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 .)

Teaching Through the Power of Nature

The education and guidance of young children are two things which Stephen Bock, director of the Scout Island Outdoor Education Center and current lecturer at Fresno State, has always been passionate about. Even as a youth, he knew that he wanted to teach elementary-aged children, but at the time, such a career endeavor was frowned upon for individuals of his gender, as men did not typically obtain positions working in child-centered classroom settings. Bock’s journey in education was fraught with many difficulties and setbacks as he struggled to pursue the path he set out upon. 

After graduating from high school, Fresno State was Bock’s first choice for a university. He had received a scholarship based on his family’s income, however, the summer before he was scheduled to enroll, his father got a raise, causing the scholarship to be withdrawn. Instead, he ended up attending Reedley College for two years, getting his General ED classes out of the way. Once he received his Associates degree, he returned to Fresno State with the intention of obtaining his teaching credentials and pursuing a degree in child education. After meeting with an advisor, however, he became heavily discouraged. The guidance counselor explained to him that it was a bad idea to become a teacher since he was a man and also because he would not be able to support a family on his income. At the time, teachers made roughly $6,000 to $6,500 a year, a figure that would have put him in the poverty line. His counselor also explained that he would also have to get a secondary credential which would require additional coursework. 

Realizing his options were incredibly slim, Bock chose to instead pursue a degree in philosophy. During the time of his studies, Bock got married and soon found out his wife was pregnant. With a heavy heart, and only six units away from earning his degree, Bock dropped out of college and began working full time to support his growing family. 

Eventually, salaries for teachers became sustainable and they began hiring men to fill elementary education positions. Bock came back to Fresno State after hearing about these changes and finished up the six units he had previously not taken. Once those were out of the way, he started pursuing coursework under a program called Option Four which allowed him to work during the day while taking classes at night. After obtaining his teaching credentials through this method, Bock began teaching for the Selma Unified School District. Along the way, he heard about a program called the Central Valley Science Project, which was an organization collecting teams of teachers from various schools to learn about environmental education. Bock signed up for this program in the fall of 1992, along with one of his other colleges, a choice which opened many doors in the world of academia. Through this program, he met Dr. Marshall, an individual who would make a lasting impact on him and help him attain his current wealth of knowledge. After finishing the program, Dr. Marshall invited Bock back to give a series of presentations over the next couple of years. Eventually, Bock became one of the leaders of the Central Valley Science project, working alongside Dr. Marshall for nearly 19 years. His experience with the cohort demonstrated what teaching was all about and helped to aid Bock in his profession, as well as, easing his eventual transition to Fresno State. 

In 1996, Bock won the award of Fresno County Educator of the year, a massive accomplishment in such a short period of time. A year later, in 1997, he became recognized as California teacher of the year, a level of excellence that few people have ever achieved. Seeing these accomplishments, Jim Marshall decided that he wanted Bock to become involved in the professional development of other teachers since he provided such an intricate understanding of the theories of education. Bock soon found himself as an educator within the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at Fresno State. 

Bock reflects upon some of the valuable lessons he learned at Fresno State, both as a student and later, as a professor. One of the most vital realizations Bock encountered was valuing the diversity of his students and appreciating what each of their unique backgrounds had to offer. He learned that when you value diversity, you learn more about the world around you, and accumulate knowledge on topics you wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. In the current classes Bock teaches at Fresno State, he engages closely with his students, creating a welcoming atmosphere that encourages them to share openly and be proud when talking about their different lifestyles and backgrounds. 

As a result of Bock’s experiences with the Central Valley Science Project, and also thanks to his Masters in Science Education, he began to focus on educating students particularly in the field of environmental science. He was offered the opportunity to teach Science Method courses at Fresno State and eventually won 75 courses in the credential Program. Because of his successful teaching experience, Bock became the science coordinator for the County Office of Education, which gave him the opportunity to impact teachers throughout the county through professional development, and also with curriculum. This created a direct connection to his current position as the director of the Outdoor Education Center at Scout. 

