Liberal Studies student named University Volunteer of the Year

Written by: BoNhia Lee, Fresno State News

Ariel Mendez, a graduate student majoring in liberal studies, was awarded the 2021 University Volunteer of the Year Award. The award, which includes a $1,500 scholarship, is given each year to a student who has made a difference in the community through their time and talent. Mendez has volunteered more than 480 hours over the past year.

After learning that California has one of the largest homeless populations, and identifying other states with high homeless populations, Mendez was eager and passionate about finding a way to help. Starting in her hometown of Tulare, Mendez began handing out donated clothing she collected from family and friends to the homeless. Then, she drove to five states in five days handing out the remaining clothes. At the beginning of 2020, Mendez drove to over 10 states in 12 days giving out more donated items and things that she purchased herself.

When the pandemic hit, Mendez shifted her efforts to create COVID-19 relief packages with food, water, hygiene supplies, journals, blankets and clothing. She also baked over 400 cookies for the homeless in Fresno.

Her efforts did not stop there. Knowing that farmworkers were deemed essential and working to provide food to the Valley and beyond during the pandemic, Mendez drove to Farmersville, Exeter and Tulare County and donated Gatorade and water to farmworkers. Mendez donated over 1,500 meals and over 2,000 hygiene and essential care products to homeless families and essential workers. She keeps a basket of food, water, and hygiene supplies in her trunk so that she can help anyone in need.

Read more.

Castros Honored With Brick on Teachers and Friends of Education Honor Wall

California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro, who previously served as Fresno State’s eighth president, and first-lady Mary Castro have advocated for education in the Central Valley since their arrival at Fresno State in 2013. The Castros have spearheaded and reinforced multiple efforts to support student academic success and increase the quality of education in the Valley.

Because of their years of servant leadership, the Teachers and Friends of Education Honor Wall committee members at Fresno State are honoring the Castros with a commemorative brick, with the inscription: “BOLD LEADERSHIP.” The date of the brick installation will be announced once scheduled.

These honor walls on campus are a place where educators in the Central Valley, and around the world, are recognized with personalized bricks. The vastness of the walls showcases the mass impact educators have. These walls line the entrance of Fresno State’s Kremen School of Education and Human Development, inspiring the Valley’s future teachers, counselors and educational leaders.

Since the first wall was built in 1998, there have been over 4,400 bricks dedicated, spanning four separate walls. Others who have been honored with bricks include Jim Yovino, superintendent of schools for Fresno County; Ashley Swearengin, Fresno’s 24th mayor; and Deputy Sheriff Joel Wahlenmaier and Police Officer Javier Bejar, heroes killed in the line of duty in Minkler.

The Castros have participated in multiple outreach efforts to local youth. They partnered with United Way Fresno, Madera Counties and Chevron to provide thousands of backpacks filled with school supplies to students ranging from fifth to eighth grade.

“Mary and I firmly believe there’s talent and potential in every household in our region,” Joseph I. Castro said.

They have also visited numerous churches to speak to Black youth about the importance of higher education, as part of an annual event of the California State University African American Initiative.

The Castros have supported Fresno State students’ ability to focus on academic success by spearheading a nationally-recognized food security project, the Student Cupboard. According to a 2017 CSU study, more than 43 percent of Fresno State students had experienced some level of food insecurity in the past year. Since the Student Cupboard opened in 2014, Mary Castro has been heavily involved in inspiring financial support for the project. She helped raise $327,275 at the 2020 March Match Up event.


Elementary Schools Exemplify Character and Civic Education

Each year student teachers from Fresno State and Fresno Pacific University gather to attend the annual Conference on Character and Civic Education. These future teachers learn about best practices in promoting the ethical, moral, and socio-emotional development of their soon-to-be students.

The conference, hosted by Fresno State’s Bonner Center for Character Education and Citizenship, was sadly canceled this year due to the current environment. This was to be the Bonner Center’s 36th conference, the longest continuously run conference of its kind in the United States.

