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: http://fresnostate.edu/kremen/masters-counseling/student-affairs-college-counseling.html. The application deadline for fall 2021 enrollment is March 1.

South Valley graduate strives to support students of color

Jillin Colunga grew up thinking higher education would never be within reach. Being the oldest of six siblings in a low-income household, the Monson native, knew she had a tough road ahead.

She was determined to show her younger siblings that obtaining a degree is possible, and today Colunga is proud to say she has earned a master’s degree in Multilingual Multicultural Education from Fresno State’s Kremen School of Education and Human Development.

“It feels really nice to be able to have my younger siblings look up to me,” said Colunga, “showing them that we can do this.”

As a first-generation student, Colunga knew there was much to learn about higher education. She traveled to U.C. Santa Barbara and studied Education and Black Studies. Being in a new environment was very difficult and she quickly began performing poorly in her courses. 

What Colunga didn’t expect was that she wouldn’t be able to relate to her professors. “I was scared to reach out, I just didn’t feel comfortable,” said Colunga. That is until she had her first Hispanic professor, Mario Galicia. She remembers seeing him stand in front of a room full of students, and she was immediately inspired. 

Seeing a professor of color gave her the drive she needed to push through her studies. 

During her coursework, she learned about discrimination in the classroom and how some school policies affect students of color differently than other students.

“Coming from a low-income community, I have seen some of these things take place. A lot of what I was reading about I have experienced and I know they happen to other people,” said Colunga.

Colunga is one of many first-generation students the Kremen School has supported straight through to graduation. In fact, Fresno State’s incoming freshmen class was the largest admission in the history of the institution with 54 percent being first-generation.  

The MME program was conceived and designed to specifically bring awareness as well as responsiveness to recognize the need for diverse voices impacting education. Whether in teaching, leadership, or counseling, the Kremen School’s mission is to prepare qualified leaders for diverse contexts. To that end the Kremen School offers unique programming, clinical opportunities in real professional contexts, and even scholarships for students who want to change the face of education. 

“Kremen prepares the largest population of teachers, leaders, and counselors in the State of California that are actually prepared to make such a transformative impact,” said Dean Randy Yerrick, Kremen School of Education and Human Development. “We are very proud of this legacy and are supporting programs like MME and producing new opportunities to promote even greater diversity and leadership in the Valley.”

After Colunga completed her bachelor’s degree, she headed back to the South Valley, ready to make a difference.

Without wasting any time, Colunga enrolled in Fresno State’s M.A. in Education, Multilingual Multicultural Education (MME) program. A highlight of the program is that it can be completed entirely in the South Valley. This was important for Colunga because Monson is a small town 40 miles southeast of Fresno, near Dinuba, and the commute would be time-consuming and costly.

Colunga was drawn to the MME program because it addresses the growing need for linguistically and culturally diverse educators in the Central Valley. The program provides educators with an advanced level of inquiry, research, and professional preparation in both multilingualism and multiculturalism. 

Historically the program has been offered at the Fresno State main campus, but after receiving a growing demand, it was evident that this program needed to be extended to the Fresno State Visalia Campus. 

“One of our primary goals is to make graduate education accessible and affordable to our students while meeting the workforce needs of the South Valley,” said Luz Gonzelez, dean of the Fresno State Visalia Campus.

Financial Support Making it Possible

Not all institutions are as attentive to the struggles first-generation students face. Student debt in this country has dramatically increased, even President Obama saw the impact on students holding large debt years ago. Today the trend of out of control, student debt continues to rise and cause greater burden on students from underrepresented backgrounds.

Unique Struggles of First-Generation Students

  • Navigating institutional systems like admissions, financial aid, professional job placements services, and academic tutoring.
  • Lack of support for cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and other diversity on campus where students need a sense of belonging to complete challenging programs like STEM where opportunity gaps have persisted for decades.  
  • Struggle with identity and imposter syndrome and not asking for help for fear of repercussions or being singled out.

Colunga currently works as a substitute teacher at Cutler Orosi Unified and Monson-Sultana Joint Union Elementary School Districts, teaching subjects ranging from history to science. With existing school loans and unpredictable employment because of the pandemic, Colunga knew obtaining a graduate degree would be a financial burden.

After applying for financial aid, Colunga received news that she was being awarded funds from the State University Grant, a grant given to students who have the greatest need.

“Without that assistance, I probably could not have been able to go through with the program,” Colunga stated.

Fresno State provides over $250 million in financial aid, with almost 80 percent in the form of grants and scholarships. With the generous support of donors, Fresno State continues to be one of the best values in public higher education in the nation.

Impacting the South Valley

The MME program has been educating students since 2014. Colunga is one of ten students to be the first to graduate from the South Valley MME cohort. To date, the MME program has graduated over 60 students, with a majority staying in the Central Valley.

