California's Puente Project Wins Innovations in American Government Award

WASHINGTON, October 22, 1998-- A government program in California that prepares educationally under represented high school and community college students for academic success in four year institutions was named one of 10 winners of the Innovations in American Government Awards, the Ford Foundation announced today. For putting creative thinking into action, the University of California's Puente Project, along with each of the other nine programs, receives a $100,000 award and is recognized as one of the best examples of government innovation. These awards, among the most prestigious public service awards, honor federal, state and local government programs that invent new ways to resolve public policy challenges.

"Many of government's most creative programs are now so familiar that we forget that their origins were experimental. From the GI Bill® to the Internet, our government has created many new ways to fulfill our nation's potential," said Susan Berresford, president of the Ford Foundation, which provides the grant funds for the Innovations program. "These 10 Innovations Award winners remind us that, despite the media's frequent contention to the contrary, government paves the way for much of our country's success."

The Puente Project, originally founded with a mission of helping Latino students achieve academic excellence, now serves a full range of California's at-risk students. Puente, the Spanish word for "bridge," pairs the Puente Project students with successful people in the community who act as mentors and makes writing classes and sustained academic counseling available to the students. For students, this continued academic career translates into greater job stability and earned income potential: 47 percent of Puente students transfer from community colleges to universities, compared with seven percent of non-Puente students.

"It is a tremendous honor for Puente to receive an Innovations award. When we started Puente as a local grassroots program 17 years ago, we never imagined that our ideas would be recognized nationally," said Patricia McGrath, Co-Director of the Puente Project. "Receiving this award demonstrates the power of the community that has supported us over the years," added Co-Director Felix Galaviz.

The competition is rigorous. Beginning each January, approximately 1,500 program applications are reviewed by Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, which administers the Innovations program. Each program application is evaluated according to four selection criteria: they must be novel, be effective, solve a significant problem, and be replicable by other government entities. In May, 100 semi-finalists are selected from this pool of applicants, and in September, 25 finalists are chosen. Each finalist program receives a $20,000 grant from the Ford Foundation.

Yesterday, these finalists assembled in Washington, D.C., all attempting to convince the National Selection Committee that their program best satisfies these four criteria and is deserving of the additional $80,000 grant that goes to each winner. This morning, the National Selection Committee, chaired by David Gergen, announced the 10 winners.

"At a time when Americans across the country are concerned about the educational advancement of minority students, the Puente Project provides solid evidence that with innovative leadership, answers can be within our grasp. Hispanic students in particular have gained from this excellent program," said Gergen. Other winners in this year's Innovations Awards include three federal programs (Best Manufacturing Practices from the U.S. Department of Defense, Fast Track Product Recall from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Northern New Mexico Collaborative Stewardship from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service); three other state programs (Smart Start, North Carolina; Reparative Probation, Vermont; and Center for Court Innovation, New York); three local initiatives (First Offender Prostitution Program, San Francisco, California; Edwin Gould Academy, Ramapo Union Free School District, New York; and BCMS Project Access, Buncombe County, North Carolina).

The Innovations in American Government Awards programs is funded by the Ford Foundation and administered by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in partnership with the Council for Excellence in Government. Since the Ford Foundation began granting Innovations Awards in 1986, over 85 percent of the winning programs have been successfully replicated. For example, a 1997 Innovations in American Government Award winner from the city of Chicago, Gallery 37, has been replicated in 18 U. S. cities, as well as in Australia and England.

More information on the Innovations in American Government Awards is available at the Innovations in American Government Website.