An Inspiration to the Deaf Community: How Omar Ruiz Became a Three-time Alumnus and an American Sign Language Instructor

Omar Ruiz

For Omar Ruiz, pursuing a doctoral degree was never his intention, but rather an endeavor that happened purely by coincidence. As a young boy, he was fascinated by UPS trucks and dreamt of one day driving one professionally, but along the way, his career path shifted – and as it turns out, life had other plans in store for him.  

This month, Ruiz will be one of two Deaf students to earn their doctorate degree at Fresno State, with Ruiz earning a doctorate specifically in Educational Leadership. With his latest degree, Ruiz will be a three-time Fresno State alumnus, having also received a master’s degree in Multilingual Multicultural Education and a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. He joins a small, but elite, number of Deaf professionals to earn a doctorate degree in education.

A testament to his perseverance and dedication, Ruiz channeled his passion and firsthand experience into his doctoral dissertation, “Exploring the communication and systematic barriers of Deaf and Hard of Hearing graduate students in higher education”.

Ruiz said the research explores the experiences, roadblocks, and inequalities Deaf and Hard of Hearing students face daily in academia. 

When pursuing his doctorate, Ruiz knew it would not only be challenging, but would also open up countless doors of opportunity and allow him to impact more individuals.

“I love being part of a cohort and also being presented with opportunities to contribute to the deaf community,” Ruiz said.  

Throughout his academic journey at Fresno State, Omar has worked closely with his ASL interpreter, Michelle Tindall, who he says has been a huge contributor to his academic success.

Born and raised in Ensenada, Mexico, Ruiz did not learn English until he was 16 years old. At 17, he emigrated to the U.S. and by 18, graduated from high school.

“It was a whirlwind for me. One year I cannot speak one word in English and the next I am graduating from high school in America.”

Omar Ruiz

Not long after, he attended community college in Huntington Beach for one year, later dropping out, citing his difficulties studying and retaining information due to the shortage of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters on campus. He returned to college a few years later at CSU Bakersfield. The setbacks he faced in his earlier college years set the pace for his future aspirations.

Now, Ruiz is an ASL instructor at Clovis Community College – a career he loves. Prior to that, he was a career counselor at the Fresno Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center for seven years. He says there are many barriers the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community still face. In fact, he can vividly recall spending many hours trying to convince managers, human resources, and companies to give Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals a chance at employment.

“As time went on, it became clear to me I was fighting the wrong battle,” Ruiz said. “Afterwards, I decided to become an ASL instructor in order to teach the next generation about communication and what Deaf and Hard and Hearing individuals are truly capable of.”

After earning his doctorate, Ruiz aspires to write an educational book and pursue an administrative role within the education sector. Looking ahead, Ruiz is filled with gratitude as he thinks about where his academic and professional journey has led him thus far.

“It is gratifying to be part of the small group of Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals who have earned a doctorate,” Ruiz said. “I never looked at earning my doctorate as my goal, but nevertheless, I have enjoyed every minute of the journey so far.”

Deaf people succeeding in life is not inspirational, it is literally just what happens if you give them a fair chance and accessibility.

Naomi Smart

(Written by Audra Burwell, a Creative Writing Student, within the Kremen School of Education and Human Development)

Hannah Perez – ARCA Student of the Year

Hannah Perez is a graduate student in the Masters of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling program, who has been enrolled at Fresno State since Fall 2020. Hannah began studying at Fresno State as a graduate student, after completing her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Cognitive Science degree at UC Davis. She is currently the co-president of the Rehabilitation Counseling Student Association (RCSA), and an activities coach at the Wayfinders program.

Hannah Perez

Hannah will be receiving the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association’s Masters Student of the Year Award. This award recognizes graduate level students for their achievements, commitments, and contributions to the rehabilitation counseling field. Hannah feels incredibly honored that she was considered for a nomination by her advisor and program coordinator, Dr. Castillo. She says that she would have never expected an opportunity or achievement such as this to fall into her lap. She is incredibly proud of herself for earning this achievement, and making it to this monumental stage in life.

