Meet Juan Fonseca Vargas , 2022 Graduate Dean’s Medalist Nominee

Juan Fonseca Vargas is one of the 2022 Graduate Dean’s Medalist nominees for the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. He is a first-generation student, graduating with a master’s degree in student affairs and college counseling.

Born in Michoacan, Mexico, Fonseca Vargas moved to California with his family when he was six years old.

Fonseca Vargas said, “The great benefit was that my kindergarten teacher spoke Spanish. Mrs. Leal was the greatest teacher I’ve had so far, because of the big influence and support she had for me and for my family. It was a big culture shock, but my kindergarten teacher provided that extra support.”

Fonseca Vargas completed his undergraduate degree at Fresno State in 2020, earning a degree in history and Chicano studies with a certificate in Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x studies in secondary schooling.

As an undergraduate, Fonseca Vargas worked as a peer mentor in the College of Social Science’s COSS Linked program.

“That was my first experience as a mentor. I really enjoyed it, and that persuaded me to move away from [becoming] a history teacher and more towards counseling.”

Fonseca Vargas gained more experience working with students through the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), serving as a project specialist and as a peer mentor for EOP’s Summer Bridge Program, which helps first-year students transition from high school to university life.

Fonseca Vargas started his graduate program in the fall of 2020.

As a graduate student, Fonseca Vargas has continued to support other students, working as a counseling intern with EOP and as a college success coach for the California Student Opportunity and Access Program (Cal-SOAP). He was recognized as the Cal-SOAP Peer Advisor of the Year for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Fonseca Vargas’ graduate research has also been focused on students’ experience in higher education. For his Master’s project, he studied the experiences of farmworking students and what influenced them to pursue a college degree. His goal is to bring awareness to the challenges faced by farmworking students and find ways to better support them.

After graduating, Fonseca Vargas plans to pursue a career as an academic counselor in higher education. He especially wants to serve as an advocate for first-generation students from rural communities in the Central Valley.

“A lot of those students are immigrants, Spanish is their first language, and I think having counselors that are able to connect with them, offering resources like my kindergarten teacher [did for me]… can create generational change.”

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