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)


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)

Kremen School equips student interns with skills to flourish and succeed

The Kremen School of Education and Human Development provides a broad variety of internships that help prepare Fresno State students for their future careers, teaching them valuable technical skills and instilling in them the confidence that allows for a smooth transition into their professional industries.

Marivel Bravo-Mendosa

Marivel Bravo-Mendosa began working on her master’s degree at Fresno State in the fall of 2017. Being enrolled in the Student Affairs and College Counseling program required her to complete 700 hours of supervised counseling experience. When exploring internship opportunities, Mendosa discovered that the Kremen School of Education and Human Development had an open internship position in its Counselor Education and Rehabilitation Department. After applying, Mendosa was quickly catapulted into the world of advising, learning how to assist students such as herself with their academic needs.

Interning with the Counselor Education and Rehabilitation Department helped Mendosa in many other ways as well.

She was quickly exposed to many of the things Kremen does for college students both while they are attending Fresno State and after graduation. Mendosa explains how everyone at Kremen was extremely nice and welcoming. She enjoyed getting to know the diverse group of students that apply to Fresno State and being able to assist them on their journey.

“I feel much more confident and prepared to embrace new environments, especially after working with so many different backgrounds. My internship helped me to become more culturally aware and also allowed me to apply the advising skills that I was learning in my classes.”

Marivel Bravo-Mendosa

Now a graduate with a M.S. degree in Counseling, Mendosa fondly looks back on her internship at Kremen.

“I treasure the connections that I made with the students, especially when they were stressed out or unsure of what the program was asking for. I would help them fill out applications and go into detail on what some of the questions meant. It was amazing to see the relief in their eyes once their emotions were validated. It was very empowering and humbling to see that I was making a difference, especially with my first-generation students. Even though it was in my own little corner of the world, at a tiny desk, it was still meaningful,” – Mendosa explains with pride.

Since graduating, Mendosa has continued pursuing her passion in counseling as an Academic Advisor for Enseñamos en el Valle Central. The valuable skills and connections she gained during her internship are now helping aid her as she continues her journey.

Mendosa elaborates on her successful transition to Enseñamos, “interning for Kremen helped me with networking. I got to know a lot of the staff and faculty which was great because now, with Enseñamos, we put on special events and projects which involve reaching out to the rest of the department. It gave me the confidence to work with them directly and to implement a different level of professionalism in our interactions.”

While the Counselor Education and Rehabilitation Department has provided countless hours of training and resources for students, they are only one of the many different internship programs that Kremen offers. The school’s communications team has also helped to prepare numerous interns for their upcoming careers by offering comprehensive training that will help carry them through the rest of their life.

Stacy Hurtado, a current student in the Mass Communication and Journalism bachelor’s program, applied for a communications and marketing internship with the Kremen School during her first summer at Fresno State. After gaining the position, Hurtado expected her assigned work tasks to be mundane in nature, such as organizing files, labelling documents and attending to reminders. The actuality of her internship proved to be much more thrilling and immersive, however, something she is grateful for in retrospect.

“One thing I really miss from my internship is planning my mini summer social media campaign. It threw me for a loop originally because I wasn’t expecting to do something like that. I thought it was just going to be like ‘oh help me out with a couple of instagram posts or tweets’. Working with the school, getting my ideas on paper, brainstorming and making it all come to life, that was really fun.”

Stacy Hurtado

Hurtado’s summer social media campaign was focused on increasing student excitement for returning to campus for the fall semester. She incorporated summer colors, motivational quotes, lighthearted memes and versioned the campaign for three different social channels. “I really cherished the creative freedom that was given to me.”

Hurtado describes some of the skills that she acquired through her internship and how they are now benefitting her current position as Social Media Director of the Fresno State Collegian Newspaper.

“It really helped me with content creation, especially with the planning aspect of it, knowing how to organize articles and campaigns. I had already done similar tasks before but not with that amount of content. It taught me how to do things very quickly, but with the same amount of quality that I was used to,” Hurtado cheerfully explains.

Working as a Communications and Marketing Intern helped to ease the transition for Hurtado after she was hired by The Collegian. All of the organizational skills, design techniques and writing styles she picked up during her internship were instantly transferred to her new and exciting position. She now helps direct all of the social media platforms for Fresno State’s main student news outlet with confidence and assurance.