Hannah would like to give a huge thank you to her advisor and program coordinator, Dr. Castillo, for suggesting this award. She has continually provided Hannah with opportunities to further her professional development and has been one of Hannah’s biggest supporters during her time in the program. Hannah would also like to thank some of her best friends who are also enrolled in the program, Yvette, Christina, and Sabrina. She explains how they have supported her through this journey by believing in her when she began to doubt herself and encouraging her to reach her goals. Lastly, Hannah would like to thank her family for their unconditional and constant support. Receiving this award feels incredibly unreal, Hannah states, something that only pushes her further toward success in her chosen field. This award is the most prolific achievement she has made thus far in her academic career. She is proud that all of the hard work she has put into herself and her future is finally paying off.

Hannah will be graduating in the Spring of 2023 with her Masters of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling. After graduation, she plans on earning her certification as a rehabilitation counselor as well as beginning the process of accruing hours towards licensure as a professional clinical counselor. She plans to continue working with college students with disabilities and mental health disparities. She is extremely passionate about working in this field and wants to continue advocating for and supporting these individuals along their journey.

(Written by Audra Burwell, a Creative Writing Student, Employed by The Kremen School of Education and Human Development)

Meet The Kremen Communications Team

Fresno State’s mission is to promote student success and support academic goals, facilitate student engagement, learning and leadership, while providing quality student-centered services and programs with integrity and professionalism. In order to accomplish this undertaking, our college relies on teamwork, collaboration and a broad range of skill sets belonging to a burgeoning pool of creative minds. Here at the Kremen School of Education and Development, we strive to emulate this approach by relying on a vast array of talents, perspectives, backgrounds, and specialities. Following this model allows us to provide the highest quality of education, assistance, and guidance to those we serve. We encourage creativity and compassion in the workplace and appreciate the unique capabilities of each member of our staff. 

The Kremen Communications Team is an ideal reflection of this mission. Here, we promote the numerous programs, initiatives, clubs, organizations, and projects that are housed within the Kremen School of Education and Human Development. Our team ensures that students and visitors are kept up-to-date with the latest events, seminars, and career fairs happening both within Kremen and on the extended campus. We also spotlight the many revered faculty members, program leaders, and talented students who study within the school. It is our mission to shed light on the wonderful work and progress made possible by the Kremen community, as they continue to grow and prosper. Every time an award is issued, a body of work published, or a degree awarded, we ensure that the individual responsible for the accomplishment is highlighted on all of our platforms. We believe that the tremendous strides our students, teachers, and faculty have made deserve formal recognition. 

Our team is unique as it is comprised of a mixture of student assistants, interns, and communication specialists. We have a vast array of talented article writers, social media promoters, videographers, photographers, web designers, and graphic artists who are constantly producing content to be featured not only on the Kremen site, but also through our blog posts, social media uploads, and newsletter releases. We allow interns to mentor with a professional in their field of study, whether that be creative writing, photography, or computer technology. By receiving guidance and training, these interns are able to acquire valuable career skills and polish their resumes for future positions. Our communication assistants also learn how to develop professionalism and improve their craft as they are presented with assignments to strengthen their skills, while also earning money to assist with tuition and housing costs. To learn more about our gifted team members you can explore our newly constructed Communications Team website which houses their finished work and numerous accomplishments! 

(Written by Audra Burwell, a Creative Writing student employed by the Kremen School of Education and Human Development .)

Faculty Spotlight: Varaxy Yi Borromeo

Varaxy Yi Borromeo

Varaxy Yi Borromeo, an assistant professor in Higher Education Administration and Leadership (HEAL), has been recently selected to receive the 2022 AERA Research on the Education of Asian Pacific Americans SIG Early Career Award. She also currently serves as the coordinator of the HEAL graduate program and as core faculty in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership. She was drawn to Fresno State as an institution for several reasons. Firstly, she was born and raised in Modesto, so the institution was close to home. Second, Fresno State is an extremely diverse institution holding both Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution designations. This is especially important to Varaxy because she desires to work and serve a community that represents both her background and identities. She loves being in a diverse classroom and learning from amazing students, leaders, and professionals. Varaxy has been a faculty member at Fresno State since fall 2018.

