The Divergent Publication Award for Excellence in Literacy in a Digital Age Research

Dr. David Low and Dr. Earl Aguilera of the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at Fresno State, were both recently recognized as 2023 recipients of the Divergent Publication Award for Excellence in Literacy in a Digital Age Research. This award recognizes the most outstanding publications during the past two years that bring to the forefront the importance and impact of this work, given by the Initiative for Literacy in a Digital Age.

The Initiative for Literacy in a Digital Age, established in 2014, recognizes the importance of literacy in a digital age, those who diverge from traditional pedagogies and research approaches, and the indelible contributions of educators and scholars who have dedicated their careers to the theoretical and practical study of 21st century literacies. 

“We received a record number of nominees for the 2023 class. The educators, librarians, community organizers, college and career leaders, and students honored by this recognition are paving the way for equity, diversity, inclusivity, and access to texts and tools for all learners.”

Dr. Shelbie Witte, founding director of the Initiative.
Pedagogies: An International Journal (Taylor & Francis)

Dr. Low’s publication award is for a 2021 article titled “Youth Identities and Affinities on the Move: Using a Transliteracies Framework to Critique Digital Dichotomies,” which he co-authored with Sarah Rapp, a UCSC doctoral student and incoming faculty member at Sonoma State University. The article was published in Pedagogies: An International Journal (Taylor & Francis) and argues that oppositional framings of digitality do not adequately convey the creativity, permeability, messiness, and movement of youth literacies in practice. The authors used a transliteracies framework to examine youths’ textual production and identity mediation across physical and virtual domains, focusing on student participation in affinity spaces.

Dr. Aguilera’s publication award is for co-editing a Special Issue of Pedagogies: An International Journal titled “Critical Literacies in a Digital Age” in 2021 with Dr. Jessica Zacher Pandya, Dean of the School of Education at CSU Dominguez Hills. In this Special Issue, Drs. Aguilera and Pandya curated a number of research studies that together examined the resurgent social, political, cultural, and economic tension – in part facilitated by emerging information and communication technologies – which underscore the need to cultivate new forms of critical literacy in our digital age. Drs. Aguilera and Pandya framed their Special Issue around the following question:

In an educational context increasingly marked by volatility and uncertainty, but also connection and creative potential, in what ways might a focus on CDL inform pedagogical theory and practice?

Drs. Low and Aguilera, among other 2023 honorees, will be sharing their work as part of the Literacy in a Digital Age lecture series in April 2023.

Instilling Independence and Autonomy in the Next Generation

Shail Lopez-Ortiz is the current director of the Wayfinders program at the Kremen School of Education and Human Development. Her journey to Fresno State is a long and tumultuous one. In 1994, Ortiz and her husband moved to the United States from Johannesburg, South Africa. She had just completed her bachelor’s degree at the time she got married, and naturally, wanted to continue her education in the U.S. so her goal was to move to another large city that would provide her with the academic opportunities she needed. She was hoping that they would be able to secure a home in New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco, but instead, her husband found a job in Fresno. She was very disappointed because at the time, the Central Valley offered little in the way of metropolitan amenities and consisted mostly of dust and farming land. Upon hearing that Fresno offered a university, Ortiz felt a beacon of hope ignite her, excited at the prospect of continuing her studies. 

After reviewing Fresno State’s degree catalog and speaking with several academic advisors, Ortiz discovered that the university offered several degrees that she was interested in. With the help of college faculty, she was able to successfully enroll in a master’s program. The biggest lesson that Ortiz learned at Fresno State is that if you are willing to put in the hard work, if you show a positive attitude and have a good work ethic, then doors will automatically open up for you. Ortiz remembers that as an immigrant freshly transposed in American society, she did have to work exceptionally hard to learn the culture and the way that Americans conducted themselves, but having a positive attitude and a good personality paid off exceptionally well. She remembers several instructors coming up to her and offering internships and job opportunities in her field the first couple of semesters while she was at Fresno State. 

Ortiz’s journey since graduating has been very momentous and propelled by her goal-driven personality. Right after graduation, one of Ortiz’s instructors approached her, offering her a job at the Rehabilitation Counseling Evaluation Center, an organization that no longer exists at Fresno State. Within a few months of working, Ortiz was instantly promoted to the director of the program. Through that position, she was able to secure several contracts with Fresno County that allowed her program to start working with individuals on welfare. The name of the program became “Welfare to work”. Ortiz explains how certain parts of the program survived and are now being run by specific individuals almost twenty years later, something she is very proud of. Because of the leadership experience she garnered, Ortiz became a business owner shortly after and has been running multiple businesses for the past fifteen years. Concurrently, for the last nine years, Ortiz has also been running the Wayfinders program at Fresno State, a pilot-program that has been running on a four million dollar grant. They are the only program on a CSU campus that serves their specific clientele, however, Ortiz is leading a movement to inspire all CSU campuses to adopt a program similar to hers. 

