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December 9, 2023

Gavilan Puente Program transitions with staff, celebrates transfers

Courtesy of Jan Janes from Gavilan College:

During the 2018/2019 academic year, the Puente Program created staff and program changes to better serve student success.

The program, with 31 years of student involvement, recruits and supports educationally underserved students who plan to transfer and earn degrees at four year colleges and universities. Community leadership and mentorship are key components of its success.

For a number of years, Celia Marquez served as Gavilan’s lead counselor for the Puente Program. During her tenure she worked with English and writing instructors Jean Burrows, Leslie Robinson, Leah Halper, Michael Files, Louise Loots, Xochi Candelaria, Kimberly Smith and Scott Sandler.

“From the beginning, we talk about being a family,” said Marquez. “Not all families are perfect, but we take care of each other.”

Some incoming students may not have read a textbook in high school, or may have had a bad experience with a writing project.

“Overall, by the end of their first year, Puente students feel confident about their writing,” she added.

First-year students take English and guidance classes together. They meet weekly with their English instructor and three times each semester with their counselor. After writing an introductory essay about their plans, they are paired with a mentor from the community and meet for 10 to 20 hours each semester. Many mentors are Puente Program graduates.

Gavilan College has deep links to the area high schools. Marquez worked at Gilroy High School before coming to the college. These networked counselors, along with Cal SOAP, high school forums and family members who previously attended, help recruit for the upcoming year.

Counselor Liliana Montero, English instructor Scott Sandler and student José Ibanez.

One of those high school counselors and a former Gavilan student, Liliana Montero, is stepping into the lead counselor role with Puente.

“It has been a big learning curve,” she said.

Marquez and Montero meet weekly to share information about coaching, mentoring and student progress.

“This program introduces them to college,” said Montero. “It changes their mindset from high school to college.” Time management, punctuality, accountability and class attendance are emphasized. “Puente drives home the importance of attending class, turning work in on time.”

The program teaches them how to build relationships with instructors during their office hours, a new concept for students.

In addition to the counseling oversight built into the program, students benefit from events, field trips and presentations. Each fall the students and their families participate in a welcome event. New students hear from panel presentations, meet the counselors, build teams and tour the campus. In the evening, their families learn, from mentors and former students, all about Puente.

Also in the fall, students visit colleges and universities to explore transfer opportunities from keynote speakers and presidents.

“Students can arrive with self-doubt,” said Marquez. “Something happens on those bus rides, and they become a closer knit family.” After learning about career paths during these visits, they return empowered and motivated.
This past spring, the Puente Program celebrated its 25-member class of 2019 and its 17 transfer students.

Some of those first year students shared their thoughts about the program.
Kassandra Zarote, SHBS graduate, Theater Arts major
Gavilan had a Super Saturday event, and I stopped by the pop up table. They told me about the transfer program. My biggest worry was not getting it all done in time. They told me the Puente Program would keep me on track. Our group has really bonded. Fresh out of high school, I wondered why they were nagging us. Do they think I’m not doing my work? But they weren’t being unfair, just reminding us because they care and want us to pass. The tools I learned in guidance are things you take with you in the future.


Diego Delgadillo, CHS graduate, Psychology major
I was in a dual immersion program grades 1-8, got a lot of support. My sister was in Puente and pushed me to come. My first counselor was Celia Marquez, and now in Puente I have people I can trust and talk with. The number one thing is you get close to the people and can rely on them. Puente is filled with resources: librarians, teachers, counselors and each other. It’s not a free ride, and people who thought that weren’t successful. We have to do all the work, they are always pushing you to stay on top of your work and accept responsibility.

Selene Galvan, GHS graduate, Kinesiology major
I was a late entry. I planned to attend CSUMB but mentally wasn’t there, overwhelmed, people in classes way older than me. No, I’m going to Gav. I talked with Liliana Montero in the student center, joined Puente. It is like Cal SOAP – you live it the first year. I passed all my classes. In Scott Sandler’s class the first day, everyone introduced themselves, and I felt included. There is a sense of community for assignments and homework, we rely on one another.

Kasssandra Zarote, Diego Delgadillo and Selene Galvan.

José Ibanez, GHS graduate, Spanish major
I was told by my high school I would be a good candidate, and I interviewed. We get good support from counselors, the English instructor and the mentors. As an English learner student, it has been a big help for me. When I signed up I was super-committed. Then I discovered that Liliana Montero would be the new counselor. She knew who I was, wrote a letter of recommendation, and told me I’d get a lot out of it. I spent more than 20 hours with my mentor, created a bond between us, who also helped with planning of papers and grammar.

Alyssa Rocha, Mt. Madonna High School, Health Science major
I was blessed to have Celia Marquez as a counselor. Now she’s my mentor, and it’s a really cool thing. Someone who I barely knew now makes time for me, takes me to new places like Filoli and the Academy of Science in San Francisco. Once I joined Puente, I committed to going to events, turning in my work, and I built new connections and friendships. My high school counselor was in Puente and told me I should apply. I thought it was just for Spanish speaking students, but it’s not. I wasn’t raised in a traditional Mexican household and didn’t know my heritage. Now I can ask my parents about how we came here. It’s all about breaking stereotyping, in a good way.

Brandilee Estrada, CHS graduate, Criminal Justice major
I found out about Puente because four family members were in the program. It caught me by surprise the way I got close to everyone. Puente, and the club, are like a big familia, we get along and we became closer because of all the events. The workload isn’t too hard, and the instructors, counselors and mentors are very understanding. I get scared meeting new people, and with the club and Puente classes, we are placed together and gain new friendships.

Alyssa Rocha, José Ibanez and Brandilee Estrada.

Main Photo Caption: First year Puente Program students spoke to the audience of families, mentors and instructors about their growth and experiences.