Jacqueline Gomez was working at the local mall when, on a drive home following another uneventful shift, she decided to stop at MiraCosta College. It was a decision that changed her life.
“I lived down the street from MiraCosta College and I wanted to continue my education,” Gomez said. “I didn’t know how financial aid worked, I didn’t know about the majors that were available. I didn’t really know anything about going to college, but I met with a counselor who encouraged me to enroll, introduced me to the PUENTE program
, and set me on my educational path.”
Some nine years later, Gomez has a master’s degree in educational counseling and is guiding a new generation of students along their educational path as a PUENTE program liaison. Her journey underscores the impact of PUENTE, an award-winning initiative that for more than three decades, since it was founded at Chabot College in the Bay Area city of Hayward, has bolstered the college-going rate for tens of thousands of students from underrepresented communities.
“PUENTE is a great program that offered me opportunities to visit different colleges and universities, helped me figure out what career I might want to go into, and set me up to work with counselors and mentors. It also introduced me to Latinx literature. It made me feel like I belonged.”
PUENTE students are guided through the college experience in cohorts as they attend conferences on transferring to a four-year college or university and take consecutive writing classes to build confidence in their writing skills by exploring literature through the Mexican American experience.
“First time I could identify with a culture I was interested in and literature I could relate to,” said Gomez. With the support system like PUENTE in place, Gomez proceeded to excel at MiraCosta College and earned an associate degree in liberal arts with an emphasis in social and behavioral sciences. She then transferred to UC, San Diego, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in studio art and sociology, while also working at MiraCosta College as a PUENTE liaison. It was through such work that Gomez found her passion for counseling, opted to further her educational pursuits, and earned her master’s degree in educational counseling from the University of Southern California.
Her dream is to be a full-time PUENTE counselor/coordinator at MiraCosta College. But first, Gomez is intent on working with myriad student populations and cultures. She got a great start visiting 10 different countries during a semester at sea at UCSD. “The experience was life changing,” she said.
Besides guiding students as a PUENTE liaison at MiraCosta College, Gomez also works with the MESA (Math, Engineering, Science Achievement) program at USC, the USC TRIO programs, the Los Angeles Valley College Veterans Resource Center, and Los Angeles City College’s noncredit adult education.
All are priorities. Perhaps none more so than PUENTE.
“PUENTE creates a family away from home that motivates you to keep going, to keep pushing,” Gomez said. “It made my educational journey possible, and now I’m able to give back and help other students on their educational journey.”