Since starting her journey at Fresno State, Ortiz realized her passion for working with individuals with intellectual disabilities. After obtaining her Rehabilitation Counseling master’s degree, she never thought that she would be leading a program dedicated to helping the developmentally challenged live normal, healthy lives in society. Ortiz recommends Fresno State as the perfect college for those looking to find one-on-one help in a small, personal setting that focuses on their strengths and passions. Fresno State has offered Ortiz numerous opportunities throughout her career and continues to support the work she does to this day. 

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

From Hardship to Leadership: A Story of Success

Felipe Mercado is currently the coordinator for Clinical Practice as well as a professor in residence at the Madera Unified School District. One of the things that Mercado thinks about time and time again, is how accidental his ending up at Fresno State was. While in high school, Mercado was classified as homeless and went to juvenile hall multiple times, before dropping out of school altogether for approximately three years. When he arrived at community college, he had the drive to learn, but still struggled as a student. Two and a half years into his general education degree, he got called into the student counselors office and asked if he had ever considered transferring his credits to a four-year university. In the back of his mind he had always considered the option but never felt that he had the skills or potential to be accepted at a university. This accidental experience of trying to be a good student is what led him to enroll in Fresno State, after he realized he had all the qualifications they were looking for. 

One of the most valuable lessons Mercado learned while at Fresno State was to look inside himself, at who he truly was as a person. When he initially arrived as a student, he realized that he harbored a lot of biases and insecurities, such as “I don’t think my industry is going to like me”, or “I don’t think I’ll fit in with these groups of people”. After studying for a semester or so, however, Mercado realized that he needed connections and relationships to thrive. Once he put his biases aside, he began to become more open with people, and slowly started to build those connections he was looking for. 

Mercado’s first major accomplishment since immersing himself with the Fresno State community was graduating with his Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and eventually, Doctorate degree. During his Master’s program, Mercado struggled to support his child using Section Eight housing since he had not been able to build a credit score at the time. After graduating with his Master’s, his life improved drastically, as he was able to obtain health insurance and start building a credit score. He went into social work for quite a while after graduating, and during that time, his brother was murdered at gunpoint. This tragic life experience encouraged him to make something more of his life, and so he went back to school to attain his Doctorate, applying the wisdom and life experiences he had accumulated toward his education. Since attaining his third degree, he has filled the role as counselor, vice-principal, principal and now coordinator. He is grateful that Fresno State has provided him with a platform to grow and feels that his position as a coordinator has really helped him mentor students and allow them to reach their full potential. 

Fresno State has helped Mercado obtain his current position by providing immense support and providing him with individuals who were there for him every step of the way. Whenever he needed assistance with research or creating a difficult project, there was always a staff member available to help guide the process. He feels that Kremen and Fresno State in general helped uncover his true passions and brought out his excitement through the world of education. He doesn’t feel that he would have formed his level of advocacy and expertise without their continuous support. 

(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)

Teacher Appreciation: Honoring Those Who Help Mentor and Shape the Future of Academia.

Educators work tirelessly to ensure the success and well-being of the next generation of students by guiding them through the rough waters of academic life. Kremen recognizes this immense contribution and to show their support, they have launched a donation program starting Tuesday, January 11th, where they will be honoring their “Mentor Teachers” who have taken time to work with several credential candidates over the past semester.

Kremen partners with over 20 district partners every semester to place their single subject, education specialist, and multiple subject credential candidates. To give back, they have created a “Mentor Teacher Appreciation Gift Bag” which includes 450 $5 gift cards from Dutch Bro’s (a generous donation amounting in a total value of $2,250), a Mentor-Teacher Self Care Brochure, an assortment of Fresno State items such as business cards, lanyards, pens, sticky pads, as well as, a Thank You Letter with a small bag of candy attached to the note. These gift bags are a way to help mentor teachers know how special they are to everyone that is associated with Kremen and to the student’s whose lives have been impacted by their kindness and generosity.

Some of the key members involved with this kind-hearted initiative include Dean Yerrick,  Jenelle Pitt Parker, Juliet Wahleithner, and Felipe Mercado, with generous support from Bonnie Inthisane and Navneet Kaur who assisted with the assembly of the gift bags. In order to calculate the proper amount of Mentor Teacher Appreciation Bags, the Kremen Department evaluated the amount of fall placements to see how many mentor teachers resided in each district. The total amount of bags equated to 450 after calculation, Clovis and Fresno receiving the most, 105 bags split between the two, with Visalia following, along with Coalinga, Porterville, Cowchilla, Madera and many others. The outreach effort spanned the entire South Valley, covering counties both large and small.

