When Alma Lopez was a student at San Bernardino Valley College (SBVC) in California, she received guidance and encouragement from English instructor Dolores Moreno and counselor Laura Gomez.
Today, she works alongside them both as an English instructor and co-coordinator of the Puente program with colleague Elizabeth Banuelos, who is also a former student and mentee of the program.
At 19 years old, Alma knew that she wanted to work with adult learners at the community college level, but she was far from certain about her future. After a “disastrous” year at another local college, Alma switched schools to attend Valley.
Lopez had wanted to study history, then sociology, but being a member of Puente, a program that works with under-represented students to make them leaders and mentors, and working with English Professor Dolores Moreno, Lopez switched her focus to literature when she transferred to University of California (UC), Santa Cruz. There, she earned her baccalaureate in literature, then her master’s degree in English from UC Riverside, and was excited to return to SBVC as an adjunct instructor in English in 2007. She became a full-time instructor in 2012, and earned tenure in 2016.
“SBVC is my home,” Lopez said. “SBVC is also my mother’s home — she studied at SBVC from 1955 to 1957 before transferring to the University of Redlands to earn her BA and her lifelong teaching credential. That’s my favorite part — these are my stomping grounds.”
New relationships with old friends
Lopez has also enjoyed forging new relationships with her former professors and counselors, who are now her colleagues, and jokes that she “can even call them by their first names now.”
“I can’t express how much it means to still have Laura Gomez and Dolores Moreno as my support system,” she said. “They helped me realize my potential and claim my education when I was a student. They continue to offer their support, encouragement, and consejos as I navigate through my career.”
Lopez appreciates that she was able to come full circle.
“That I get to teach at my alma mater and my mother’s alma mater is one of the largest blessings of my life,” she said. “SBVC has saved me several times. I must give back what I have been given — I must.”
A similar story
Alma’s colleague in the Puente program, Elizabeth Banuelos, has a similar story. Banuelos attended four colleges during her educational journey, but it was her experience at SBVC that made her return as a counselor to inspire others.
A native of Tijuana, she went with her mother to enroll in college classes at SBVC. Once she arrived, she was blown away by the kindness she encountered.
“Everyone was so warm, so it created a positive impact to stay at SBVC,” Banuelos said. As a first-generation college student, she said it took a “strong village” of faculty, staff, and tutors to help with her “success not only in academics, but in life as well.”
While an SBVC student, Banuelos was part of Puente and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan. She credits Laura Gomez and Mary Beth Barrios — another Puente counselor — for being the mentors who prepared her to succeed in higher education, including the possibility of transferring to a UC.
Guiding other students
After continuing to work with Puente’s outreach program, she witnessed firsthand the incredible impact community college counselors make in the lives of so many students.
“I was able to connect to my own experience, and decided to enroll in a counseling program,” she said.
Banuelos earned her bachelor’s degree from UC, Riverside, and went on to receive a master’s degree from the University of Redlands. When she completed her counseling internship at Chaffey College, she felt inclined to return to the positive environment at SBVC.
Banuelos applied for an adjunct counselor position at SBVC, and has held that position on campus for the past two years. She also serves as a co-coordinator for the Puente program.
She now loves welcoming students into her office so that she can give the same encouragement she received as a student years ago. Banuelos says the counselors are making students “feel that this is a place that is so involved in their success, making a positive impression of faculty and staff, and reassuring students that they can and will complete their goals at SBVC.”