The Scout Island Outdoor Education Center houses a program called “Walking Where They Lived” that allows children to understand the lives of the Yokuts Indians who lived on Scout Island for hundreds of years before the settlers arrived. So far, Bock has helped to build a recreation village that has two different types of structures, as well as salmon drying racks and an acorn greenery. They are planning to build more in the future with participation from Table Mountain Casino. We encourage children to become engaged by facilitating what it was like for the Native Americans who lived out here long ago. We have a number of artifacts that we are able to share with them, such as the remnants from a type of basketball game they would play and the cuttings of many different types of medicinal plants which they would use to create balms. Bock also explains to the children about how the Yokuts didn’t like the heat any more than we do so they would go up to the mountains in the summertime, build different structures out of the materials available up there, and then, when the weather cooled down, they would come down from the mountains and gather the acorns from Scout Island, thus having a sustainable food supply for the following year. The facility also has access to some traditional songs that the Yokuts would have sung and also some musical instruments that they might have played, which helps to give the students a sense of how to interact with the environment and how their lives were actually not that different from ours. 

Before Bock became the director of the Scout Island Outdoor Education Center, however, he was partnered with Jim Marshall on a project at Fresno State called the NASA program. The program was a partnership between the Kremen School of Education and Human Development and the NASA space corporation. The goal was to allow teachers to understand what NASA does by hosting demonstrations at Fresno State. NASA trainers and astronauts would come down and engage the teachers during a day-long study of some of the concepts they were learning about through space exploration. These were conducted multiple times during the year so that the teachers could see a variety of different perspectives on a number of different topics. During that time, Bock was also running an internship program in the Kremen School which was integrally tied to NASA. The interns themselves were travelling to Moffett Field and also to the Ames Research Center in the Bay area. Bock was also able to personally train for a simulated NASA mission, where he was the pilot of the space shuttle who navigated the crew successfully through the stages of the process. 

Looking back fondly on his career, Bock is grateful for all that Fresno State has done to aid him in his path, particularly the guidance that the Kremen School offered during his time as a student. He encourages current students to take advantage of all that Kremen has to offer, including their numerous programs that help aid future educators. He describes Kremen as a candle that will light their way as long as they continue to put in the effort to pursue it. With the knowledge offered by the university, these students will be able to develop a strong foundation to catapult them into their respective career fields. 

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

Make a Difference – TEACH! Conference Spotlight

On Friday, April 29th, 2022, students from all over were invited to attend the Make a Difference – TEACH conference, an event tailored to assist future educators by offering them academic guidance and program resources.

Students were given an overview of successful college admission planning strategies, suggested undergraduate majors, jobs/internships, and extracurricular activities related to the teaching and counseling professions. Fresno State faculty also provided extensive information on the numerous Multiple Subject, Single Subject, and Counseling programs offered within the college. 

Austin Lemay

To kickstart the conference, keynote speaker, Austin Lemay, the Culture and Activities Director at Tenaya Middle School, presented an inspirational speech on why teaching is such an important and influential career option to pursue. Following his presentation were a series of three breakout sessions, each focusing on a different aspect of the education profession. 

Empowering the Emerging Bilingual Through Literature in the Classroom

The first breakout session, running from 9:50 am – 10:30 am, featured four different workshops on a series of crucial topics. “Empowering the Emerging Bilingual Through Literature in the Classroom” introduced students to different types of bilingual literature and “in my voices authors”. Students were given the opportunity to generate ideas on how to encourage emerging bilingualism within the classroom.

“Physical Education is Fun!” allowed students to participate in an elementary school level activity and that encouraged cooperation, socialization and problem-and solving, while increasing one’s heart rate, developing motor skills, and integrating English Language Arts.

Physical Education is Fun!

“Your Education Career Through Porterville College” was a detailed presentation on the required coursework and steps to enter the field of education which highlighted the resources available at Porterville College to help students succeed.

The final workshop “”Oh the Places You Will Go!” The Journeys of a Science Teacher!” encouraged students to think outside the box and explore different learning spaces outside the classroom. 