First row: Juan Luevanos Luna, Jimena Quezada, Alejandra Yado, Gloria Ramos, Yelinet Gomez-Quintanar, Jillin Colunga
Second row: Brandi Blankenship, Monica Neri, Sara Montola, Raul Gonzalez, Filiberto Ramos

“Graduates of the Multilingual Multicultural master’s program impact the Central Valley daily,” said Dr. Teresa Huerta, MME program coordinator. “Our community needs leaders in education who are knowledgeable and effective in the areas of bilingual education, culture, critical educational theory, and social justice.” 

Now that Colunga has graduated, she aspires to become a community college professor and represent Hispanic faculty in the South Valley. 

California’s community colleges, similar to other educational institutions in the state, do not have equal ethnic representation between students and faculty. According to the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, in fall 2019 Hispanics made up 47 percent of the student population with only 17 percent for the faculty population. 

In the South Valley, Hispanic students make up an even larger percentage. In fall 2019, College of the Sequoias had a Hispanic student population of 69 percent with only 20 percent of faculty being Hispanic. 

Colunga wants to help change this. “There is low income all around us,” she said. “If I have that ability to be a support system and encourage other first-gen students, I want to be here. This is my home.”

Science teacher enters first year on the job with national recognition

It was an exciting day for then-middle schooler Francisco Barajas as he learned how to use solar power to cook food. That was just one of many hands-on experiments Barajas participated in while attending a summer science program at Fresno State 13 years ago.

“The experiments were based on the idea of how we can push away from using fossil fuels,” Barajas said. “We were doing physics and there was a lot of hands-on construction.” This memory stuck with Barajas as he built a passion for science.

Many teachers will say their passion for teaching came from having great teachers growing up — and Barajas is no different. He remembers having several teachers who pushed him to have fun with science, leading him on the path to becoming a science teacher.

Fast forward 13 years and Barajas has been nominated for the Resident of the Year award from the National Center for Teacher Residencies.

Barajas is currently pursuing his master’s degree in curriculum and instruction at Fresno State while simultaneously completing a single subject teaching credential in science. He is able to complete both of these programs through the Fresno Teacher Residency Program.

“It feels amazing, and I’m surprised,” Barajas said. “I feel weird that this is something that I accomplished and they saw that much potential in me.” This year, the National Center for Teacher Residencies is recognizing 15 resident nominees from around the country. This award honors the tremendous work residents are doing to learn and grow as they prepare to become full-time teachers.

After graduating from Fresno State in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Barajas spent the next year working as a substitute teacher and after-school program guide. He remembers speaking with the librarian at Sunnyside High School in Fresno and learning the librarian’s daughter went through the teacher residency program. This was not the first time he had heard good things about the program, and he decided to enroll in summer 2019 with an anticipated graduation date of fall 2020.

“It’s an intense program, but you have more than enough support,” Barajas said. “The whole idea is that you aren’t going at this alone. There was never someone I couldn’t talk to.”

Fresno State is dedicated to making a difference in teacher preparation. Teacher residency programs are intensive preservice preparation through which residents become members of the school community on Day 1 and contribute to the community throughout their teacher preparation. The residency model combines rigorous masters-level coursework, teacher credentialing coursework and in-classroom apprenticeship. Evidence shows that residents, upon graduation, are more like second-year teachers in their first year of teaching.

Amy Bennett, Fresno Unified School District’s teacher residency program coordinator, said the partnership between Fresno State and the district was established 12 years ago.

“The residency program allows for collaboration to occur on a regular basis,” Bennett said. “We have resident graduates that are coming in well prepared to work in Fresno Unified. Their entire credentialing experience has been contextualized in our district. Not only is their student teaching being conducted in our classrooms, but they are engaging in professional learning, throughout the entire school year provided by our district, so they’re up to date on all the current initiatives.”

Bennett nominated Barajas for the Resident of the Year award. “He stood out right away in our professional learnings because he is so highly invested in the conversation, willing to participate and make connections to his own experience. He brought background knowledge from his subbing experience that stood out to me right away. He was eager to learn, receptive to the information he was learning, willing to turn it around and apply it to the practice in the classroom.”

Barajas completed his residency in a science classroom at Scandinavian Middle School in Fresno. The science teachers took him under their wing and helped him along the way. He recently accepted a job at Yosemite Middle School as an eighth-grade science teacher and will begin this fall. He is currently planning for his first year to be taught via distance learning and is working on his syllabus and management plan.

“I’m getting used to the idea of working on Microsoft Teams. I have to get used to how to maneuver my way through it and how to set up different groups,” Barajas said. “I’m figuring out exactly how am I going to take attendance and be able to do a warm-up online.”

Fresno Unified is supporting its teachers through this online transition, providing a hub of resources on its website that both teachers and residents have access to. Barajas said he has had an excellent experience and feels well prepared for his first year of teaching.

