DVC Puente Project hosts, inspires Washington State development team

puente conferenceThe Diablo Valley College Puente Project, at the request of the California Puente Statewide Office, recently hosted a group of community college educators from Washington state who were here to observe and discuss best practices for starting their own Puente Project site on their campus. 

The Puente program was founded in 1981 at Chabot College, and its purpose is to increase the number of Mexican American/Latino students who transfer to four-year colleges and universities, earn their degrees and return to the community as mentors. The program’s  three major components are English instruction, counseling and mentoring support. 

Included in the Washington state team were two English instructors, two counselors and two administrators. The California Puente Statewide Office asked DVC participants to host brief meetings to discuss implementation, classroom practices, and the roles of administration, the Foundation, and scholarships in developing a strong program. 

Those from DVC who participated in the Washington state visit to campus were English coordinators Patrick Leong, Keri DuLaney-Greger, David Vela, and intern Anthony Gonzales; Counseling coordinators Lupe Dannels and Maria Dorado; DVC Administrators Peter Garcia (president), Newin Orante (vice president, student services), and Rachel Westlake (vice president, instruction); Foundation coordinator Cindy Goga; Scholarship Program coordinator Leslie Mills; mentors Frances Palacios and Ernie Guererro; and students Dessi ‘Mia’ Carbajal (UCB transfer) and Jorge Rodriguez (continuing/transferring student). 

Attending from the Puente state office were Julia Vargara, associate director for community college programs and training; Grace Ebron, community college English training coordinator; and Ann Romero, community college mentor training coordinator. 

According to Patrick Leong, one of the Puente coordinators for English, there are several factors that led to DVC being chosen for the site visit. 

“First and foremost,” Leong said, “the quality and success of the DVC program makes it one to admire, due to the dedication and training of the coordinators, the development of the curriculum, the blending of the components, the retention, persistence, success and transfer of the students, and the innovation and piloting done by the team.” 

Secondly, Lupe Dannels, counselor, and Leong have been tapped by the Puente Statewide Office as community college trainers to assist others with training, primarily in the counseling and English components, as the program expands to other colleges throughout the state and throughout other states nationwide. 

Most recently, last summer Leong and Dannels assisted the State of Texas in training, discussing best practices for implementation of the program there. That included the development of classroom instruction to dovetail and support the skills that address the mission of the project-- to enable students to develop reading, writing, academic and critical thinking skills, which are all integral for the success particularly of underserved and underprepared students. 

The program started at DVC in 1997 with cohort one, a group of 30 students. They started double cohorts two years ago (30 students per cohort, for a total of 60 in the cycle), and currently they are on Cycle 19 with cohorts 20 and 21 beginning in the Fall 2015. 

According to Leong, research shows that Puente students at DVC are retained, persist, and have higher success rates compared to other students in English 118 and 122. 

“With the college’s and department’s commitment to the expansion of our second cohort two years ago,” Leong said, “the project has assisted in increasing the Latino transfer rate to address the achievement gap. We have reached a record number of students applying for transfer—23, a figure doubled from past years.” That effort has led to Puente building collaborations across the campus.

Also at DVC, Leong explained, “Attention to scholarship and transfer application has been very successful for the program, with students earning many awards, but more importantly, learning how to finance their education.” There are eight students applying for the Kennedy-King transfer scholarship, and one student who is a finalist for the national Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship (a $90,000 scholarship) generally awarded to only 20 recipients. 

In addition to the English and counseling components, the mentoring component has been revised and experimented with to meet the needs of the students, resulting in mentors being a strong presence in the program. “We find that many former students have come full circle,” Leong said, “and have returned to our community and now serve as mentors, truly living and breathing the mission of the program.” 

Julia Vergara from the Puente Statewide Office sent her thanks to President Garcia and the DVC Puente Team. 

“Thank you for putting together an excellent presentation that included all the key players,” she said. “The Puente program at DVC outlined the program’s complexities but also demonstrated its transformative nature. Your program inspired all of us and made us extremely proud.”