Puente/Umoja strives to promote cultural awareness

Juan Carlos Gil

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A new sense of ownership and belonging has been created among students of the Puente and Umoja programs located in the newly remodeled L-building.

The Puente and Umoja programs help Latino, African-American and other students prepare to successfully get through college and transfer into four year institutions. A team of professors, counselors and staff members are there to ensure student academic success, personal growth and self actualization by integrating culture in their learning experience.

Umoja, a Kiswahili word meaning unity, began at Diablo Valley College in Oct. 2006; it focuses on helping mostly African-American students through a curriculum of African cultural themes. Students in the Umoja community complete a series of math, English and personal growth courses throughout a 3 semester period, during these 3 semesters.

Umoja is coordinated by Erin Charles.

The Puente program has the same objective as that of the Umoja community, except that Puente integrates Mexican-American/Latino authors, experiences and issues into its educational curriculum.

Puente was started in 1981 at Chabot Community College in Hayward, Calif. and it now has over 58 community college sites throughout the state. Studies showed that Latino students were avoiding counseling, not enrolling in college-level writing courses and were the first in their families to attend college.

The Puente model designed by Felix Galaviz and Pat Mcgrath co-founders of Puente was created to counter these tendencies among Latino students with three essential components: rigorous language arts instructions, sustained academic counseling and mentoring by members of the professional community.

Like the Umoja community, Puente also strives to make their student’s voices, histories and cultures get recognized to help build a foundation for academic success.

“It helps to learn about your culture; it brings a sense of comfort, plus the instructors and students give you great support” Umoja student Ashlee Burney said.

The new facilities given to the Puente and Umoja programs located in room L-121 are spacious and count with plenty of computers and conference style tables for students to comfortably get together and study.

“Students here create a sense of family, with the new space that the L-building gives us we can now create a home environment for our students so they can reach higher levels of success,” Puente coordinator Luis Perez said.

“Before (Puente and Umoja) used to get together at coffee shops or around campus” Rigo Vasquez added, a 3 year Puente student.

One of the intentions that San Diego City College (SDCC) president Terrence J. Burgess had when he flew a few of his faculty members to Denver, Colorado to research an established Academic Success Center, was to demonstrate the higher rate of success a center like this can bring to students.

“A one stop shop for all academic resources where all the services create a synergy for students to succeed,” Burgess described the L-building. Burgess has a long history with the Puente and Umoja programs and SDCC is able to have these programs within the school.

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