See why this liberal studies graduate strives to put others first

While walking through the streets of San Francisco when she was 7 years old, Ariel Mendez remembers seeing a man holding a sign that read, “hungry.” She and her dad had just finished lunch, and she got his permission to give the man her leftovers. This is the first memory Mendez has of helping the homeless.

Mendez has always loved school and valued her education. Growing up in Tulare, education was an outlet for her.

As Mendez grew into a young woman, she continually felt driven to help others. While attending Tulare Union High School, she created a club called “Be The Change.” The club collected donations of new socks that the students gave to the homeless for winter. For Mendez, this was just the beginning of her efforts to help those around her.

Seeing the impact of donating socks to the homeless ignited a flame inside Mendez. She knew she had the power to do so much more.

“God put this in my heart,” Mendez said. “I have always seen myself as second, and I put others first.”

Mendez would continually visit the homeless and donate items of need. She noticed water and toothbrushes were a priority, so she would visit her local Costco and use her personal savings to stock up on supplies.

In June 2019, Mendez conducted her first large-scale donation to the homeless. She took to social media and asked her followers to donate any clothing they no longer needed. She received an overwhelming amount of support from her family and community. With a car full of donated clothes, she researched which states had the worst homelessness, and she started to drive. Mendez was able to reach five states in five days, donating all of the clothing to the homeless. She conducted a second round of donations and was then able to visit nine states in 10 days.

During her efforts to give, she has studied to become a teacher. She will graduate this May with her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a multiple subject teaching credential. As a transfer student from the College of the Sequoias, Mendez enrolled in the Fresno State Visalia Campus’ Integrated Teacher Education Program. The program allows students to transfer from a partner community college in the South Valley to the Fresno State Visalia Campus and complete a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential in just two additional years, all while staying in the South Valley.

Fresno State is celebrating its first graduating cohort from the program. With a graduating class of 28 students, cohorts have been growing year over year, with an expected enrollment of 50 students for fall 2020.

“Ariel will be an example of a teacher committed to social justice that we hope for from the South Valley [program],” said Dr. Frederick Nelson, associate professor and chair of the Department of Liberal Studies. “Her passion and dedication have been present throughout the program and have spread among many of her colleagues in the cohort. We are proud of her as a graduate of the first cohort of the South Valley [program].”

Mendez said she has always wanted to be a champion for children. Through teaching, she will be able to give love, support and nourishment to children.

In true Mendez fashion, she is dedicating her first teaching paycheck to go completely to helping people in need. She has already accepted a position with the Peace Corps. Once travel restrictions are lifted, Mendez plans to travel to Africa to work as a teacher. “My job as a teacher,” Mendez said, “would be to improve the English language speaking, writing, teaching and learning capacity of students, teachers, schools and communities in order to improve access to academic and/or professional opportunities, information and resources.”

Liberal Studies Students Exceed CSU Graduation Goals

Korey Domingos was determined to graduate from college in four years, even if that involved going to school full-time while working two full-time jobs.

She said she believes some students who have the ambition and drive to finish in four years are faced with circumstances beyond their control that make it difficult. Domingos credits Fresno State’s Strategic Teacher Education Partnership (STEP) cohort program for helping her to succeed and graduate in four years.

The program is a two-year pathway offered by the Department of Liberal Studies at Fresno State. Students in a STEP cohort have their classes pre-selected for them, and they go through the program with the same peers in each class. The cohorts are also set up with cohort-specific faculty, allowing faculty to better align their curriculum and exams. The program removes the stress of registering for classes and ensures, with successful program completion, a set graduation date.

In 2016, Domingos transferred to Fresno State from West Hills College – Lemoore. She was originally attracted to the cohort because it promised a two-year completion of her upper-division coursework.

As a 2018 graduate, Domingos credits the cohort for her smooth transition from junior college transfer to four-year graduate. “It just takes the stress out of figuring what you need to do. It takes it and puts it in someone else’s hands who knows what they’re doing,” Domingos said.

“Especially coming from a little pool of West Hills, in a little town of Hanford, to Fresno State. You had a direction and it made you feel more sure of yourself, like you knew you were doing the right thing.”

Dominos and her roommate at the time, who was also a liberal studies major, had two completely different experiences. She said her roommate was not in a cohort and had difficulty identifying the courses she needed to take and when. Because of this, it took her an extra year to graduate.

“If [students] can graduate in four years, they can go out into the job market, the real world, and start making a difference at the professional level,” said Jessica McVay, academic adviser for the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at Fresno State. “Because we’re in the education field, it is important that we get our educators out there so they can teach the future.”