Phylisha Chaidez, a recent Fresno State graduate, has now been appointed as a Community Health and Wellness Assistant for the Madera County Department of Public Health. She, too, worked closely with the school’s communications team. While pursuing her B.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism in the fall of 2019, she began her semester-long internship.

Chaidez warmly reflects on her time at Kremen and how it has shaped her as both an employee and as an individual.

“My internship pushed me to learn new things that I had never had any experience with before such as writing press releases and interviewing people. It made me a better writer,” said Chaidez. “I found the environment very exciting especially when news agencies such as ABC30 came to cover an event or a program we put together.”

Phylisha Chaidez

Chaidez explains how her passion has always been to work in the journalism industry. Attaining this internship was a dream come true. She recalls how she would shadow the school’s Communications Specialist, watching how they conducted their work, while taking notes on their techniques for future reference.

“It introduced me to the world of communication and journalism, making it an easy transition to my current job as a Community Health and Wellness Assistant. It is really neat seeing it all come full circle.”

Looking back on the fond memories she made during her internship, Chaidez describes some of the things she now misses, “I miss the unique method that Fresno State uses to write press releases. A lot of organizations are very straight to the point when it comes to writing publicity material but Fresno State really personalizes their stories, making them more compelling for the reader. One of my favorite stories was centered around a Fresno State graduate who authored a bilingual children’s book for her daughter. I remember that both the Collegian and ABC30 picked that story up. It was amazing to get that amount of publicity, especially for such a heartwarming and visionary story.”

Without the guidance and support that the Kremen School’s communications team offered, Chaidez states that she might not have felt as comfortable entering her current position. Having been given an arsenal of resources and training, she now confidently marches forward in her career.

Oneida Escobar

The Kremen School’s Center for Advising and Student Services has also helped a myriad of individuals find a niche within their particular industry. Oneida Escobar interned with them during a 2-year span while she was pursuing a master’s degree in Student Affairs and College Counseling. After graduating just this year, she is now a counselor at Fresno City College. She works for the Applied Technology Department, focusing on assisting students within the area of technology and trade school occupations. She works to ensure students receive the hands-on training that they need to transfer directly into the workforce.

Escobar explains how the rigorous nature of the training she encountered during her internship helped to prepare her for working in a technical, trade-based environment. She was taught how to construct and give presentations and how to participate in a broad range of areas that encouraged professional development. Attending to the front desk in the Kremen advising center also helped Escobar expand on her interpersonal communication skills and increased her situational preparedness.

“The training I received from the Advising Center was extremely hands-on and prepared me for working in different sectors that were previously outside my comfort zone. I was taught how to advise students one on one through zoom, provide credential information to interested applicants, and how to facilitate group advising. When I had the opportunity to enter into an employed position, I already had the transferable skills and experience I needed.”

Oneida Escobar

She describes how the Advising Center even helped to coach her on employee etiquette and assisted with the process of securing a job once her internship was over.

“When I was interviewing for jobs it was great having the support of the department behind me. It can be a very stressful experience as a new graduate, not knowing if you are going to get hired or not. The Advising Center would help quiz me on interview questions and sort of emulate what would be asked of me to help me prepare for the real thing. They really helped to build my confidence and encouraged me to be brave when it came to presenting my skills.”

The advising tactics that Escobar learned during her internship are the same ones that she is now applying as a full-fledged academic counselor. She explains how she has Jessica McVay, her previous supervisor and a member of the Kremen Liberal Studies Department, to thank for teaching her a wealth of valuable information.

 “During the internship portion of my training we had to be observed by our supervisor for a certain period of time as we conducted advising sessions. I received an immense amount of positive feedback and constructive criticism from our supervisor at the time, Jessica McVay. She helped reveal some points that I needed to work on, such as connecting more with the students in my office, making the experience personal for them,” Escobar elaborates.

“She showed me how to start a friendly rapport near the beginning of the meeting to set up a strong relationship foundation and then how to lead the appointment in a gentle manner, making sure to ease the concerns of the student by the end. It was over a year and a half ago that she gave me that particular piece of feedback and it is something I still employ currently with my students.”

