Meet 2016 Community Hero, Carolyn Drake: A pioneer in the nursing profession

On November 2, the College of Health and Human Services will host the 2016 Community Heroes Awards to recognize the unsung heroes in our community whose actions, thoughts and words have had a transformative impact in our region. For the rest of the month, we will be highlighting our  nine honorees in our Community Heroes Series.


drakecarolynName: Dr. Carolyn Drake

Occupation: CEO/President of Health Education Alliance

Nominated by: School of Nursing and the Central California Center for Excellence in Nursing

Personal hero: “All of the good nurses, who possess strong leadership skills”

“Lift as we climb” is the motto Dr. Carolyn Drake stands by in her personal and professional life. She says that one cannot succeed without a group as a whole lending support along the way.

It is that positive attitude that has led to a very successful and inspiring 42-year career for Drake, who just three years ago retired from Fresno City College as the Dean of Instruction for the Health Sciences Division. Her nursing career, which spans both the public health and educational fields, is full of many accomplishments, as Drake set the tone for being a celebrated pioneer.

She is credited with forming the Central Valley Black Nurses Association in the early 70s, starting out with just six members. After seeing how underrepresented black nurses were throughout the Valley and the country, Drake wanted to make an impact for future nursing students of color going into the profession.

Today, the association, which is focused on recruitment and retention of black nurses, has nearly tripled its membership and has now become a member of the National Black Nurses Association.

Her path as a humble leader began when she was just a young girl growing up in Orrville, Ohio, a small town of 7,000. Drake watched nurses on television shows, and knew that was the career she wanted to pursue in the future. After overcoming much adversity, Drake became one of the first black woman to be a nurse’s aide in the 1960 in Orrville, Ohio.

After attending the Akron City Hospital School of Nursing, she went on to receive her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Nursing from Fresno State.

Her early nursing career included health education, as a public health nurse, working primarily with teen moms in high school, conducting maternity and parenting classes. She also began her teaching career at Fresno City College in 1978, as an instructor for the Registered Nursing Program.

“When I was a nursing instructor, I just wanted everyone to be good,” Drake said. “My philosophy is that the student will rise to the expectation of the instructor and they always do. Being a good instructor is what I owed to the community. I also taught my students to treat patients like a beloved family member – to be caring, compassionate and knowledgeable. Those are attributes I encouraged.”

Later, Drake decided she wanted to expand her professional horizons, with the end goal of becoming a nursing director in order to influence not just students, but the profession as a whole. This led to her completing her doctorate in Organizational Leadership from the University of Southern California.

In 1994, she became the Associate Dean of Instruction for the College of Health Sciences and also the Director of Nursing at Fresno City College and would later become the Dean in 2006.

One of her primary goals while leading the nursing program was to expand the number of minority nursing students enrolled in the program – and she did just that. In fact, the program was recognized for having the largest number of Hispanic students and male students in California. With the expanding program, more nursing students were accepted into the program – eventually making it the largest nursing program west of the Mississippi. This is a feat Drake is most proud of.

“A nursing career is the pathway into the middle class for all students, but especially for the non-traditional students who are often the first in their family to enter college,” Drake said. “They are not only fulfilling a need in the nursing profession, they are also helping the economics of their communities and ensuring the future of their children.”

Drake has received numerous accolades throughout her career, including receiving the Rosa Parks Award from Fresno State for her leadership and contributions, an NAACP Image Award, as well as being recognized as a top 10 professional women of the year and a recipient of the American Coalition of Nurse Leaders for Recruitment/Retention/Outreach for the Paradigm Program, among many others.

Although retired, she keeps a pulse on the nursing community through her work as a board member at Saint Agnes Medical Center and as CEO/President of Health Education Alliance, a health consultant group.


The 2016 Community Heroes Awards, which celebrates heroes from each of the seven academic departments, as well as centers and institutes within our college, will be held on November 2, 2016 at Fresno State. For more information on the event, contact Sandra Daily at 559.278.3603 or or click here.



Kris Clarke: I had to go to Finland to imagine how to fix Fresno

This story is reprinted from the Valley Voices section of The Fresno Bee as written by Dr. Kris Clarke, associate professor in the Department of Social Work Education. Originally published October 20, 2016.


k-clarke-regular_smI grew up Fresno and fled at 18. While the social and political culture felt oppressive (especially to an existentialist queer teenager), back in 1980, the city still functioned rather well. No one went through your garbage at night and there were few empty shops, unlike the ghost strip malls that line many main avenues today.

I returned three decades later with a new perspective on my hometown and how it treats its citizens.