A highlight of the conference is the recognition of local schools for exemplary practices in character and civic education. In order for schools to receive this award, they must plan well in advance to infuse character education into their school curriculums, the plans must also be modeled by the adults, and students must be provided opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways to the school, to others, and to the community.

Thirty-seven Central Valley elementary schools are being awarded the Exemplary Schools Award. Once the schools return to standard operations, members of the Bonner Center Advisory Board Committee will deliver each school their award. In the meantime, the Advisory Board would like to announce the winning schools and recognize them for their character education excellence.

2020 Exemplary School Awardees

Alpine Vista Elementary School, Tulare City School District
Bud Rank Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District
Centerville Elementary School, Sanger Unified School District
Century Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District
Cooper Hill Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District
Del Rey Elementary School, Sanger Unified School District
Dry Creek Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District
Fremont Elementary School, Fowler Unified School District
Fugman Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District
Garfield Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District
Harvest Elementary School, Central Unified School District
John S. Wash Elementary School, Sanger Unified School District
Liddell Elementary School, Central Unified School District
Malaga Elementary School, Fowler Unified School District
Marshall Elementary School, Fowler Unified School District
Mickey Cox Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District
Miramonte Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District
Mountain View Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District
Nell Dawson Elementary School, Coalinga Huron Unified School District
Pioneer Elementary School, Pioneer Union Elementary School District
Pleasant Elementary School, Tulare City School District
Red Bank Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District
Riverview Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District
Ronald Reagan Elementary School, Kingsburg Elementary School District
Ronald W. Reagan Elementary School, Sanger Unified School District
Roosevelt Elementary School, Kingsburg Elementary Charter School District
Sequoia Elementary School, Sanger Unified School District
Sierra Vista Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District
Strathmore Elementary School, Strathmore Union Elementary School District
Susan B. Anthony Elementary School, Fresno Unified School District
Tarpey Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District
Temperance-Kutner Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District
Washington Elementary School, Mendota Unified School District
Webster Elementary School, Golden Valley Unified School District
Wilson Elementary School, Sanger Unified School District
Wilson Elementary School, Tulare City School District
Woods Elementary School, Clovis Unified School District

Professor dedicates career to advocating for people ‘on the outside’

Dr. Jenelle Pitt remembers sitting with her classmates one day in high school as everyone shared news about which colleges they had applied or been accepted to. She was in AP English at the time, and she proudly announced she had been accepted to the University of California, Berkeley. But just as her moment of pride began, she said, one of her peers responded, “Oh, they are just trying to fill their quota.”

That moment stuck with Pitt, whose parents were born in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, a southern island in the Caribbean. Pitt and her brother were born in Toronto, Canada before the family moved to Los Angeles when she was 3 years old.

Today, Pitt is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Counselor Education and Rehabilitation at Fresno State. She has dedicated her career and personal time to advocating for people “on the outside.”

Pitt said she has spent her life navigating the challenges of being on the outside. Still, she thrived academically from a young age and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC Riverside and her master’s in rehabilitation counseling and Ph.D. in rehabilitation counselor education from Michigan State University.

At Fresno State, Pitt works with students who want to be counselors of all sorts — school/college counselors; marriage, child and family counselors; and rehabilitation and mental health counselors. She helps students understand how to assist individuals with disabilities and understand issues related to development, abuse and identity.

“With rehabilitation counseling, it is very much about people who are different, and this push against what is ‘normal,’ what might be considered abnormal,” Pitt said. “And as you layer on different social identities, disabilities, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity and language, you might very quickly find yourself on the outside.”

Advocating in Fresno

Pitt has served on the City of Fresno’s Disability Advisory Commission since 2010, applying her knowledge and expertise in areas that directly impact the community.

The commission reports directly to the mayor of Fresno and provides recommendations and advice on city policies and procedures. “There are a lot of places in Fresno where the infrastructure isn’t where it needs to be,” Pitt said. “There have been a lot of opportunities to give input prior to things rolling out, like with the FresGo app, reconstruction with the Fresno airport and service animal areas.”