Varaxy is constantly being uplifted and supported by an amazing group of mentors, guides, and colleagues. She is extremely grateful to her nominators and co-conspirators, Dr. Jacqueline Mac (Northern Illinois University), Vanessa Na (University of California, San Diego [UCSD]), and Amy Wang (UCSD). She considers them all wonderful souls and has the honor of calling them friends and family. She is also grateful to the SEAAsterScholars Collective of Southeast Asian American (SEAA)-identifying women who are committed to advancing knowledge with and by SEAA members, as well as, her advisor and friend, Dr. Samuel Museus for supporting her work and providing her with the skills and training necessary to contribute important knowledge about Asian American and SEAA communities. She is also thankful for all the Asian American and SEAA elders who provided a foundation for her to be able to advance the work of her community and to her department chair and program colleagues for their support.

            Currently, Varaxy holds bachelor’s degrees in both Business Administration and English (University of the Pacific), a master’s in Library and Information Science (San Jose State University), and a Ph.D. in Higher Education (University of Denver). She teaches graduate-level courses in higher education administration and leadership and in the doctoral program, including contemporary issues in higher education, education reform, and qualitative research. She has learned that it’s not just about doing good work and contributing knowledge but how you do it that matters. Leaning into the collectivist, interdependent ways of knowing and doing that her family taught her has helped Varaxy build meaningful relationships with collaborators and co-conspirators who understand that this work is never meant to be done alone. She resists individualistic ways of thinking and doing and finds great inspiration working with like-minded individuals. When the work is draining, she finds fulfillment in supporting others and receiving support—she knows that she is never alone, something that has made her career fulfilling and joyful.

            Varaxy will be receiving the SIG Early Career Award  at the American Educational Research Association in San Diego, California on April 3, 2022. She states that it is very exciting and spirit-lifting to have her work recognized. As a first-generation Khmer American college graduate and faculty, to be recognized in such a way by her scholar-community is both validating and affirming. She is the first in her family to attend and complete college, thus it has been a journey of navigating unknowns and uncertainties. She is excited that her work is being honored because it also means the effort her family put into coming here as refugees is visible to the world. Varaxy explains how they are the backbone that made this all possible.

She plans to continue conducting research on the experiences of SEAA students via both asset-based ways and utilizing critical theories of race to explore the racialized experiences of SEAA students. Varaxy is also collaborating with colleagues to conduct case studies of three CSU AANAPISIs and the contexts that shape how they support SEAA students. She is especially excited to work with SEAA graduate students interested in similar topics. If there are current SEAA grads interested in research, she is happy to offer training and support. One of her major goals is to build a robust pipeline of SEAA students into higher education and student affairs.

(Written by Audra Burwell, a Creative Writing Student, Employed by The Kremen School of Education and Human Development)

Faculty Spotlight: Soua Xiong

Soua Xiong

Soua Xiong was nominated to receive the 2022 AERA Research on the Education of Asian Pacific Americans SIG Early Career Award. This award is presented to an early career scholar whose program of research has had a significant impact on our understanding of Asian Americans and/or Pacific Islanders in the field of education. A significant impact refers to a program of research and practice that has meaningfully advanced knowledge and understanding in the field. The award will be formally presented to Soua at the SIG Business Meeting which will take place at 6pm on Saturday, April 23rd, at the San Diego Convention Center.

Soua received both his bachelor and master degrees from Fresno State. His BA is in Psychology and his MS is in Counseling. His PhD is in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Claremont Graduate University and San Diego State University. He first ended up at the Kremen School in 2009 as a graduate student, before finishing with his master’s degree in Counseling in 2011. Shortly after that, he was selected as the Graduate Dean’s Medalist for the Kremen School of Education and Human Development. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Counselor Education and Rehabilitation and also serves as the Coordinator of the Student Affairs and College Counseling program. He teaches foundations of student services in higher education, applying counseling skills to student affairs practice, and supervises graduate students in the completion of their master’s projects and internships. He has been at Fresno State for over 14 years as a student, staff, and now faculty member.


