Latino students find encouragement through Puente Project

Like all of the students involved in the Puente Project at Lee College, future physicist Hugo Anguiano and budding engineer Verenice Valencia received incredible support on their journey to an associate’s degree and beyond: help with academics, scholarship money, connections with professional mentors, exposure to new cultural experiences and a deeper understanding of their Latino heritage.

Putnte Project students
Students in the Puente Project at Lee College receive academic support, community mentors, opportunities to visit universities and cultural sites around the state, and an in-depth exploration of Latino history and heritage. The program is seeking professionals to serve as mentors to the newest Puente enrollees. From left: Yesica Flores, Stephanie Moreno, Lizbeth Bejar, Mitchell Medrano, Andrea Gallegos, Prescilla Sanchez, Xochitl Cortez, Corie Cole, Cierra Marron, Yoselin Velasquez, Deborah Ridley, Jose Pulido, and Jasmine Cardenas.

But it’s the feeling of having a second family on campus — a Puente family bonded by the shared goal of completing their education and achieving their dreams — that has meant the most of all.

“I like to push myself; I like a little struggle,” said Valencia, now a junior industrial engineering major at the University of Houston who continues to return to Lee College to work as a Puente tutor. “I knew I wanted to move up and advance, and the classes I took gave me more structure as a student and motivation to talk to my professors. But the family part of Puente really helped me out. I found study buddies and my parents got involved in my education. The friends I met in Puente are the ones I still talk to at UH. We all transferred together, and  we still have access to Puente resources and guidance.”

Lee College was the fourth community college district in Texas to host the Puente Project, which aims to increase the number of under-served students who transfer to four-year colleges and universities, earn college degrees and return to their communities as leaders and role models for new generations. Approximately 42 percent of students enrolled at Lee College are Hispanic/Latino, earning the college a federal designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

Through Puente, Latino students are provided with academic support centered on integrated reading and writing, English and an introduction to Mexican-American Studies. They visit universities around the state, like the University of Texas and Sam Houston State University, and are invited to participate in academic conferences and unique social and cultural events, like the annual “Noche de Familia” and Dia de los Muertos celebrations. Puente students have also been involved in highlighting the contributions of the Latino community in Baytown, even painting a mural at Sterling Municipal Library that depicted the stories of those who made an impact on Latino and multicultural history in the region.

“The trips and events bring us even closer together because they show us a glimpse of the future and where we can all be if we work harder,” said Anguiano, who has worked as a Puente tutor for 2 years while also pursuing associate degrees in physics and mathematics. “I came here at 9 from Mexico and still feel that I’ve learned a new perspective on what it means to be Chicano in America – the activists and artists, the struggles and meaningful places.”

Puente students are also paired with community mentors who share their professional and academic experiences while motivating the students to reach their goals. All Puente mentors are professionals who have earned a college degree and committed to spending at least nine hours per semester interacting with their mentees. Those who are interested in serving as mentors are invited to a training dinner set for 6-8 p.m.,  Wednesday, Oct. 5, in the Bayer Conference Center on campus.

“I gained a good role model and a friend,” Valencia said, describing the  ExxonMobil engineer who took her under her wing. “Getting a degree is one thing, but getting a job is another. She has spent time to show me what it is to be a professional engineer, helped me with essays and helped me with networking. I’ve learned so much from her educationally and personally.”

And although Anguiano has benefited from his relationship with his mentor and the instructors and staff who keep Puente going, he has also learned how to be a better student and leader. When he earns his doctorate degree, begins conducting research in particle physics and quantum theory and starts finding answers to the age-old questions of the universe, he will remember how the Puente Project at Lee College made a difference.

“I would encourage students to put their energy and focus into Puente,” Anguiano said. “In those classes, you’re more likely to find out what you want to be and do. You don’t have to worry too much about how to succeed in college; you’re part of a family.”

For more information about the Puente Project at Lee College and the upcoming mentor training, contact Sarah Steinkopf at 281.425.6808 or ssteinkopf@lee.edu.

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Puente students host clean-up at Crystal Beach

Volunteers also invited to take part in event to help environment and marine life

BAYTOWN, TX — After making a pledge to raise awareness about the environmental damage caused by littering and the importance of beach conservation, students in the Puente Project at Lee College are planning to clean up a section of Crystal Beach in Galveston County.

The first-of-its-kind “Puente Clean Beach Crusade” will begin at 10 a.m., Friday, May 6, on South Crystal Beach Road in Crystal Beach. The students invite volunteers to join them and show the positive impact that can be made when the community comes together for a worthy cause.

The clean up will also demonstrate that young adults are committed to preserving the environment for future generations to enjoy, according to Puente student Javier Barajas. The students intend to make the crusade an annual event and hope to increase knowledge of the harm humans can inflict with their trash.

“Every time we go to the beach, we come across all kinds of litter, ranging from plastic bags to cigarette butts,” Barajas said, noting that much of the garbage ends up in the ocean and hurts marine life and animals that mistake the trash for food. “We are sick and tired of seeing a dirty beach, and we want to make Crystal Beach crystal clean again.”

The Puente Project at Lee College aims to increase the number of underserved students who transfer to 4-year colleges or universities, earn college degrees and return to their communities as leaders and role models. Latino students are provided with academic support centered on integrated reading and writing, English and an introduction to Mexican-American Studies; connected with community mentors; and exposed to new cultural experiences.

For more information about the Puente Clean Beach Crusade, contact Barajas at 760.658.4834.

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Mexican American Studies students to unveil mural at Baytown library

BAYTOWN, TX — Students in the Mexican American Studies program at Lee College will unveil a new, hand-painted mural next week at Sterling Municipal Library that draws on the history of Baytown and depicts the stories of those who have made an impact on Latino and multicultural history in the region.

The mural will be revealed in a special reception set for 6-8 p.m., Wednesday, May 4, in the library conference room. The event is free, open to the public, and being presented in conjunction with the Puente Project at Lee College and with the cooperation of Sterling Municipal Library.

A group of 8 students created the mural for “HUMA 2319 – American Minority Studies: Chicano/Latino Art,” an interdisciplinary Mexican American Studies course that examines the diverse cultural, artistic, economic, historical, political and social aspects of minority communities in the United States. Students in the class have explored topics ranging from race and ethnicity to gender, socioeconomic class, sexual origin, and religion.

Much of the public art created in recent years has been more graphical in nature, said Orlando Lara, instructor of the HUMA 2319 course and lead faculty member for the Mexican American Studies program. By contrast, Mexican muralists of the 1920s and 1930s — and later Chicano muralists of the 1970s and 1980s — created artwork that experimented with social and political content. He hopes the students’ mural will begin to bring back the more social and political aspects of art.

“I hope this will help reinvigorate their love of learning, community work and the role that art can play in recovering and acknowledging history,” Lara said. “For the community, both the students and I hope that it will help spur a more robust and urgent public art movement in Baytown.”

Felicite Herrera said creating the mural has given her and her classmates the opportunity to send a message and make people see what is happening in their city. “It’s about empowering everyone and not letting Mexican-American and African-American history be erased,” she said.

For more information about the mural unveiling or the Mexican American Studies program at Lee College, contact Lara at 281.425.6431 or olara.

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite center in nearby Liberty, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 13 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.