What changed my mind was immigrating to Finland at age 24. During my 22 years there, I experienced a welfare society that strove to support social cohesion through robust public institutions and mutual solidarity. Instead of each person pulling herself up by her bootstraps, everyone was included in the national health system; all mothers and babies attended the same maternal health centers. There was a high level of trust in the police and the government.

When I became the representative of Finland in the European Union Project on AIDS & Mobility, I learned more about how European societies worked with difficult social issues, such as drug use, HIV transmission and migration. Rather than trying to reduce drug use, Finland and other countries aimed for “harm reduction,” helping users to lead healthier lives, and to reduce the side effects of injection drug use like HIV, hepatitis C and bacterial infections from shared needles.

When I returned to Fresno in 2007, drug use was high. By 2008 the county was sending people to drug and alcohol treatment programs – often court mandated – at twice the rate of California as a whole.

I visited the Fresno Needle Exchange, and what I found shocked me. Instead of the orderly clinics with services that I knew from Europe, an old school bus housing a mobile medical clinic was parked at the side of a dead-end road and the needle exchange was on the sidewalk.

Maybe the city could likewise start to reimagine itself as one where the tremendous energy and compassion of citizens, and their capacity to care deeply for one another is given more support, so they in turn can support the city as it grows.

Over the past 22 years, Fresno’s needle exchange has gone in and out of legality. The Fresno County Board of Supervisors last outlawed it in 2011, saying it “enabled” drug use. But later that year Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills that legalized all exchanges in California, as well as permitting pharmacies to sell syringes, on the grounds that reducing the harm of needles is proven to limit the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. The ongoing legal tussle has kept the exchange, which is staffed by volunteers, from getting a permanent home and offering more services.

Photo Credit: The Fresno Bee

I began volunteering at the needle exchange and eventually conducted 33 long interviews with clients for academic research. All of my interviewees had found their way to the needle exchange through word of mouth. Here they were not treated, as a homeless woman said, as “a gutter person.”

The volunteers and the doctor at the exchange created a safe space for drug users to imagine new lives. For some this first act of caring for themselves – using a clean needle each and every time they injected – led down the path to recovery. During this time, I was teaching a master’s degree class in social work at Fresno State and learned that one of my students had come through the exchange on her way to sobriety. She said that learning to care for herself at the exchange led to a belief that she too could be somebody.

Many of my informants had traumatic childhoods marked by alcoholic parents, poverty and abuse. A growing body of research indicates that trauma and stressful incidents may be significant factors in chemical dependency. Yet, none of the informants blamed anyone but themselves for their situations.

During my decades away, Fresno changed: It now ranks last among California’s 10 largest cities for life expectancy, median income and educational attainment. Social and health services are stretched to their limits. The dominant ideology is still that people should pull themselves up and face the consequences of their own poor choices.

My time in Finland helped me imagine an alternate Fresno, where people were not trapped in their dysfunctional families, or found the strength and means to leave an abusive relationship, or got counseling for grief after a divorce. Could more social services and a different ideology change life in Fresno?

Maybe the city could likewise start to reimagine itself as one where the tremendous energy and compassion of citizens, and their capacity to care deeply for one another, is given more support so they in turn can support the city as it grows.


Join Clarke tomorrow night for the California Wellness Foundation’s community conversation “Are Valley communities giving up on government?” at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 25 at Frank Places at Warnors Center (1432 Fulton St.). Clarke will be among the panelists that include other community leaders. The event is part of a Zócalo Public Square inquiry into what makes a healthy neighborhood in the heart of the Central Valley. Learn more.

Meet 2016 Community Hero, Jim Santos: A lifetime of coaching excellence

On November 2, the College of Health and Human Services will host the 2016 Community Heroes Awards to recognize the unsung heroes in our community whose actions, thoughts and words have had a transformative impact in our region. For the rest of the month, we will be highlighting our  nine honorees in our Community Heroes Series.


santosjimName: Jim Santos

Occupation: Communications Professor, University of Phoenix

Nominated by: Central California Sports Science Institute

Personal hero: “My wife, Carolyn, who has been my rock for 53 years, and has raised our developmentally challenged son while I balanced many careers.

Nestled on a quiet street in Northwest Fresno is Inspiration Park. Built in October 2015, it is the first universally accessible park available in California, designed for children and adults with special needs. Innovative and creative features make it possible for everyone, regardless of abilities, to get some physical activity.

The founder of that park is Fresno State alumnus, Jim Santos. The inspiration for the creation of the park was his son, Dallas, who has developmental challenges. Through the park, Santos wanted to create a safe area for all kids to play in, including his son.