Soua would like to give a shout out to Dr. J. Luke Wood from San Diego State University and Dr. Song E. Lee from Fresno State. He says that he wouldn’t be where he is at this stage of his academic career without their continued support, guidance, and mentorship. He also would like to include a heartfelt mention of his multiple communities of encouragement. First and foremost, he would like to thank God, followed by his family, friends, and colleagues. He is also eternally grateful to his Department Chair (Dr. Becton), Associate Dean (Dr. Pitt Parker), and Dean (Dr. Randy Yerrick) for their continued support as he coordinates a graduate program as the sole full-time faculty member in addition to all of his other roles and responsibilities as a faculty member.

Being an educator is something that Soua is very passionate about and something he continues to enjoy every single day. He has had the opportunity to prepare and train aspiring student affairs professionals with the counseling training they need to effectively address the holistic needs of college students from diverse backgrounds. What he enjoys most about the teaching experience is the opportunity to learn with and from his students. They bring a wealth of knowledge, background, and experience that greatly enhance the learning environment.

However, Soua’s work doesn’t simply stop inside the classroom. He wants to keep developing a community of scholars committed to advancing our knowledge and understanding of Hmong students in higher education. That is why he created the Xiong Research Group to provide leadership, research mentorship, and monthly capacity-building workshops so that others can learn the academic research process, become critical consumers of research and producers of knowledge on the Hmong college student experience using asset-based frameworks. Currently, his research team (Xiong Research Group) is conducting a national qualitative study to explore the factors that positively shaped the experiences and outcomes of Hmong students in higher education (The Hmong College Student Success Project). Rather than focus on barriers and challenges of Hmong students, this project is a retrospective trajectory analysis using Harper’s (2010) anti-deficit achievement framework to explore factors that allowed them to access, thrive, and succeed in higher education.

He is committed to using his own research to elevate and amplify the voices and experiences of Southeast Asian Americans (SEAAs) in higher education. This strand of his research agenda has focused on 1) engagement of SEAA male students, 2) SEAA community college students, and 3) Hmong students specifically. Rather than use deficit-oriented research approaches and frameworks that perpetuate deficit perspectives and narratives of SEAA students, their community, and culture, he plans to continue using asset-based approaches and frameworks to guide his research in this area of study. After hearing that he would be presented with the Early Career Award, Soua was incredibly honored and even more determined to continue his area of research. He is grateful for the recognition and the progress which his team has made, something that continues driving him toward future success.

(Written by Audra Burwell, a Creative Writing Student, Employed by The Kremen School of Education and Human Development)

RACIAL HEALING CIRCLE SUPPORTS STUDENTS WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED RACISM

At the core of his profession, Dr. Ramar Henderson sees himself as a healer – someone who is “courageous and intentional about collaborating with an individual who is hurt and devising a plan to become complete in the broken places.”

That’s why he started the Racial Healing Circle at Fresno State, to provide a dedicated space to help those affected by the pain of racism on psychological, spiritual, physical and emotional levels.

Henderson, an assistant professor in the Master of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling at the Kremen School for Education and Human Development, was first introduced to racial healing circles at the Atlanta Association of Black Psychologists conference in 2011. He was fascinated by the concept and felt it was a vital component to helping heal racism. He said it was refreshing to encounter healers that were explicit about speaking to the psychological pain of racism.

Henderson strives to provide a safe space for individuals to talk about experiences with racism.

“It has been extremely beneficial to the individuals who have attended, many of whom have been looking for a place such as this for a long time, where they can openly share their traumas and struggles without fear of judgment.”

Dr. Ramar Henderson

For example, some students have talked about how the lack of conversations around race and racism can make them uncomfortable, and they have discussed issues related to inequity in programming.

Dr. Ramar Henderson (right) leads a monthly Racial Healing Circle on campus where students can share experiences in a safe, supportive environment.

With newly emerging healing spaces available on campus, many individuals have begun to feel more accepted and embraced by the academic community, Henderson said.

