Maria Sanchez

Maria Sanchez

Helping to bridge the gap to success for Hispanic students is the aptly named Puente Program, as puente often means bridge in Spanish.

At its helm at Long Beach City College is Nohel Corral, dean of counseling and student support services. The 22-year-old program offers academic, counseling and mentoring for students to build necessary life and academic skills while at LBCC.

“It’s part of a state initiative to help Hispanic students transfer,” Corral said.

And, the mentors don’t have to be Hispanic, Corral said. They range from community members, former students and others on campus.

“A lot of times, our students are first generation,” Corral said. “They have no idea about college. This exposes them to someone who’s gone through the process… They’re not all Hispanic. The mentors in this program are very diverse.”

Mentors and mentees must commit 10 to 20 hours per year, Corral said, but there are different planned events to help them achieve that amount.

“This provides that access to a positive role model,” Corral said.

As a former program mentor himself, Corral said he can attest to its helpfulness. And as a first-generation student, he said his college success could be attributed to mentors.

“Both of my parents were from Mexico,” Corral said. “I had multiple mentors.”

The reason for the numerous mentors, he said, was because he was on probation — only allowed to attend college because of his athletics.

“I had low self-esteem and thought, ‘Did I really belong here?’” he said. “The Puente Program does much of the same thing. It really helps them start on a positive foot.”

Maria Sanchez is one of those who said the program started her on a positive foot.

“It was great,” Sanchez said. “They put people into different families. I still keep in contact with them.”

The family Sanchez refers to is a group of five students who do class and homework together for the year, she said. They’re there to support each other, she said, along with counselors. Sanchez said her counselor was Sofia Eeas.

“My counselor convinced me to become an ambassador (for the school),” Sanchez.

As an ambassador, one of her roles was to go a Puente conference at the University of California, Riverside.

Sanchez was not only an ambassador, but the single mother of two will graduate LBCC and transfer to California State University, Dominguez Hills — something she never thought possible.

“If it wasn’t for Puente, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today,” Sanchez said.

After graduating from Jordan High School in 2008, Sanchez said she didn’t enroll at LBCC until spring of 2013. She was working at Chipotle and taking her time in college, she said.

“I wasn’t really trying to get involved in school,” Sanchez said. “Puente helped me stick more to school… It kind of opened my eyes.”

Sanchez said she began LBCC with aspirations of being a nurse, but realized it wasn’t for her after being in Puente. She then began studying to transfer to Dominguez Hills as a nonprofit administration major, she said, and wants to work for the Ronald McDonald House eventually.

“I want to give back to the community,” Sanchez said.

For more information on LBCC’s Puente, visit www.lbcc.edu/LearningCommunities/puente.cfm.

Emily Thornton can be reached at ethornton@gazettes.com.

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Emily is a staff writer covering higher education and other various topics for Gazette Newspapers. She has a background in weekly and daily newspapers and a bachelor’s in communication from La Sierra University.

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