Sharing Fresno State’s stories is a way to connect with alumni, friends, students, prospective students and other community members. On a campus of about 25,000 students and thousands more faculty and staff, narrowing it down to the top 20 stories of the year was no simple task — especially during a year unlike any other because of the global pandemic. Here’s a glimpse, in no particular order, at some of the best news, most touching stories and most well-done storytelling from the University over the past year.
Campus Life in 2020: A Photo Essay
Many things about college life at Fresno State have temporarily changed during the past eight months — but one thing remains the same: The Bulldog spirit carries on, whether it’s virtual, in person or during a drive-through celebration like this one pictured for New Student Convocation. As University President Joseph I. Castro made clear, Fresno State faculty and staff remain as committed as ever to boldly empowering students for success — while making sure safety continues to be a top priority. Here is a look at how the University has adapted to the times. Read more.
A Degree Lasts a Lifetime
What is the value of a college degree? It’s not a new question, but it is one many are considering as they help loved ones map out college and career choices in today’s uncertain climate. While the decision about where to attend college may be difficult, experts say the choice about whether to attend should be easy — even during a global pandemic. There is perhaps no greater driver of social mobility — the movement of individuals or families between social classes — than a college degree. For those who grow up poor, earning a degree provides a 90% chance of escaping poverty. Gina Avalos, Vivica Thomas and Barry Maas decided college – and Fresno State – was the right choice. Read more. See video.
Groundbreaking for Resnick Student Union
A $10 million investment from philanthropists and entrepreneurs Lynda and Stewart Resnick, owners of The Wonderful Company, will help to support the design, construction, operation and maintenance of a new student union. It will embrace the tenets of sustainability and achieve LEED Gold-equivalent certification, incorporating energy efficiencies including solar panels. “Fresno State is a vital institution and an integral part of the fabric of the Central Valley, deserving of a world-class student union,” said Lynda Resnick. “Stewart and I are gratified to support this central hub that will enrich the student experience on campus while serving as a place where students can connect with each other and feel a greater sense of belonging.” Read more.
Coming home: Paul George
Paul George spent two years as a Fresno State student-athlete before being drafted No. 10 overall in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers. As a Fresno State freshman, George received national attention with the No. 1 play of the day on ESPN’s Sportscenter after a memorable dunk during a game against Saint Mary’s. He finished the season as one of the top 15 freshmen scorers in the country. During his years at the University, he averaged 15.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 63 games. “Fresno State is a big chapter in my story,” George says. “And when I look back at things I cherish, I embrace what made me who I am today and I value that.” Read more. See video.
A team of researchers and industry professionals led by the Fresno State Transportation Institute found ways to reduce the spread of airborne viruses, such as COVID-19, on modes of public transportation. The preliminary findings of this study identify several efficient and economically viable solutions that can enhance passenger safety and help the public transportation industry rebound from the challenges presented by a global pandemic. Read more.
Entrepreneurial business alum creates luxury footwear
Scott Peters, who graduated from Fresno State in May, has always been interested in fashion and owns a collection of boots, but he found his traditional cowboy boots were incredibly ill-fitting. Seeking a solution, he took his knowledge from an apprenticeship at a local leather and footwear repair shop and set out to make the nicest pair of boots possible. After a year and a half of trial and error and bouncing through multiple manufacturers, Peters was finally satisfied with the final sample design. He now has a team in Italy that produces his footwear, and he runs his Sebastian Boot Company from Fresno. Read more.
The Castro Presidency: 2013-2020
From his first day in 2013 through this year of COVID-19 challenges, President Joseph I. Castro has demonstrated how deeply he cares about the success of students of all ages. On Jan. 4, 2021, Dr. Castro will take that commitment to Long Beach, where he will begin his new role as the chancellor of the 23-campus California State University system. Read more.
Liberal Studies students exceed CSU grad goals
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. Read more.
Family tragedy points graduate to law school
Colleen Busby’s 4-year-old brother, Ian, was killed in a drink driving crash in Visalia 26 years ago. When the woman who caused the crash came up for parole, Busby, who was then a high school senior, accompanied her mother to the hearing. That day changed her life. “It was a very transformative moment for me,” Busby said. “It was the day I decided I wanted to be an attorney.” In May, Busby graduated from Fresno State with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She was also the first in her family to graduate with a college degree. Read more.
Engineering students, alumni develop PPE
A group of engineering students, faculty and alumni from Fresno State’s Lyles College of Engineering worked up to 10 hours a day in April to design and produce personal protective equipment (PPE) to help keep Valley health care workers safe. During Fresno State’s spring break, the team completed the final design and began production of about 1,000 face shields — the first part of a three-phase, innovative project to support the community at a time when protective equipment is scarce for doctors, nurses and other health care providers. Read more.