Escobar has also been able to utilize the networking connections that she acquired through her internship to benefit some of her current philanthropic efforts. She works closely with an AVID coordinator from the Porterville High School, helping to raise funds to send students on college field trips. The AVID program focuses on students who are primarily First Generation and who come from low-income families. They provide these opportunities for the students so that they can obtain exposure to college and realize the amount of resources offered to them.

To help the program gain traction and to encourage publicity, Escobar was able to rely on the Advising Center for assistance.

“Recently, I reached out to some of the staff within the Kremen Department. I’m wanting to do a fundraising effort for our liberal studies teacher credential students and potential first year teachers. We want to provide them with the opportunity to apply for money, so that they will be able to create lesson plans during the credential program to help kickstart their classroom. By having those connections, I was able to reach out to them with my idea, gaining valuable support and insight. They were all very helpful and offered to assist with marketing and everything.”

Escobar is extremely grateful to have so much support from the Kremen Department, especially post-graduation. She acknowledges them for helping shape her as a leader and a mentor, and for inspiring her to reach for the stars.

“My internship provided me with countless opportunities of leadership, especially when it came to organizing fundraising efforts. These leadership skills helped me go beyond the realm of simple academic advising and started me on a path of mentorship which I am now continuing as a Fresno City College counselor.”

(Written by Audra Burwell, a creative writing student)

Student-athletes make lasting impact on Valley’s youth

Fresno State women’s soccer player Kayla King is driven to help others — and she has shown it throughout her college years. 

When she started her postsecondary education, she began working as a tutor for school-aged children. Tutoring came naturally to King and created an opportunity for her to work directly with children.

While earning a degree in liberal studies at Fresno State, King excelled at juggling both academics and athletics.

“Being a student-athlete really teaches you a lot about, not only yourself, but how important managing your time is,” said King, a Hollister native. “It teaches you great life lessons that people end up taking with them for the remainder of their lives.” 

Being a student-athlete provided King with a variety of opportunities to partner in the community. In April, King and other student-athletes spoke virtually at a College and Career Day at Wawona K-8 School in Fresno Unified School District. This annual event encourages students to think about their future and what opportunities lie ahead.

“We want local heroes for our kids,” said Bob Nelson, superintendent of Fresno Unified. “We want our kids to see student-athletes who came from their neighborhood and who will inspire them.”

At the College and Career Day, King connected with 15 seventh and eighth graders and shared her story of how she became an athlete. She remembers them asking many questions about what it’s like to be a student-athlete. 

Fresno State is fully immersed in the community and continues to find ways for increased collaboration. In just one year, student-athletes volunteered 4,000 community service hours at 460 organizations. In addition to serving the community, the athletics department had a collective 3.30 GPA in spring 2020. This marked the 19th consecutive semester of over a 3.0 departmental GPA. 

“We’re always looking for opportunities to impact our community, and specifically the youth in our community, in a positive manner,” said Terry Tumey, Fresno State’s director of athletics.

With over 6,000 new undergraduate students overall enrolled in fall 2020, 52 percent are from Fresno County. 

“Our staff, coaches and student-athletes understand the important platform we have, and we all collectively consider it an honor to give back and inspire the next generation of Bulldogs and leaders in our Valley,” Tumey said. “Partnering with local school districts to help encourage the importance of education is a privilege for us.”

Bulldog Buddies

Kendall Boliba, a Fresno State athletics academic adviser, grew up as an athlete and remembers engaging with the community in a pen pal project when she was younger. The program was impactful for her, and she wanted to create something similar in the Valley. 

In fall 2019, Boliba partnered with Prince Marshall, then principal of West Fresno Elementary School in Washington Unified School District. She pitched the idea of creating a pen pal program with Fresno State student-athletes. 

With support from Marshall and West Fresno Elementary teachers, Boliba organized for the women’s water polo team to become pen pals with a second-grade class in 2019. She called it the Bulldogs Buddy program. 

This program was powerful for West Fresno Elementary, not only by directly connecting students to collegiate athletes but also by positively reinforcing the power of reading and writing.

According to the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (2019), 53% of third-grade students in Fresno County didn’t meet the ELA/Literacy standards. And 83% of West Fresno Elementary third graders didn’t meet the standards.