In 2015, the California State University launched Graduation Initiative 2025, an ambitious plan to increase graduation rates, eliminate equity gaps in degree completion and meet California’s workforce needs. By 2025, the CSU’s goal is to have 45% of transfer students graduate in two years and 85% of transfer students graduate in four years.

Fresno State’s liberal studies program is already surpassing the 2025 goal, with 63% of transfer students graduating in two years and 87% of transfer students graduating in four years.

“Our staff here in the Kremen School are incredible,” Domingos said. “They know what you need. They tell you, they don’t mess around. They know exactly where you need to go and how to do it. They’re watching out for their students.”

McVay has been advising at Fresno State since 2012. She is one of the three academic advisers at the Kremen School who are Fresno State alumni. The trio advises over 1,500 students a semester. McVay’s love for Fresno State and ambition to want to help students who were once in her shoes is what moved her to become an adviser.

“My favorite part is being able to have the opportunity to go into their world and take that time out to have one-on-one with them. That’s their time for someone to really focus on them for the short period that we’re together,” McVay said. “So really having that human, face-to-face connection, I think that’s important.”

McVay, herself, was not able to graduate in four years and struggled with a lack of guidance during her first year as an undergraduate student. “I was still discovering myself, and I think that when you’re thrown into that situation at 18 years old, it’s scary. And being first-generation, you just don’t know where to go. And so I spent a whole year and a half struggling, trying to find out what to do.”

Domingos, who enrolled in the first-ever STEP cohort in spring 2016, said she made sure to see her advisers every semester in order to ensure she was on the right track to graduate on time. That first cohort launched with 30 students. Today, there are now 11 cohorts with 275 students.

Domingos, who grew up watching her mother as a teacher, now teaches at Kit Carson Elementary School in Hanford. Her younger sister is a student at Fresno State, following the same career path.

Credential Student Receives Support After Apartment Fire

Written by: Esra Hashem, University Brand Strategy and Marketing

Racine Babb was with her teammates at Wahoo’s restaurant when she got the call.

“My roommate called me and she’s like, ‘Where are you?’” Racine says. “Yelling frantically, she said, ‘The apartment’s on fire.’”

The three-alarm fire occurred in mid-August across the street from Fresno State’s campus, south of Shaw at Backer Avenue. Racine is one of several students who was displaced by the apartment fire.

“When I got there, you could see all the smoke and it was super hard to breath.”

“We could see people still trying to get out of the apartments next to us. They were using a ladder that was in our backyard and we were trying to help people get out.”

Racine was grateful to see her roommate safe but remained in shock. She recalls firefighters pointing a water hose directly toward her room, but didn’t quite process that everything she owned was in flames.

“Then I just lost it and I cried and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I literally don’t have anything,’” Racine says.

Racine drove home to her parents’ home in Caruthers that night. Waking up the next morning, she tried to face the day ahead. She attempted to brush her teeth before remembering she lost her toothbrush in the fire.

“Then I thought, ‘Well, at least I can change my clothes.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t have that either,’” Racine says. “So, I literally drove to [soccer] practice in the stuff that I was wearing that night … It was difficult.”

A few days later, Racine returned to the apartment to see if she could salvage any of her belongings. All she found among the melted items and soot was her Bible, smelling of smoke and worn from water damage.

“I’m a faithful person,” Racine says. “God just let me know that it was going to go up from there and that I wasn’t alone.”

Local Bulldog

Growing up in small-town Caruthers, Racine wanted to be part of the Fresno State community from a young age. She recalls seeing her sister play soccer for Fresno Pacific University — but admits she always secretly wanted the Bulldogs to win. Then, after a game during Racine’s senior year of high school, Brian emailed her on behalf of Fresno State.

“I remember looking at my phone and running through the house screaming because I was so excited,” she says. “I was like, ‘What? No way!’ Because I’ve always wanted to play at Fresno State. I’ve always wanted to be a Bulldog.”

Brian says Racine is a clever player who supports the entire team.

“Racine brings such great warmth and joy to the team. She is extremely reliable and really strives to be the ultimate teammate. She’s sharp witted and super funny, but also knows when it’s work time, and her humility is admirable,” he says. “We are lucky to have this type of local Bulldog and local Bulldog family as part of our program.”

Caring for the Valley

When Racine isn’t on the soccer field, she’s studying to become an elementary school teacher. For three years, she worked with the non-profit organization Care Fresno, where she mentored youth in under-resourced communities.

“She really invests all that she has into these kids,” says Carissa Gomez, educational programs and events manager for Care Fresno. “She creates an environment where kids feel safe and are excited to learn.”

Read more here.

Kremen School Alumni Oktoberfest Supports Student Scholarships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kremen Alumni Oktoberfest

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on how to support the Kremen School, visit www.fresnostate.edu/givenow or contact Laura Whitehouse at 559.278.0393 or lwhitehouse@mail.fresnostate.edu.