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)

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)

Music Educators Use Innovative Techniques During The Pandemic

When the pandemic hit and schools and universities across the country switched to online learning, music educators scrambled to find new and alternative ways to teach their students. No longer able to gather in a room to collaborate, music educators needed to find innovative ways to teach their students.

Aaron Luna, a student in Fresno State’s Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership who is director of bands at Divisadero Middle School and an adjunct professor of the Music Department at Fresno State, was one of those music educators who had to make changes in his classroom to make sure his students’ musical growth wasn’t hindered.

Luna’s district provided a new music program that allowed his students to hear how the music he assigned is supposed to be played on their specific instrument. Although this gave his students a sense of normalcy during a time when they weren’t together, there were challenges.

“It was really cool and interactive but for students that have a bad Internet connection it was really difficult,” Luna said. “And, for me as an educator as well, I think it had a huge impact on their musical growth and their performance outcomes.”

To combat this, Luna decided to go back to the roots of music and have conversations with his students about race and culture as it pertains to music, including jazz, Bali music and mariachi.

“I think it’s important to have music within the curriculum that reflects the student demographic so the students are able to see or make cultural connections to the music,” Luna said.

Dr. Nicholas Fuentes, a recent Fresno State graduate and now vice president for community education and enrichment at the Santa Barbara Symphony, oversees music education programs targeted at students in third grade and up.

Before the pandemic the Santa Barbara Symphony offered a hands-on approach to help aspiring young musicians in the community.

“We do something called the music van which delivers instruments to schools and gives a presentation. Most kids have never seen a French horn or timpani before so this is an opportunity for them to see it, hold it, play it, touch it, and it really helps generate interest in the kids. We’re also running programs where we hold a symphony for all of the elementary school kids in town. We’ll do a performance and there’s instruction that goes along with it, talking about what the conductor does, what the different instruments are. So it’s an educational session but also a musical performance.”

During the pandemic the symphony decided to make changes that allowed students to still learn and get the experience of their programs without actually leaving their classroom. The symphony put together a virtual program in the place of the music van that allowed students to learn about all of the different instruments of the symphony.

These innovative teaching methods that resulted from the pandemic have brought to the forefront some new tools to help students succeed—some of which may remain part of the curriculum going forward.

(By Devon Hunt, creative writing student)

Kremen grad’s long educational journey leads to governor-appointed job

Being a young mother and working a part-time job wasn’t at all a detriment, but for Dr. Lupe Jaime-Mileham, there was still this awareness that she might not be able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at Fresno State in the targeted five years. 

Walking in without an appointment, she met with an adviser who helped her unpack classes previously taken at a different university. 

“There was an understanding that I’d probably take a lot longer because it was difficult for me to carry a full-time load. I ended up doing close to over nine years of getting my first degree with Kremen,” said Jaime-Mileham.

Then, taking strides to advance her education, Jaime-Mileham would once again walk through the hallways of the Kremen School when she decided she could make a greater impact in education if she earned an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership

Throughout her program, she struggled with a sense of belonging due to English not being her first language and coming from a migrant background. The program director at the time, Dr. Ken Magdaleno, became a mentor for her. 

“From my first meeting with her, I was convinced that she would be an honored leader in her chosen field,” said Magdaleno.

Jaime-Mileham was able to bounce her vulnerabilities on him, and she said that having his support was crucial to getting to the finish line. 

Passionate about her work as the senior director of Early Care and Education for the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, she decided to take the next step in her career. Feeling empowered with a doctorate in educational leadership, she applied for the California Department of Social Services’ brand new Child Care and Development Division. After a series of interviews, Jaime-Mileham was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Senate-confirmed as the deputy director of the Child Care and Development Division.

She’d realize that the position would offer her the opportunity to bring not only her unique voice and upbringing, but also “that Central Valley lens,” to her work.

When asked about her goal for the next year, Jaime-Mileham hopes that the record-breaking investments to the department are a testament to what this current administration and legislators are trying to bring forth. 

“My hope is to ensure that every family has access to quality services across the state — whether it’s our smallest rural community in the Central Valley. Quality efforts including both linguistically and culturally appropriate practices, where we’re honoring families’ home language and supporting our early childhood workforce.”

