El Puente De Encuentros

Bringing Change to Behavioral Health


El Puente de Encuentros  acknowledges the original peoples of the land that we live in and serve: the Tiwa people of Sandia and Isleta Pueblos. We honor the Tewa pueblos, Diné (Navajo), Apache, Mescalero and Comanche tribes who have also been stewards of this land within the broader community of New Mexico. We offer our respect and gratitude to elders past and present who have cared for these sacred lands we call home. We honor our African American ancestors and other peoples whose enslavement, forced labor and exploitation built these institutions and the wealth of our state and nation to our collective benefit.  El Puente de Encuentros is committed to our relations with Indigenous peoples. 

The Challenges We Face

  • There is a shortage of racially diverse mental health providers in NM
  • There is a shortage of bilingual counseling services in NM
  • There is a shortage of racially diverse licensed/certified clinicians in NM
  • There is a shortage of racially diverse mental health entrepreneurs
  • There is a demand for the provision of services that are culturally and linguistically appropriate (Trepal, Ivers and Lopez)

Percentage Comparison

Ethnic/Racial Minorities and Caucasian Professionals in Behavioral Health Services

Chart by Visualizer

Making a Difference

  • Social Work: Job growth expected to increase 14.25% -Between 2012 and 2022
  • Largest growth potential in NM to be expected in healthcare professions by 21.5%; and in child, family, and school Social Workers by 21.2%

Changes in Demographics

  • The Latino/Hispanic population is projected to increase from 55 million in 2014 to 119 million in 2060 (Colby and Ortman); in NM, it makes up 48% of the population—and growing- with nearly 20% being foreign-born—and growing
  • Native Americans make up over 10% of NM population with a growing 600,000+ residing in urban areas
  • Asians are the fastest-growing population in New Mexico, seeing a 46 percent increase in population from 2000 to 2010… the largest groups here are from Vietnam, China and India
  • African Americans make up nearly 3% of NM population with continued influx of transplants from southern states


  • Being part of the Puente de Encuentros 2017-2018 cohort has been a wonderful experience. I have learned so much attending these seminars. Initially, I’ve not had networks or people in my life with such familiar interests in regards to what I’m aiming for in my future. This fellowship program has not only educated me and given me that exposure but has enabled me to carry new reflections about my future and myself. Listening to the stories, insights, advice and presentations by the directors and our special guests have led me to grow in how I think about mental and behavioral health. Additionally, because the program was so centered on the Latino, Hispanic, and other minority communities, it has made me more comfortable in my own skin and has allowed me to think differently about my culture, background and those around me. I am very grateful to have been a part of this very first program and I know that it will only get better in the future

    Leslie Salinas
    UNM Junior Psychology
  • El Puente de Encuentros’ mentoring program has had a tremendous and rewarding impact
    on my academic and professional careers. It gave me the opportunity to connect with peers
    in-person, which made my experience as an online student comparable to attending classes
    in person. The bi-monthly sessions provided time to brainstorm and to reflect on what it
    means to be a culturally aware healthcare professional in New Mexico. When reflecting on
    my two semesters with El Puente, I can say that I have thrived as a person, student, and
    future social worker. I am grateful for this program due to the endless effort dedicated to
    connecting students with renowned professionals in the community. El Puente’s
    contribution to my life has prepared me to begin my career confidently, ethically, and
    proudly. Thank you, El Puente.

    Paul Gallegos
    ASU Graduate Student, Masters in Social Work
  • El Puente de Encuentros has been an amazing opportunity for me! It has provided me with first-hand knowledge of the different professions that make up the behavioral health field and the importance of the role cultural diversity plays in our state and profession. Through the program, I was able to meet professionals and hear their stories of what their everyday work life is like and about the journey that brought them to their positions today. In addition, I learned how I fit into the mental health field and the steps I must take to get to where I want to be. Most importantly, I learned that there are mentors who are willing to answer my questions and help me along the way. I thank Lynn, Brenda, Pat, Rafael and everyone who took the time to present to us, teach us, and bring this wonderful organization to life. It has been an honor to be a part of the first cohort. I look forward to continuing my involvement in this program and watching how it grows throughout the years

