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LSC-University Park’s Puente Project addresses diversity, achievement

HOUSTON  – LSC-University Park’s Puente Project is bridging academic success gaps and creating innovative opportunities for students to complete degrees and achieve greater personal success. 

Puente, which means “bridge” in Spanish, is a community college program that provides instruction, advising and mentoring for diverse, traditionally underrepresented and first-generation college students. The program helps students earn associate degrees and certificates, transfer to four-year universities and colleges, and return to their communities as future mentors. 

In partnership with the Puente Project based at the Center for Educational Partnerships at Berkeley, California, LSC-University Park has tailored this national award-winning program to fit the needs of the local community, ensuring that education levels better match the local demographic.

“LSC-University Park is the community’s college, and as such, we work tirelessly to better serve the community,” said Dr. Shah Ardalan, LSC-University Park president. “Diversity and inclusion are central to our mission and are purposefully addressed each day with our students, faculty and staff. Puente supports education and workforce demand and is culturally relevant, adding value to our community. We are proud to support each student on their paths to successful futures."

Puente allows faculty and staff to meet students where they are and build on their experiences and backgrounds. Trained English instructors use experientially and culturally relevant materials to help students reach their course learning outcomes. The program also provides wrap-around services, including a dedicated mentor and an adviser, and sets up opportunities for students to make connections in the college and the community.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s (THECB) higher education plan, 60x30TX, calls for 60-percent of Texans between 25- to 35-years-old to have a certificate or degree by 2030 for the state of Texas to be competitive. Puente takes direct aim at reaching this goal.

Led by Paula Khalaf, professor of developmental English at LSC-University Park, and Shannon Hausinger, director of the Student Learning Resource Center at LSC-University Park, Puente is showing high retention and course completion rates in less than two years.

“Puente is a fairly new program to our college, but data indicates that Puente is a worthwhile endeavor for student success,” said Khalaf. “Our students have more opportunities to successfully reach their academic goals and achieve completion. Puente is giving students a support system and family within the college, encouraging them to enroll in the next semester and take one more step to a degree or certificate.”

Outside the classroom, Puente students visit several four-year institutions, including University of Houston-Downtown, Sam Houston State University, and most recently, University of Houston. Students also participate in mentor activities and enjoy gatherings involving their families and classroom communities.

“To give our Puente students a better foundation for success, we work with them to build a trusted network within the college and develop involvement from home,” said Khalaf. “Each semester, we offer opportunities for students to meet with professionals in industries they are interested in, and for family members or friends to visit LSC-University Park with the students and meet the professors, advisers and mentors. We are building richer environments of support to guide our students to the finish line.”

To support the services Puente offers, professional development for instructors has become key. Puente includes training and support components for professors, advisers and mentors throughout the year. Faculty and staff participate in five-day, in-residence immersion training on Puente techniques, and two additional two-day seminars.

“Puente is a methodology about good teaching, not a curriculum,” said Hausinger. “We have made it a priority to work with our professors to enhance their classroom approaches and design instruction around their students’ cultural capital and individuality.”

“Puente has made me a more conscious, more deliberate instructor in terms of building community,” said Brian L. Reeves, professor of developmental English and department chair at LSC-University Park. “In a single activity, students can learn, become more confident and build relationships. That is the power of Puente.”

As Puente continues to grow at LSC-University Park, Khalaf and Hausinger will expand the program beyond the traditional English focus of California’s program, and will involve more disciplines of core freshmen courses, including mathematics, history, speech, psychology and sociology. As well, they are considering the addition of a service learning component.