West Fresno Elementary worked the Bulldogs Buddy program into its curriculum. The second graders wrote back-and-forth with their Fresno State pen pals and worked on incorporating open-ended questions and weekly writing prompts. Marshall said he saw a direct impact on the students’ eagerness to read and write.

“Writing is one of the most difficult tasks for our students, especially second-language learners,” said Beth Liberta, second-grade teacher at West Fresno Elementary. “When we write narratives, informational or persuasive stories the students struggle to develop proper sentences and those sentences are often very short and without details. However, when my students write to their Fresno State Buddies, their sentences are endless and so full of life.”

Though the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily paused the program, Boliba plans to expand the Bulldogs Buddy program across multiple school districts in the Central Valley.

While this program provides a way for Fresno State student-athletes of any major to engage with and positively impact Valley youth, some decide to make a career out of teaching.

After King graduated with her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, she immediately enrolled in Fresno State’s early childhood education graduate program. She is eager to get into the classroom and begin directly impacting Valley youth. She hopes to become an elementary school teacher and one day work with students with special needs.

Flourishing in Education Amidst a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tremendous challenge for students and faculty in higher education. The struggle with balancing mental health, teaching/learning in an online context and new household disruptions have shifted our daily realities. But with difficulties, come opportunities to thrive. The Kremen School of Education and Human Development community has shown resilience and strength when faced with challenges. Read the stories of our champions.

Pandemic Champions

Submit a pandemic champion.

Jaskirn Johal-Dhillon
Student, M.S. in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling

Jaskirn is studying to become a counselor and has a strong desire to help those in her community. 

2020 has forced her to face many challenges. With coursework transitioned to a virtual space, her fieldwork counseling sessions transitioned as well. During 2020, Jaskirn learned how to counsel clients via zoom and she met with her program supervisor virtually every week to discuss concerns or crises with ongoing cases. Jaskirn is proud that she was able to successfully complete all of her coursework throughout the year and that she has gained the skills to counsel online. 

In addition to her studies, Jaskirn tragically lost a family member from COVID-19. She specifically remembers how her program supervisor, Maira Hernandez, helped her through this time and provided resources to her grieving family. Maira continued to check-in on Jaskirn in regards to her mental health and made sure she took time for self-care. Jaskirn greatly appreciates the care and support she received. 

“For 2021 I am excited to graduate! It’s been a great adventure and I can’t wait to get out there and help the community!”

Thea Fabian
Lecturer, Department of Literacy, Early, Bilingual and Special Education

Thea teaches in the Multiple Subject Teaching Credential program and prepares the valley’s future teachers in early and disciplinary literacy.

Focused on maintaining high-quality virtual instruction, Thea increased her compassion and reached out to students more. She was able to individualize assignments and became adept to responding to her students’ specific needs. 

“This semester has been hard for students. I am proud to have been able to offer the same rich resources the teacher candidates needed, and I am very proud of the students for being able to adjust, be flexible, and demonstrate compassion for themselves and others.”

Thea was excited to learn how to make video lectures and her students reported them to be very useful, allowing them to review the learnings at their own pace. “Using a combination of zoom live (synchronous) class, video lectures, and independent assignments proved to be a good mix. I plan to incorporate video lectures even when we come back to in person instruction.”

Bob Nelson, Ed.D.
Alumnus, M.A. in Education, Administration and Supervision and Multiple Subject Teaching Credential

Bob Nelson serves as the superintendent of Fresno Unified School District and is a true pandemic champion. With a district student population of over 70,000 and over 10,000 employees, Bob has had to make decisions for Fresno Unified that not only impact the students and employees, but also their households.

“Fresno State has taught me to take a moderate path and to recognize the interest of all parties. There is so much diversity in the valley that it has made me a better leader. I consider multiple perspectives before making a decision.”

Some of the ways Fresno Unified has supported its students is by utilizing new engagement strategies. Parents are now a large part of the school and Bob recognizes that being present and listening will help the students move forward.

Over winter break, the district offered credit recovery courses to assist with any learning loss students may have suffered from. Bob is working on creating multiple learning opportunities so students don’t fall behind.

Fresno Unified is also supporting its teachers and administrators with new technology and training. “We are making the most of the technological tools that we have in order to do the best we can.”

