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)

Meet The Kremen Communications Team

Fresno State’s mission is to promote student success and support academic goals, facilitate student engagement, learning and leadership, while providing quality student-centered services and programs with integrity and professionalism. In order to accomplish this undertaking, our college relies on teamwork, collaboration and a broad range of skill sets belonging to a burgeoning pool of creative minds. Here at the Kremen School of Education and Development, we strive to emulate this approach by relying on a vast array of talents, perspectives, backgrounds, and specialities. Following this model allows us to provide the highest quality of education, assistance, and guidance to those we serve. We encourage creativity and compassion in the workplace and appreciate the unique capabilities of each member of our staff. 

The Kremen Communications Team is an ideal reflection of this mission. Here, we promote the numerous programs, initiatives, clubs, organizations, and projects that are housed within the Kremen School of Education and Human Development. Our team ensures that students and visitors are kept up-to-date with the latest events, seminars, and career fairs happening both within Kremen and on the extended campus. We also spotlight the many revered faculty members, program leaders, and talented students who study within the school. It is our mission to shed light on the wonderful work and progress made possible by the Kremen community, as they continue to grow and prosper. Every time an award is issued, a body of work published, or a degree awarded, we ensure that the individual responsible for the accomplishment is highlighted on all of our platforms. We believe that the tremendous strides our students, teachers, and faculty have made deserve formal recognition. 

Our team is unique as it is comprised of a mixture of student assistants, interns, and communication specialists. We have a vast array of talented article writers, social media promoters, videographers, photographers, web designers, and graphic artists who are constantly producing content to be featured not only on the Kremen site, but also through our blog posts, social media uploads, and newsletter releases. We allow interns to mentor with a professional in their field of study, whether that be creative writing, photography, or computer technology. By receiving guidance and training, these interns are able to acquire valuable career skills and polish their resumes for future positions. Our communication assistants also learn how to develop professionalism and improve their craft as they are presented with assignments to strengthen their skills, while also earning money to assist with tuition and housing costs. To learn more about our gifted team members you can explore our newly constructed Communications Team website which houses their finished work and numerous accomplishments! 

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

Music Educators Use Innovative Techniques During The Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(By Devon Hunt, creative writing student)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Written by Devon Hunt, a creative writing student)

Sharing a mission to provide quality education to early learners

Fansler Foundation awards Huggins Center $150,000

Research doesn’t show anyone how to prepare for a pandemic, let alone how to put a 3-year-old in front of a computer camera for weeks to learn.

But the Joyce M. Huggins Early Education Center within Fresno State’s Programs for Children was up to the task, having set the bar high for innovation and teacher training over the years thanks to the support of the Fansler Foundation.

After a four-month closure early in the pandemic, the Programs for Children reopened in August 2020 to provide the children of student-parents, faculty and staff with hybrid learning options: engaging and creative online interaction for those who chose to stay home, or onsite learning in a safe and sanitized environment.

The Huggins Center and the Fansler Foundation have long shared a mission to provide quality education to young children. The foundation, a private nonprofit in Fresno supporting organizations that assist challenged youth, has awarded grants to Programs for Children since 2003 to help with programming, professional development, the creation of an endowed chair and more. The foundation’s reach has also touched other areas of the University over the years.

In August, Fresno State received notification of a $150,000 gift from the Fansler Foundation to support the endowment for the D. Paul Fansler Endowed Chair for Leadership in Early Childhood Education and to continue the work of the Huggins Center.

Programs for Children provides services for about 155 children ages three months to 12 years through its three centers: the Campus Children’s Infant/Toddler Center, the Campus Children’s Preschool Center and the Huggins Center.

The Huggins Center includes the Marlene M. Fansler Infant and Toddler Program, the D. Paul Fansler Preschool and School Age Program, and the D. Paul Fansler Institute for the Leadership in Early Childhood Education. D. Paul Fansler was the nonprofit’s founder, who with his wife, Marlene, set out to help special needs and socioeconomically disadvantaged children in the Valley. He passed away in 1990, and his wife continues to lead the foundation.

“The Fansler Foundation shares our vision to provide the highest quality of service and priority for student families,” said Dr. Pei-Ying Wu, Fansler Chair and assistant professor in the Department of Literacy, Early, Bilingual and Special Education. The Fansler Chair was  established in 2002 to expand opportunities for professional development and research.

“Many of our children are not from wealthy families. In the literature, children from those backgrounds don’t have resources to receive high-quality, advanced STEAM education,” Wu said. “With the Fansler Foundation’s generous support, we are able to provide that education to young children and their families. It means a lot to us that we have the Fansler Foundation who trusts us and are willing to give to us, share our positive outcomes and celebrate with us.”

The Huggins Center is inspired by the Italian “Reggio Emilia Education” approach based on the idea that children learn and express themselves in a variety of ways. Literacy development, critical thinking and creative expression are central to the curriculum. The Fansler Foundation believes in this approach and has helped the program send two teachers every year to Italy for training.

In recent years, Programs for Children started incorporating STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) into its teaching. That includes having equipment like light tables, microscope pens, a digital microscope, coding robots and coding blocks for the children while adapting online apps like Scratch Junior for early learners. The app is designed for children in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Teachers are trained to use the equipment and are adept at using online platforms like Google Suite, laptops and cameras to communicate. Their familiarity with using technology was beneficial this past year with virtual learning, said Brittney Randolph, director of Programs for Children. In addition, a virtual coaching team led by Wu was also able to observe the virtual classes and provide feedback on what could be improved, changed or tried.


Paving a path to success for Latinx communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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