When reflecting on her position as deputy director and her education at Fresno State, Jaime-Mileham is drawn to the uniqueness of the Kremen School’s graduate programs, in particular the Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education program. 

“The Kremen School has always been one of the leaders on the forefront of early childhood education and not only having that unique masters in early childhood, which is unheard of across the state, but also having great professors who are able to prepare this workforce that is going to work with our very youngest learners. I continue to see Kremen champion that work and continue to support the workforce,” she said.

Like Jaime-Mileham and countless other graduates who are agents of change in our community, the Kremen School is dedicated to preparing credible and relevant leaders committed to advancing equity and excellence in education.

(Written by Devon Hunt, a creative writing student)

The doctorate, “boils down to showing kids, showing Hispanic kids, that we can achieve at the highest level.”

Written by: Juan Esparza Loera, Vida en el Valle

The journey for the only son of a single mother from Fowler who battled poverty to raise him while he excelled in basketball – but barely kept afloat on his grades – reached a major plateau Friday (May 14) morning when Henry ‘Hank’ Gutiérrez received his doctorate in education at Bulldog Stadium.

He went from entering Fresno State as a special admit through the Educational Opportunities Programs (EOP) to earning a 4.0 GPA and the graduate level dean’s medal from the Kremen School of Education.

“EOP will always be a part of my educational heritage,” said Gutiérrez, a 50-year-old father of two. “I want to thank Fresno State because they took a chance on the right kid.”

Twenty years ago, he earned his master’s at Fresno State.

Gutiérrez, the Fresno County deputy superintendent of educational services, helps provide services for 32 school districts and numerous charter schools that serve almost 198,000 students.

He wants his doctorate to serve as an incentive for kids like him. He remembers very well “standing in line for that long block of cheese with my grandmother or paying for our milk and bread with stamps used as money.”

The doctorate, he said, “boils down to showing kids, showing Hispanic kids, that we can achieve at the highest level.”

“I want to be a role model at the very core of my existence,” said Gutiérrez, a 1988 graduate of Fowler High School where he was a basketball standout and once ran against the vaunted McFarland High cross country teams during their heyday.

“I just want to be a role model to all kids – that particular kid from Fowler where I grew up – to show that no matter how you grew up, no matter your trials and tribulations that education is our key out of poverty.”

Gutiérrez decided to get into education when he became a junior high basketball coach.

“I really fell in love with the interaction with kids,” he said. “I really thought my path would evolve into some sort of leadership role and leadership capacity with kids.”

Being raised without a father probably made Gutiérrez take a liking to providing coaching and teaching lessons to children that he never got at home from a dad.

Coaching Experience Motivated Him to Get Into Education

“I told myself that if I wanted to continue coaching basketball, I probably should pursue a teaching credential so that I can really stay involved in the educational system,” said Gutiérrez, who has served as principal of Fowler High and later Washington Union.

His first teaching job was at Lane Elementary. His first administrative position came in 1999 when Sunnyside High opened.

In 2014, he was honored as the Fresno County administrator of the year when he was at Fowler. Leaving his alma mater for Washington Union was difficult, but it was part of his plan to build his leadership skills.

The two-decade break between his master’s and doctorate degrees also allowed him to build up his leadership skills.

“I just immersed in all kinds of leadership experiences and life experiences that really prepared me to take that leap of faith to get into the doctoral program,” said Gutiérrez. “It really made the rigor of the program and the focus for me that much easier.”

The doctorate (his thesis was ‘The Enactment of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: A Case Study of One Elementary School’) should open more opportunities for him in education.

“I’m just learning how to lead an organization, and I’m happy leading and assisting,” he said about his current job. “I don’t know what my future holds. Only time will tell, but I know that with this doctoral degree I’m better equipped.

“I put myself in the driver’s seat for any leadership role that I aspire to.”

Jim Yovino, the elected superintendent in Fresno County, first met Gutiérrez when he was principal at Fowler High.

“There was something special about him,” said Yovino. “It’s that quality to get people to move in a direction that’s going to help kids and families.”

Yovino praised Gutiérrez’s confidence while remaining kind and compassionate.

“That’s really hard to do, and he does it really well,” said Yovino, who hired Gutiérrez as an assistant superintendent and about a year ago elevated him to the deputy superintendent position.

“I’m just incredibly proud of him,” said Yovino. “I just think he’s got all the right qualities a leader should have.”