This initiative was launched in the hopes of reinvigorating mentor teachers and encouraging new ones, especially during difficult times of the year. Dean Yerrick and Felipe Mercado will be personally handing out the vast majority of these gift bags to their assigned recipients. When the districts heard of this upcoming donation, they were extremely thankful, their hearts warming as they realized just how appreciated they are by the Kremen community.

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

Paving a path to success for Latinx communities

Dedicated to transforming Hispanic Serving Institutions and transforming a campus environment that builds a sense of belonging from enrollment to graduation.

Future educator Dori Trujillo is studying at Fresno State, working her way toward earning a multiple subject teaching credential. After graduating in the summer of 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies, Trujillo knew her next step was to become an educator. What she didn’t know was that it would lead her to becoming a project assistant with Enseñamos en el Valle Central.

Enseñamos en el Valle Central is an innovative collaboration between Fresno State, Fresno City College and Reedley College that focuses on strengthening pathways for underrepresented future educators.

“With Enseñamos, I learned to appreciate my bilingualism as the beautiful asset it is,” said Trujillo.

Enseñamos responds to the many intricate challenges higher education poses, such as connecting with faculty and peers, obtaining academic counseling and mentoring support, interpreting degree plans and meeting graduation requirements.

“Enseñamos en el Valle Central places a strong emphasis on fostering a sense of belonging for students,” said Dr. Patricia D. López, director of the Enseñamos initiative and assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at Fresno State.

“We are intentional about going above mere enrollment of Latinx students and work hard to transform and influence how the institution reflects the students we serve. Our programmatic events are contributing fundamentally to a campus culture that affirms the rich history and cultural contributions of Latinx communities in the Central Valley,” said Lopez.

Fresno State has seen a drastic increase in incoming first-generation students of Hispanic ethnicity, particularly in the past couple years. In 2016, 52.6% of the student body was composed of incoming Hispanic students. That increased to 59.4% in 2020, representing well over half of the campus population. Some colleges, such as the Kremen School of Education and Human Development, saw an even greater increase, catapulting from 59.2% in 2016 to 70.8% in 2020.

One of the many factors that have contributed to the increase in Hispanic students pursuing higher education in the Kremen School is the $3.75 million Title V grant, Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program, which created the foundation for the Enseñamos initiative to launch in 2018. Over the past four years, the initiative has flourished and taken shape, promoting the success of future Latinx teachers.

Nearly 65% of Fresno State students are the first generation in their families to earn a college degree, which can change the future trajectory of their lives.

“Many first-generation students are left estranged by higher education through often tedious and confusing processes and a lack of connection to faculty and courses that are detached from their communities and experiences,” said López. “These institutional roadblocks leave students feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, at times squeezing them out of the system altogether.”

Programs such as Enseñamos en el Valle Central respond to these ongoing patterns by focusing on institutional barriers while building up first-generation students to navigate higher education, allowing them to begin their educational journey with peace of mind.

“I have felt I can count on my colleagues as family,” said Trujillo. “I’ve found the best mentorship in our director, Dr. López. The way she advocates for students like me inspires me to build the same environment in my future classroom.”

Adding to the need for more support to Latinx students is a growing demand to increase the number of Latinx teachers, particularly those who can teach in bilingual classrooms. Minority students in higher education at times feel out of place or have experienced alienation among their peers. Having professors who are culturally affirming, approachable and who represent the diverse Latinx culture, allow students to feel more at ease and less isolated in the classroom. They are more likely to engage and ask for assistance if they feel seen and are given a warm and inviting learning environment.

Through collaboration the Enseñamos initiative begins working with students at the high school and community college level — providing counseling guidance and strengthening transfer pathways into Fresno State, structuring a smooth transition through higher education and providing continuous support to enter teaching credential programs.

López has spent the past four years collaborating with students, staff, faculty and community members, watching her vision grow as the program continues expanding.

Enseñamos en el Valle Central has gained traction alongside growing recognition of minority-serving institutions and the critical role they play in serving diverse students of color who are increasingly the face of higher education.

This includes a recent proclamation by President Joseph R. Biden declaring Sept. 12 through 18 as National Hispanic-Serving Institutions Week:

“I call on public officials, educators, and all the people of the United States to observe this week with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that acknowledge the many ways these institutions and their graduates contribute to our country.”

Enseñamos en el Valle Central continues to exemplify the goal of expanding educational opportunities and improving academic and career attainment among Latinx students. This fall they are kicking off a fall Plática and Taller series that centers art, culture, identity and healing, as a way to inspire dialogue among diverse communities and thoughtfully consider what it means to serve Central Valley communities. Events are open to all and can be found on their website along with an inventory of past events such as their highly successful anti-racism series during the 2019-20 academic year.

While many of these events transpire during specific windows of time, Enseñamos understands that students have extremely busy schedules with class conflicts so to guarantee equal access for all participants, they record each event and post details to their website which can be found at this link here.


(Written by Audra Burwell, a creative writing student, and assistant professor Patricia D. López)