Pitt has served as chair, vice chair and now as commissioner, providing over a decade of service to the community.

“The disability community is already very intersectional, you have youth with disabilities, adults with disabilities, seniors with disabilities. Everybody is coming to the community with a specific race or ethnicity, so it really is an intersection,” Pitt said. “I feel that when I am advocating, it’s not just for the disability community but it’s an intersection of difference that tends to be oftentimes marginalized.”

Pitt also serves on the Fresno Unified School District African American Academic Acceleration Task Force. The task force works to find solutions on how to accelerate academic improvements for African American students.

Last year, the task force found that Fresno Unified’s African American students were in a state of emergency and called for immediate action. The African American suspension rate was twice as high as other student groups, test scores were not accelerating at the pace of other students, and the task force found issues in the district culture. For Pitt, this hit home. At the time, her 7-year-old son was enrolled in a Fresno Unified school.

“All children need to have access to quality features and to have opportunities and access to high levels of preparation,” Pitt said.

‘Things That Matter’

Earlier this year, Pitt received an email informing her that the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce were awarding her with the Things That Matter award. Not knowing she had been nominated, Pitt was shocked.

The award recognizes outstanding business professionals who exemplify mastery, leadership and knowledge. “Your commitment to the community and selflessness both in your profession and in your contributions to the community have proven this,” said Tara Lynn Gray, president and CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce.

Supporting Students

Along with being an associate professor, chair of a department, city commissioner, task force member and a mother, she still finds time to support Fresno State students outside of the classroom.

Pitt partners with the Fresno State Services for Students with Disabilities office and helps students find resources to assist them with their educational journey. She is able to apply her knowledge to situations and follows up with students at different stages of their journeys.

However, students don’t have to have a disability for Pitt to help guide them down the right path.

“I think about a lot of the students I’ve had the opportunity to advise, where they identify as black, Latino/Latina, Hmong, and just everything they are doing to make it to campus, to show up to class,” Pitt said. “It might not be that they have a disability or they have a diagnosis, but they need space to process. So being able to connect them with the Student Health and Counseling Center, maybe they just need someone to listen, someone to come up with some strategies when they go back home.”

Pitt has had to navigate different spaces from childhood to now and she echoes how important it is to have support. Pitt states that she is “passionate about things being different, period.”

Kremen School Alumni Oktoberfest Supports Student Scholarships

Written by: Phylisha Chaidez, media, communications and journalism student.
Photography by: John Charles, media, communications and journalism student.

In the summer of 2006, at just 11 years old, Shoghig Stanboulian was in constant fear for her life. The sounds of war have stuck with her 13 years later as she thinks back to the 2006 Lebanon War, in which 1,000 Lebanese people are believed to have been killed.

“There were several bombs that were being dropped near my village and, to this day, I still remember the horror and the terrible, loud noises,” Stanboulian said. She and her family were among the 1 million Lebanese people displaced due to the war.

Two years after the war, Stanboulian and her family moved to the United States for safety and better educational opportunities. Yet, she still had to overcome obstacles many immigrants face when coming to a new country.

“I honestly felt like a fish out of water. I did not speak English very well, and I just felt like an outsider,” Stanboulian said. “I was in complete culture shock. It took me at least five years to adjust to the American culture.”

After adjusting, Stanboulian became the first in her family to go to college. As a first-generation college student, she graduated from Fresno State, summa cum laude (a 3.9 GPA or higher), and received the 2017 Outstanding Student Award from the Department of Biology.

With a bachelor’s degree in biology and a teaching credential, Stanboulian is now a fifth-grade teacher with a class of 32 students at Centennial Elementary School, and she is pursuing a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

Kremen Alumni Oktoberfest

Because of Stanboulian’s continuous excellence in academics, last year she received a $2,000 scholarship made possible by funds raised at last year’s annual Kremen Alumni Oktoberfest. This event, hosted by the Kremen School of Education and Human Development’s alumni and friends chapter, raised $28,000 last year for the scholarship program, resulting in 14 scholarships awarded.