Between 10:35 am – 11:15 am a second breakout session commenced, featuring two new workshops. “Future Teacher Opportunities Beginning Now”, a seminar promoted by West Hills College and Teaching Fellows, shared cohesive pathways for students to receive a Zero Textbook Cost degree, as well as, offering employment and meal prep opportunities. “I Read Banned Books and So Should You!” was a session which dove into some amazing Children’s and Young Adult Literature that had been banned in certain communities across the country. The presenters discussed why books that get banned are some of the most important texts to read, share, and teach in classrooms. Attendees also got a list of books to take with them.

The third and final breakout session, spanning between the hours of 11:20 am – 12:00 pm touched on some more empathetic topics while also exploring mental health in schools. “Teacher Training on the Impact of Developmental Trauma” discussed the neurobiological changes in student’ brains when they endure trauma and how those brain disruptions are presented through challenging behaviors in the classroom. Attendees were able to acquire specific Behavior Analytic skills to address the manifestation of those behaviors.

“COS + FRESNO STATE = TEACHING CAREER IN 4 YEARS” explained how students could complete their two years of requirements at COS and then be admitted to the accelerated Fresno State Integrated Teacher Education Program (ITEP), thereby completing their bachelor’s degree and teaching credential in only two years. 

To close out the conference, a workshop was offered on how to get admitted to Fresno State, followed by a luncheon. Students reflected upon the valuable information they gleaned from the numerous workshop sessions and the connections they made throughout the day. This conference was made possible through the support from the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at Fresno State, the Tulare Kings College and Career Collaborative, and the Tulare County Office of Education.

(Written by Audra Burwell, a Creative Writing Student in The Kremen School of Education and Human Development)

Building Connections and Paving a Path to Opportunity

Guadalupe Arriaga grew up in the Central Valley, the rural, agricultural economy and the tight-knit community leaving a lasting impression on her childhood. She chose to study at Fresno State because she wanted to stay close to home throughout her college career and because it was an affordable, yet still attainable university for a first-generation student. Arriaga was fearful of moving away and after researching all of the programs and support networks Fresno State offered, she realized they would open the door to numerous opportunities for her. 

Remembering back to her freshman year of college, Arriaga reflects on some of the lessons she learned, one of which was staying on track with her degree plan in order to accelerate her time in classes. From the inception of her academic career, Arriaga’s goal was to obtain a degree and find a job as soon as possible. She was constantly looking for ways to connect with people, reaching out for help from academic counselors and searching out new opportunities that presented themselves. When first entering her classes, Arriaga was insecure with her writing skills and current knowledge, so she began to take advantage of the services offered by the tutoring center on a regular basis. Looking back, she realizes that she didn’t necessarily need all of these services, but it was having the security and reassurance that she was not alone in her journey. 

Arriaga explains how actively participating in projects and organizations on campus while taking a strong role in the direction of her learning helped her to stay on track. She explains how college is never the end of the road, since after graduating more challenges and obstacles presented themselves. However, with the valuable skills and lessons she learned at Fresno State, she was able to tackle them confidently. One of the accomplishments Arriaga is most proud of is the fact that she did not owe any loans after graduation and was able to avoid college debt entirely. She remembers working two to three jobs to cover tuition while still finding time to study and attend to her educational responsibilities. While at Fresno State, Arriaga was part of a program called Interact, which is a leadership program that helps with counseling and leading young adults. Toward the end of her undergraduate degree, Arriaga did begin to receive scholarships and grants which helped ease the burden of working full time. 

Currently, Arriaga is a teacher at Orange Center Elementary which belongs to a small, family-oriented district. Many parents send their children to this particular school because it is one they attended growing up and one where they made many fond memories on campus. Arriaga loves working with bilingual students and finding ways to implement Spanish in her classroom. She teaches the second grade and one of her greatest joys is seeing her students speaking in their native tongue and feeling comfortable being fluent in multiple languages. Arriaga is also part of several school committees, where she is able to offer input and help make decisions for the school. She has been featured multiple times on PBS where she talks about child education. Orange Center Elementary also hosts a variety of cultural events for their students, such as altar decorating and traditional potlucks. Arriaga is grateful for the work ethic and drive which Fresno State instilled in her. She was always busy and productive as a student at the university, two traits which remain consistent even in her lifestyle now. 

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

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)