2023 Graduate Dean’s Medalist Recipient and Nominees

Dean’s Medalist Recipient

student in graduation regalia

Sade D. D. Johnson

Sade has earned a master’s degree in higher education administration and leadership (HEAL), with an emphasis in student parents and Black excellence. She is the first in her family to earn a master’s. Her graduate thesis was autoethnographic, exploring her experience as a Black student parent both in and outside the context of the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and undergraduate and graduate levels of higher education. From 2021-2023, Sade served as a member of Fresno State’s Student Health Advisory Committee, where she was involved with implementing initiatives on campus to assist students who are pregnant and/or parenting. This academic year, she was awarded Outstanding Graduate Student of the year by the California College Personnel Association. She was also nominated for the HEAL Graduate Student Honoree recognition from the Division of Research and Graduate Studies, and served as a Graduate Equity Fellow for the inaugural Higher Education Student Affairs Central Valley Conference hosted at Fresno State. In addition to her studies, Sade also worked with Project HOPE, connecting students with resources to help them obtain basic needs. After graduation, Sade hopes to continue working at Fresno State to support student parents.


student smiling at the camera. There are bookcases in the background

Griselda Cervantes

A first-generation student, Griselda is graduating with a master’s degree in student affairs and college counseling. While at Fresno State, Griselda has served as an academic success coach, where she supports students who are on academic probation. She has also served as an intern with the Educational Opportunity Program, working to support first-generation students. Griselda’s graduate research focused on the mentoring experiences of Latino students and student affairs professionals. Griselda was recently hired as a counselor in Fresno State’s TRIO program. She plans to continue her career in serving first-generation students and students from low-income backgrounds.

student smiling

Francisco Contreras Magana

Francisco has earned a master’s degree in student affairs and college counseling. He and his older sister, who is also a Fresno State alum, are the first in their family to go to college. White at Fresno State, Francisco participated in the College Assistance Migrant Program as well as TRIO. He was also involved in the Hispanic Business Student Association, Beta Gamma Nu, and helped create the weightlifting club on campus. Additionally, Francisco worked with the Learning Center as an academic success coach. In this role, he supported students who were on academic probation. After graduation, Francisco aspires to continue working as an academic counselor in higher education.

student in graduation attire

Ashley Gutierrez

Ashley has earned a master’s degree in student affairs and college counseling. Ashley and her siblings are the first in their family to attend college, and she is the first to obtain a graduate degree. Her graduate research focused on the impact of COVID-19 on college students, particularly in the Latinx community. While a student at Fresno State, Ashley has supported other students through her work with Dog Days, the Transfer Success Center and the Learning Center, where she serves as an academic success coach to students on academic probation. She has also been involved in the larger Fresno community, through the Central Valley Latino Leadership Academy and Arte Americas. As a disabled student herself, Ashley is interested in contributing to research to better support disabled students in higher education. She also plans to pursue a career as a program coordinator in student affairs, so that she can continue her work supporting student success.

student smiling at the camera, bookstacks in the background

Susy N. Puente

A first-generation student, Susy is graduating with a master’s degree in student affairs and college counseling. While in the master’s program, Susy participated in the Student Affairs and College Counseling Graduate Student Association, where she helps build professional development opportunities for students, provides recommendations for programming and community building events, and assists in the hiring process for new faculty members. Susy has also served as an academic success coach. In this role, she helps students build academic and career resilience and empowers them to engage in self advocacy. Through her master’s project, Susy developed a career empowerment program for Fresno State students, where she encouraged them to reflect on their career identity and purpose, embrace career shifts and build authentic networks of professional support. After graduation, Susy aspires to hold a leadership position in university career services, so she can support students’ career goals and share resources.

student in a blue polo and dark-rimmed glasses

Rodrigo Reynoza Cano

Rodrigo is graduating with a master’s in student affairs and college counseling. He also completed his undergraduate degree at Fresno State, in psychology and Spanish. Originally from Mexico, Rodrigo is a first-generation student who credits the University’s Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) for his success on campus. Rodrigo was inspired by his experience with EOP to provide support to minority and first-generation students like himself, serving as a peer mentor for the College of Science and Mathematics, Upward Bound and Mentor U. He has also served as an academic success coach, where he serves students on academic probation. After graduating, Rodrigo hopes to continue supporting students in the Central Valley and help men of color pursue higher education.


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