Mother, Wife Have Influenced Him

Gutiérrez, in previous interviews and in public appearances, has mentioned the critical role that his mother, Henrietta, played in his life.

He remembers graduating from Fresno State in 1993 and spotting his mother in the audience.

“I still remember that moment, walking into Bulldog Stadium and finding her in the crowd. I saw her standing up,” he said in 2014. “That type of emotion she had drives you to keep on reaching for the next successful eclipse in your life.

“My accomplishments were a testament to what her aspirations for herself were, but maybe she didn’t have the means because she was raising me. I need to achieve these goals because I’m kind of living for my mother and myself at the same time.”

His wife, Lisa, a financial consultant, has kept him motivated. Gutiérrez compares her to what Mary Castro is to CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro.

“She’s my First Lady,” he said.

In his dissertation, he praises her support.

“You inspired me to be brave and conquer this dream. I simply could not have finished this dissertation and the entire program without your sacrifice, love, and support,” he wrote. “My life’s dreams and future goals are centered around you and for you. Together, we can do anything and we “always win!”

The late Justin Garza – the Central High football coach whose name will grace that district’s newest high school – introduced Gutiérrez to her.

Gutiérrez remains a big fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and of superstar Michael Jordan. As a 6-foot-3 center at Fowler, he led the Redcats to the Valley finals before they lost to Immanuel.

He received an email from the dean of the School of Education notifying him of the dean’s medal.

“When I first read the email, I had to leave a few times and make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe it. It was like a moment frozen in time where I realized all my hard work had been recognized.”

Doctoral Graduate Wins National Award for Dissertation

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

Suzanne Rodriguez sat in the waiting area at her local salon when she read a text message: “OMG have you looked at your email?”

The text came from Dr. Jennifer Watson, Rodriguez’s Fresno State Ed.D. dissertation chair. Rodriguez quickly checked her email and was overcome with emotion. After over a year of researching, revising and refining, Rodriguez not only completed her dissertation — she received the 2019 Dissertation in Practice of the Year award from the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate.

The award, which was presented to Rodriguez on Oct. 22 at a forum at the University of South Carolina, is given to Ed.D. graduates whose dissertations show evidence of scholarly endeavors in impacting a complex problem.

When Rodriguez was a student in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at Fresno State, she was going through the dissertation process just the same as her peers. Because Rodriguez had previous experience as a school principal in Dinuba Unified School District, she chose her topic, “The Urgency of Principal Professional Development and the Implications for Policy and Practice.”

Her dissertation examines the professional development that current California school principals are provided and the alignment of that professional development to the California Professional Standards for Educational Leaders. She found that although principal support is being provided, it is not being provided via an intentional, systemic process designed to meet varying needs of principals as they begin and progress in their leadership careers.

“We need good principals at all school sites. And when we have good principals that districts are investing in, then you’re going to see equity across the board in terms of what students are getting and profitable outcomes, like student achievement,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez not only researched and presented her findings, but she took it a step further and stood out from her peers by creating a solution. She developed a three-tiered professional development model that would allow school district leadership to implement varying levels of professional development to their principals throughout their tenure and customize it to meet their district, school and individualized principal needs. It’s a model she said could be implemented in all school districts.

Watson decided to nominate Rodriguez for the 2019 Dissertation in Practice of the Year award because of the importance of the topic and her work ethic. “I had Suzanne in class her first year in the program. I knew immediately she had something that not all students have,” Watson said. “She has a work ethic that is second to none.”

Fresno State’s Ed.D. program has been a member of the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate since 2007. The organization works to continuously improve Ed.D. programs worldwide, with 117 universities and colleges holding membership.

“Suzanne is a lifelong worker, and for this to be the first time, not only in Fresno State history but in CSU history, that anybody’s dissertation has gotten to this point, I was just overcome with emotion,” Watson said.

While in the doctoral program, Rodriguez was a full-time principal as well as a full-time student. She had to balance overseeing three schools, managing assignments, writing an almost 200-page dissertation and maintaining a family life.

Rodriguez graduated in May and has no plans of slowing down. Rodriguez, on top of being a lecturer at Fresno State, began a new job as a school supervision and social work expert with Robson Forensic, Inc. She is engaged to be married in November and plans to present and make her model public next year.