Kremen School alumni and friends are invited to support future educators and leaders like Stanboulian by attending this year’s Oktoberfest at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, at Sequoia Brewing Company (1188 E. Champlain Dr.).

“I was very happy and grateful when I found out I received the Kremen School of Education Alumni Chapter Scholarship Award,” Stanboulian said. “This scholarship lifted a big financial burden off my shoulders.”

Today, Stanboulian works toward bridging the gap between minority students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds and their peers when it comes to learning mathematics. By implementing culturally responsive mathematics teaching, her goal is to celebrate the cultural element of learning that textbooks lack while giving disadvantaged students an opportunity to solve problems that culturally relate to them.

“Learning is my passion, I feel like there is so much for me to learn and continue growing,” Stanboulian said. “I feel like I am making a difference every day when I am going to work. I am not only teaching content for my kids, but I am teaching them social and life skills that they can utilize to be successful in their futures.”

The Kremen Alumni Oktoberfest event will include a live band and a German-inspired buffet. Attendees are encouraged to participate in a silent auction with items donated from local businesses and restaurants such as Dog House Grill, Vino Grille, Spirits, Erna’s Elderberry House and more.

For more information on how to support the Kremen School, visit or contact Laura Whitehouse at 559.278.0393 or

Children at Fresno State Celebrate Week of the Young Child

Fresno State’s Programs for Children, along with the Huggins Center, celebrated the annual Week of the Young Child (WOYC). Children engaged in a week full of festivities heightening their senses, building on their skills and letting their minds explore through creative activities.

The Week of the Young Child, hosted by the National Association of Education for Young Children (NAEYC), celebrates early learning, young children, their teachers, and families. The NAEYC accredits the Kremen School of Education and Human Development’s early childhood education program along with the Huggins Center. The Kremen School is proud to participate in the NAEYC’s annual events and celebrations.

Tasty Tuesday

When it comes to picky eaters, parents will try any game or disguise to get their children to try new foods. For the WOYC’s Tasty Tuesday, parents sent the Huggins Center recipes that they would like their children to try.

Multiple picky eater recipes were tried at the center; from broccoli tart to vegetable tacos. Many children were willing to try different vegetables and enjoyed being involved in cooking process.

Gardening Together Wednesday

Children used their senses to explore the garden. They felt the soil between their fingers and smelled the different scents from the plants. Once the children were done exploring the soil and plants, they started digging in the soil and planting the seedlings and plants.

Over the next few months, the children at the Huggins Center will watch the plants grow and will be able to explore the next life-cycle in the garden.

Artsy Garden Thursday

The children at the Huggins Center spend a lot of time in the garden. It is a place which allows children to explore nature, foods and endless sensory exercises. For the WOYC’s Artsy Thursday, the center decided to decorate their garden.

Children beautified the garden by creating wind chimes from CDs, painted on the walls and created texturized collages using natural elements.


Family Music Parade Friday

To culminate the Week of the Young Child, the children from the Huggins Center held a music parade across the Fresno State campus. The youngest learners on campus invited their family members and the Fresno State community to celebrate the WOYC. Children brought their favorite musical instruments from home or the center and marched across the campus.

If you would like to learn more about the Huggins Center, visit their website.

School Backpack Program Feeds Valley Children

The Central California Food Bank‘s school backpack program provides children in need a backpack on Fridays filled with food to last the weekend. These backpacks provide enough food for a family of four, including breakfast, lunch and dinner items. Children then return on Monday with the backpack empty and receive another backpack filled with food the following Friday.

IMG_9563.JPGThe Kremen School faculty, staff and family members filled nearly 2,000 backpacks for the March distributions to 10 schools. The faculty and staff also included some inspirational messages for the children.

This community service served as a team-building activity with the goal of giving back to the community while continuing to build our own community at the Kremen School.

IMG_2779(Kremen School faculty, staff and family)