Chicanx and Latinx Students

Puente students proudly identify as puentistas for a good reason.

“The very best part about joining Puente is being able to be around a community of students and instructors who care about you! […] they are always willing to go that extra mile to help.” Said SJCC student and puentista, Yesenia Hernandez.

Another puentista, Wendy Villalobos, echoed this feeling of inclusion, “to feel like you are part of a community and knowing that you have the support whenever you need it is very important for Latinx students. Especially because it’s very common for us to be first generation students.” 

“The best part about joining Puente is that it has made me more confident in my schoolwork. I am comfortable to ask questions […] I never find myself overwhelmed with self doubt.” Said Angelique Garcia, another Puente student. 

“Programs like Puente are extremely necessary and important for Latinx students because it represents students who go unrepresented. Everyone understands each other as well as their struggles. There are no barriers when it comes to the Puente program. This program is more than a community, we’re a family.” Garcia said.

SJCC Puente students on a Zoom Call with Puente Coordinator, Juan Gamboa (bottom right).
SJCC Puente students on a Zoom Call with Puente Coordinator, Juan Gamboa (bottom right).

“The very best part about joining Puente is being able to be around a community of students and instructors who care about you! […] they are always willing to go that extra mile to help.”

Yesenia Hernandez, SJCC Puente Student

Puente Mentors Play a Crucial Role for Puentistas

Peer support is huge for puentistas. But every family also needs its wise leaders. In Puente, they come in the form of counselors, professors, and mentors — each plays a crucial role.

“I have mentors whom I can contact whenever I am faced with challenges in my academic and personal life.” Garcia said. “All of the counselors and professors let it be known that Puente is here for us puentistas. Whether it be the courses, counselors, or professors, everything about Puente has made me a better student.”

“The best part about joining Puente is having a guidance counselor who can help me plan for the future.” Said Villalobos Avila. All puentistas agree — they can depend on the support of their Puente family to help them achieve their goals.

Puente Promotes Equity and Community at SJCC

The best part about Puente at SJCC is that it plays an important role in the larger community on campus. It proudly joins forces with other groups and organizations to have a greater positive impact on students’ experiences.

“Collaboration across programs is very important because one program can’t provide all the services and support students need […] we need each other to support students..” Gamboa said.

Puente works with METAS, EOP&S, UMOJA, MEChA, SPARKPOINT, and the Ethnic Studies Department to support students, often engaging with surrounding educational institutions. In collaboration with these other groups, students cultivate a multicultural perspective and get access to additional career, leadership, and financial aid opportunities.

All of these crucial organizations and student groups are key in our constantly evolving efforts to move toward equity through community.

Puentistas unite to support the vote (pre-COVID). Photo from the Puente Project Instagram.
Puentistas unite to support the vote (pre-COVID). Photo from the Puente Project Instagram.

“Puente provides a space for our students to flourish in a system that originally was not made for them.”

Sabrina Hagmann, SJCC Puente Counselor

Once a Puentista, Always a Puentista

At the Puente Project, you are likely to hear “once a puentista, always a puentista.” Because Puente is community, belonging, and empowerment — it’s family.

Through illuminating ethnic studies courses, supportive peers and dedicated mentors, professors, and counselors — Puente is sure to help you achieve your dreams and transform your future.

So check out Puente at SJCC if you’re interested in joining! And while you’re at it, learn about additional student support programs at San José City College — like the Ganas Project and Umoja Community.