    Sonia Ramirez
    UNM Sophomore, Psychology, Family Studies
  • Being part of the Puente de Encuentros Fellowship Program has been a great learning experience that has enhanced my clinical knowledge and multicultural awareness. As a graduate student in the last year of my counseling program, I can say that the program has provided me with much useful information and has further prepared me to be a culturally aware clinician. I am thankful for having had the opportunity to learn about many of the current trends and issues in behavioral health from current experts and professionals in the field. I have greatly appreciated the reflection seminars that have allowed me to reflect upon topics that we have learned about and to discuss my thoughts and opinions with others. Throughout the program I have felt fully supported by my mentors and peers and have felt a sense of belonging as a culturally diverse upcoming clinician. The program has inspired me to continue to grow in my cultural awareness and to continue learning about clinically and culturally relevant topics in the field. I appreciate and fully support the work of my mentors in educating the
    public about the diverse needs of our population and advocating for policies that support the training of behavioral health clinicians of diverse cultures. I am grateful for being part of the beginning of this movement and I hope it will continue to grow.

    Brianda Jaquez
    UNM Graduate Student, Masters in Counseling
  • I cannot thank El Puente de Encuentros enough! Being part of this team was a wonderful
    experience. I was able to learn more about “real world” topics that are not taught in school. I
    was able to learn about the resources available to us as students and future graduates. Being
    part of El Puente opened my eyes. I acquired valuable skills for my social work career. I strongly
    recommend that others interested in the field apply for this fellowship

    Dulce Medina
    NMHU Graduate Student, Dual Masters: Social Work, Business
  • I am extremely grateful for the El Puente de Encuentros Fellowship. As a graduate student soon
    entering the field of public health, meeting and networking with prominent working
    professionals was an invaluable experience for me. Not only did I learn about these
    professionals’ day-to-day working lives, and their contribution in tackling current behavioral
    health challenges, but I also learned about their career paths, which led them to where they are
    today. El Puente created a space for me to reflect on my own goals and my role as a future
    health practitioner. Each of the seminars left me inspired to know that I have what it takes to
    be a successful Latina health practitioner and to be part of the change that our communities

    Devon Ashley Lara
    UNM Graduate Student, Dual Masters: Latin American Studies, Public Health

Alumni Highlight:

Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Program: January 22, 2024

New Mexico State University Alumna Awarded Prestigious Rangel Fellowship

On December 8, Nicole Johnson was awarded a 2024 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship following a highly competitive nationwide contest. A distinguished panel selected her out of 1267 outstanding candidates. The Rangel Fellowship, funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by Howard University, supports extraordinary individuals who want to pursue careers in the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State. The Rangel Fellowship will support Nicole through a two-year master’s degree in an area of relevance to the Foreign Service. It will also provide extensive professional development opportunities, including internships, mentors, and skills training. As part of the Rangel Program, Nicole will work for a Member of Congress on issues related to foreign affairs in summer 2024. In the summer of 2025, the U.S. Department of State will send her overseas to work in a U.S. Embassy or Consulate to get hands-on experience with U.S. foreign policy and the work of the Foreign Service. Upon successful completion of the program, Nicole will become a U.S. diplomat in summer 2026, embarking on one of the most challenging and rewarding careers of service to her country. She will work to promote peace, prosperity, and human dignity around the world.
Nicole was born in El Paso and raised in Las Cruces where she graduated from Mayfield High School. She is a citizen of the Comanche Nation. Nicole earned an Associate in Criminal Justice (Meritorious) and an Associate of Arts (Meritorious) in 2021 from New Mexico State University – Dona Ana Community College. Nicole will graduate in May 2024 from New Mexico State University with Honors Distinction with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work with minors in Government, Public Law, and American Government and Politics. Nicole was a distinguished El Puente de Encuentros Fellow (2022-2023). She studied abroad and completed a work study in Munich, Germany in summer 2022 and in Amman, Jordan in summer 2023. Wife of Wylie Johnson, Nicole is a mother of four and is employed by All Faiths Children’s Advocacy Center. Her journey has now led her to the Rangel Fellowship, and she is excited to prepare for her career in diplomacy.