Free Spanish course helps medical workers
According to the United States Census 2018 American Community Survey, about 15% of residents in Fresno and Kings counties are Spanish speakers who speak little to no English. For emergency services professionals, trying to help a patient in an emergency while working through a language barrier can add to the complexity of the situation. In addition, COVID-19 has added to the overall stress. With this in mind, the Division of Continuing and Global Education at Fresno State introduced a series of free online classes for essential workers — including Functional Spanish for Emergency Medical Responders. Read more.
Welcome Home Initiative brings students back
As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped California, college freshman Jennifer Alvarez began worrying about her family, finances and academic future. Alvarez, 19, a first-generation student from Madera, was in her first year at the University of California, Davis. Her mother’s clothing business was forced to shut down and the future of traditional college life became uncertain. She worried about how classes would be conducted in the fall, how far she was from home and whether to lock down in an apartment for her second year. Then a friend mentioned a social media post by Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro. In it, he described the University’s one-time Welcome Home Initiative that offered a pathway back during challenging times. Read more.
Preparing much-needed future doctors, researchers
The more we grow, the shorter we become. This is not a riddle. It’s the very real challenge California’s Central Valley faces in regard to a continuously growing population and an increasing shortage in health care providers. When it comes to doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, the Central Valley comes up shorter than anywhere else in California. Fresno State is the springboard for a number of future doctors and researchers who have gained an intimate understanding of the challenges unique to this Valley and its patient population. Read more.
Putting others first as a lifestyle
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. As Mendez grew into a young woman, she continually felt driven to help others. 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. During her efforts to give, she has studied to become a teacher. Read more.
Perenchio Foundation’s $5.5M gifts support student success
Fresno State students facing a financial hardship on the road to academic success will soon be able to apply for more grants and scholarships thanks to two gifts totaling $5.5 million from the Perenchio Foundation, which was established through the estate of an entertainment executive who has long supported the University. The Perenchio Foundation, established to direct the philanthropic wishes of Jerrold “Jerry” Perenchio, who died in 2017, donated $500,000 to the Good Samaritan Fund to immediately help students in need during the 2020-21 academic year. The foundation also donated $5 million to create the Perenchio Family Endowed Scholarship Fund to support students from all backgrounds and majors, including “Dreamers.” Read more.
Gibson Farm Market introduces canned wine
Senior enology student Henry Kampen chose to transfer to Fresno State a year ago because of its national reputation for hands-on experience in all areas of winemaking. Little did he know he would help produce the Fresno State Winery’s first canned wine — in his first month as a student winemaker. “Helping create a new product is a really unique opportunity for our students that they can use for the rest of their careers,” Kampen said. “We’ve proven with the first edition that the taste is on par with traditional bottled methods. Many thought that would be hard to match a few years ago.” Read more.
Fresno State fall enrollment a record 25,300
While student enrollment has dropped at many colleges and universities nationwide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, fall enrollment at Fresno State hit a record high — 25,300 students. That is about a 5% increase from fall 2019, making it the University’s largest enrollment ever. The number of first-year students and transfer students are also at an all-time high. Read more.
Fresno State prof on two of Trebek’s final ‘Jeopardy!’ airings
While being filmed for an episode of “Jeopardy!” as a contestant in September, Dr. Frederick Nelson fondly remembers sharing a personal moment with the late Alex Trebek, the beloved host of the popular ABC game show. Nelson, associate professor and chair of the Liberal Studies Department at Fresno State, joked that people at home might not recognize him in a suit and tie – as opposed to the shorts, sandals and Hawaiian shirts he’s known for wearing around campus. Nelson appeared in an episode that aired Dec. 3 on ABC, as he won $20,001 and earned the opportunity to compete again in an episode that aired Dec. 4. Nelson’s appearances came as the network broadcast the final shows Trebek recorded before his death on Nov. 8 at age 80. Read more
Student sticks to his recipe, earns ivy league opportunity
Not many students turn down a chance to attend an Ivy League university, but mechanical engineering graduate Bailey Gong was confident Fresno State was the right fit. The Smittcamp Family Honors College student chose to complete his undergraduate studies at Fresno State after being offered an opportunity to transfer to Cornell University his sophomore year. Now, after earning his bachelor’s degree, things have come full circle as Gong will start a graduate program in food science at Cornell University this fall. Read more.
U.S. News ranks Fresno State in top 3 – again!
For the fifth consecutive year, Fresno State is ranked among the top three of the nation’s best public universities for graduation-rate performance in U.S. News and World Report’s 2021 Best College rankings issued today. The University scored third highest among public national universities and was No. 4 overall among all national universities Fresno State has ranked No. 3 for the past three years and was No. 1 in 2017. Read more.