The Racial Healing Circle began in October 2020, and, until fall 2021, was held virtually. It is now being hosted monthly, in person at the Cross Cultural and Gender Center at Fresno State.

The Racial Healing Circle partners with the Cross Cultural Gender Center, where Brianna White leads African American Programs and Services. Dr. Francine Oputa, the former director of the center, helped inspire Henderson to start the program.

Henderson facilitates the discourse and models how to provide appropriate support during the discussion while the attendees sit in a circle around him. Participants are encouraged and validated by their peers. Faculty and staff representation, along with peer support, can be therapeutic in a dedicated space such as this one, Henderson said.

For more information on the monthly Racial Healing Circle, or other events, visit the Cross Cultural and Gender Center calendar.

(Story by Audra Burwell, creative writing student assistant in the Kremen School)

A Day in the Life of a Principal: Cindy Monroy

Running a school is no easy task, especially when it comes to balancing the needs of teachers, students, parents and the surrounding community, while also maintaining a well-rounded curriculum. Principal Cindy Monroy gives us an inside look at how she manages to keep up with her sometimes overwhelming schedule while still making time to actively participate in the lives of her students. 

During the early morning hours between 8a.m. – 9a.m., Principal Monroy checks in with her assigned secretary to see what upcoming engagements are listed on her calendar, while also responding to emails that require immediate attention. She then types up a routine morning announcement which is aired across campus. Principal Monroy finishes the morning off by welcoming all of her students by name as they head to class. 

Between 9a.m. – 12.pm., Principal Monroy holds a meeting with the Student Accountability Team which specializes in interventionists for math, reading, and language acquisition, where she is able to discuss student progress and program efficacy. Sometimes, she may also be found at the district office, meeting with the Health & Safety Team, The Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Committee (CIA), or the district-wide leadership team. When she is not in a meeting, she enjoys visiting classrooms and engaging with staff and students. 

For Principal Monroy, lunch breaks are unorthodox and mostly nonexistent. When not in a meeting, she usually leaves the office and supervises lunch duty, sometimes bringing her morning snack and joining students in the cafeteria while they tell her about their day. It is rare that she is allowed to sit down and have an uninterrupted lunch. Lunchtime for a Principal is often a working lunch or lunch on the go. If she is in the office, she sits at her desk and eats lunch, while reviewing emails or signing documents. Oftentimes, she has pending conversations with her counselor or vice-principal as they join in on a working lunch because they know that at any time, an unexpected situation may arise and Principal Monroy likes to stay ahead of those possibilities. The end of her day concludes by wrapping up any necessary discipline reports, making calls home, responding to emails and preparing her schedule for the following day.

During the evenings, Principal Monroy is equally busy, as she strives to catch up with other ongoing obligations. On Monday evenings, she rushes home to log into her doctoral classes which run from 5p.m. through 10p.m. On Tuesday/Thursday evenings, she attends Board Meetings once a month, and when she is not engaged in one of these meetings, she and her husband split the chauffeuring duties, taking one child to soccer practice while the other tackles gymnastics class. On Wednesdays, she likes to stay connected with other professionals in the Central Valley and currently serves as President to the Region 3 Central Valley California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators (CV-CALSA). She reviews and plans for the work that they are doing as an organization. She hosts and facilitates monthly Executive Board meetings to help continue their work in the Central Valley. On Fridays, all students and staff leave campus by 3:30pm, which allows plenty of time for her to prepare the Principal’s Newsletter for the following week, filling it with updates and a calendar of events. She finally heads home after an eventful day to enjoy pizza and have a movie night with her family. 

While the life of a principal is indeed demanding and time-consuming, Principal Monroy wouldn’t have it any other way

She enjoys seeing her work make a positive impact on both the lives of her students and educators. By maintaining a personal connection with the academic community, she ensures that the concerns and needs of those who depend on her are sufficiently met. Principal Monroy looks forward to watching her school grow and flourish even more in the coming years. 

(Written by Audra Burwell, a Creative Writing Student Who is Employed by The Kremen School of Education and Human Development)