“As a woman and a Latina, this recognition allows other women and women of color to see and believe in what is possible,” Rodriguez said. “It also puts a Latina’s face and work on a national stage, illuminating the professional capacity and scholarly work that we bring to the table. I truly hope it inspires young Latinas to dream big, work hard and be bold.”

Outstanding Graduate Students

Each year the Division of Research and Graduate Studies and the Graduate Net Initiative host a Graduate Student and Faculty Mixer. This is an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduate students and the faculty who helped them succeed.

This year the Kremen School of Education and Human Development nominated seven graduate students for their ability to excel in their studies and to show promise in their future profession.

Stephanie-Thiele-MAEd-C&IStephanie Thiele

Master of Arts in Education, Curriculum and Instruction student

“Stephanie is a leader, a scholar, and a highly involved 6th grade teacher in Selma Unified, where she coaches three sports and coordinates Leadership and History Day, the Yearbook Club, and the district Technology and Math Teams. Stephanie is completing her M.A. and Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Technology.” – Dr. Carol Fry Bohlin

Brooke-Berrios_MAECEBrooke Berrios

Master of Arts in Education, Early Childhood Education student

“Brooke Berrios is not only genuinely passionate about her own learning but also the learning of others. Most recently, she significantly contributed to our program by helping us develop an innovative recruitment plan. I see an authentic leader in Brooke who will continue to make a deep impact in higher education as well as in her community.” – Dr. Heather Horsley

David-Garza-MAHEALDavid Garza

Master of Arts in Education, Educational Leadership and Administration student

“This is a student who stood out as a leader in his cohort and the program. Any person who has been in contact with him comments on his work ethic, character, integrity, and ability to inspire others. For example, he is a great spokesperson and advocate for his cohort members, colleagues, and most of all the students he and families he serves on a daily basis. He has a passion for helping others that is contagious. He is a life long learner and continues to push himself beyond the coursework.” – Dr. Mabel Franks

Camerina Morales - Dr. Susana HernandezCamerina Morales

Master of Arts in Education, Higher Education, Administration and Leadership student

“Camerina Morales is a Graduate Assistant in the Center for Leadership in the office the Student Involvement and serves as the HEAL Graduate Student Association Chair. Camerina is eager to serve and looks for opportunities to be of service. Her commitment to social justice is evidenced in and outside of the classroom.” – Dr. Susana Hernandez

Patricia-Bloodgood-MMEPatricia Bloodgood

Master of Arts in Education, Multilingual Multicultural Education student

“Patricia exemplifies the MME Program by her advance level of research and leadership. She is respected by her peers due to her wiliness to support others and volunteer in extra-curriculum activities. She works towards crossing cultural and class borders for a justice understanding of linguistically and culturally diverse students.” – Dr. Teresa Huerta

KathleenGiannandreaKathleen Giannandrea

Master of Arts in Education, Reading/Language Arts student

“Kathleen Giannandrea embodies the qualities of an amazing teacher-researcher. She generously serves her community as an Instructional Coach/ELA Teacher at Orosi High School, and as District Director of AVID. Her research engages youth in service-learning and critical literacy. Kathleen’s service transcends academics, preparing and supporting college-bound community advocates and activists.” – Dr. Imelda Basurto

Rebecca-Pings-SPEDRebecca Pings

Master of Arts in Special Education student

“The Special Education program is proud to nominate Rebecca Pings to represent as Program Ambassador. Rebecca represents our program well in a number of ways. Her plan is to work with teens and adults with intellectual disabilities. Rebecca’s years of experience both professionally and personally impact her dedication and scholarship.” – Dr. Kimberly Coy

Julayne-Jorge-CRMHCJulayne Jorge

Master of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling student

“Julayne is the true epitome of a professional student and a counselor trainee. Julayne values education and service within our community. She actively engages in class discussions, participates in program related events and initiatives, and works closely with faculty. She is a constant support of others, specifically persons with disabilities and her peers.” – Dr. Alicia Becton

Robert-Pimentel - DPELFSRobert Pimentel

Doctorate in Educational Leadership student

“Robert currently works in a leadership setting at the community college and is in his third year of the doctoral program in educational leadership on track to graduate in May. He was the first in his cohort to successfully complete the preliminary defense of his dissertation and has excelled in all his coursework.” – Dr. Laura Gonzalez