Elizabeth Marquez
Mentor Teacher, Clovis Teacher Residency Program

Elizabeth teaches 3rd grade at Miramonte Elementary School and she is a Mentor Teacher to student teachers in the Clovis Teacher Residency Program. 

Teaching eight-year-olds virtually has taught Elizabeth how to be even more patient than she was before. She also increased her focus on students’ social and emotional state of being. “Keeping things consistent has been key in making sure students feel safe and comfortable in this unprecedented time.”

Elizabeth didn’t just have to adjust her teaching for her students, she also had to adjust how she mentored her Fresno State student teacher. She utilized zoom to meet with her student teacher to virtually review lessons and activities. 

“I have made sure to be supportive, comforting and compassionate. The student teacher and I make a good team and I feel very comfortable having her take over lessons and work with groups of students.”

Elizabeth has been exceptional at being flexible and adapting to changing circumstances, utilizing technological tools and new strategies to triumph through the pandemic.

Submit a Pandemic Champion

If you know a member of the Kremen School who has been a champion throughout the pandemic, submit their information here.

Nancy Cheng receives CCPA outstanding graduate student award

Man Sze (Nancy) Cheng is said to be able to command a room with grace. Students describe meeting her as a valuable experience that leaves them feeling empowered. For the Student Affairs and College Counseling graduate program, she is an ambassador who goes above and beyond.

It’s no surprise Cheng was chosen for the Outstanding Graduate Student award from the California College Personnel Association, a state chapter of ACPA — College Student Educators International, one of the largest student affairs professional associations in the world.

Cheng, a Hong Kong native, has positively impacted the field of student affairs at Fresno State and across California. However, she isn’t the only Fresno State student to earn recognition. Cheng and her classmate, Jose Medina III, have both been appointed to the California College Personnel Association executive leadership team as graduate representatives for 2021. In this role, they will support students across the state and increase the visibility of student affairs professionals and the role they play in higher education. “Nancy and Jose are two of our amazing student leaders within the Student Affairs and College Counseling program,” said Dr. Soua Xiong, assistant professor and program coordinator.

The organization has also awarded Xiong with the Outstanding Service to the Association award for his active participation and contributions. He is a past president of the organization and has held several other leadership roles. With more than 15 years of higher education experience as a student affairs practitioner, researcher and faculty member, his service and leadership in the student affairs profession have elevated Fresno State’s program to new heights.

Xiong became coordinator of the program in fall 2019. Since then he has created a cohort model for students with specialized coursework and helped establish a graduate student association. He further supports his students with their scholarly activities, mentoring and collaborating with them on publications, conference presentations and any assistance needed with service in professional associations. Graduating about 30 students annually, Xiong keeps busy focused on his students’ needs.

Student affairs isn’t necessarily a profession that many grow up knowing about — they usually gain awareness through personal experience. That is what happened for Cheng.

“In high school, I didn’t get the guidance I needed, and I don’t want other students to be in a similar situation,” she said.

Before Cheng came to Fresno State, she could recall multiple times when she was misguided by education professionals and how this negatively impacted her. “If I get to be in a position where other students are depending on me, I will be more hands-on.”

And that is exactly what she is doing.

Cheng enrolled in the M.S. in Counseling option in fall 2019. The program provides students with academic preparation and training to effectively address the academic, career and personal counseling needs of college students. “When I found out the program was person-centered, it got my attention,” she said.

Currently serving as president of the program’s graduate student association, Cheng advocates for the program to potential students, hosts virtual mixers allowing students to engage in team-building activities and is working on collecting data for the program’s alumni campaign.

One of her most impactful projects has been hosting the program’s first comprehensive exam review, an exam students must pass before graduating. She heard there was a need for a review that consisted of more than flashcards and study groups. So she created a hands-on review, which includes a vignette run of the exam, to better prepare these soon-to-be grads.

One of Cheng’s award nominators stated that she demonstrates outstanding contributions to the student affairs profession and always fulfills the goals she sets for herself. Cheng’s next goal is to earn her doctorate so one day she can counsel and educate others.

To learn more about the Student Affairs and College Counseling program, visit: The application deadline for fall 2021 enrollment is March 1.