Promoting physical fitness for youth and athletes of all abilities has been a lifelong passion of his during his momentous 55-year career, where he has not only accomplished his dream, but he has done so in a way that has changed the lives of countless others.

He got his start in athletics in high school, where he played basketball and track. He would later go on to attend Fresno State, and join the track and field team as a hurdler and serve as the manager of the basketball team for three years.

Following his graduation from Fresno State in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education, Santos went on to coach all over the world and even serve as a vital player in the women’s athletic movement at the time. In 1964, he started the first women’s track and field program in Oregon.

He returned to his California roots in 1972 to coach Cal State Hayward’s (now known as California State University, East Bay) women’s track and field team. Just one year later, the team won the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women national championship, cementing the first conference championship in any sport for the University. Due to his success with the Hayward women’s team, Santos was named the National Women’s Coach of the Year in 1973.

But the accolades didn’t stop there. In 1977, Santos led Hayward’s men’s track and field team to an NCAA Division II championship, earning him the Division II Men’s Coach of the Year Honors that same year. Following that, he able to join the U.S National Men’s Team coaching staff in 1977, 1979 and 1980 for tours in Europe leading up the 1980 Olympic Games.

In 1980, Santos became the field events coach of the U.S Olympic Men’s team, which he notes as one of the proudest moments of his coaching career.

“Being a track coach at a Division II non-scholarship school at Hayward was most humbling joining the elite coaches from the major college ranks,” Santos said.

Afterwards, Santos would spend the next 18 years of his career as the director of athletics for Special Olympics International in Washington, D.C., where he created programs for children and adults with special needs. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics, said of Santos, “His influence and energy was always the magic that moved our families and coaches in the Special Olympics, not only in the United States, but around the world.”

After a very long and successful career, Santos retired from the Special Olympics in 2000.

During that time, he established the Navy Run Jump ‘n’ Throw Program. The program, which is designed to enhance physical fitness in youth, currently serves more than 12 million students from first through twelfth grade, including students with and without disabilities.

Santos was honored for his work with an induction into the U.S Track and Field Coaches National Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013.

Never one to slow down, Santos still stays involved in the community, where he currently serves on the Dean’s Council of Ambassadors for the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State, and as the area chair for the College of Humanities at the University of Phoenix. In addition he volunteers with the Northern California Special Olympics Program for Fresno County, and as a mentor in the ‘Boots to Business’ program, which serves men and women leaving Lemoore Naval Airforce Base to go into business after their careers in the U.S. Navy.

He also leads sports, and track and field clinics for coaches and athletes. To date, he has conducted more than 2,000 of these clinics. For the past 19 years Jim has been an instructor for the University of Phoenix sharing his academic background and motivation to hundreds of students for the past 19 years in Fresno, Northern California, and Baltimore, Maryland.

Regardless of his many accomplishments, Santos notes that his proudest moment was when his daughter, Kelly Weiler, graduated from college and became a special education teacher, having been inspired by her brother and father.


The 2016 Community Heroes Awards, which celebrates heroes from each of the seven academic departments, as well as centers and institutes within our college, will be held on November 2, 2016 at Fresno State. For more information on the event, contact Sandra Daily at 559.278.3603 or or click here.

Meet 2016 Community Hero, Jennifer Ruiz: Impacting Native Americans Families

On November 2, the College of Health and Human Services will host the 2016 Community Heroes Awards to recognize the unsung heroes in our community whose actions, thoughts and words have had a transformative impact in our region. For the rest of the month, we will be highlighting our  nine honorees in our Community Heroes Series.



Name: Jennifer Ruiz

Occupation: Chief Executive Officer, Fresno American Indian Health Project

Nominated by: The Department of Social Work Education

Personal hero: “My grandfather, Henry Jones. He overcame a lot of adversity in his life and yet, he persevered and worked hard to make a difference in the community, impacting so many people.”

For Jennifer Ruiz, Native Americans are not just a community, but rather an extension of her family. It’s a feeling she’s felt deep within her since she was a young child, growing up with a close connection to the Native American community in the Central Valley and as a member of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians.

As a young child, she recalls with fond memories the gatherings, fundraisers, and events that her grandfather, Henry Jones, helped organize when she was just a young child. He was a community organizer and activist who helped develop Sierra Indian Center – one of the first nonprofit social service agencies in Fresno specifically for the Native American community.

It was the 1950s, at a time when services and resources to the community were rare. Through this nonprofit, self-help programs were created and scholarships for Native American youth were enacted. In Ruiz’s eyes, and the eyes of many others, her grandfather was a pioneer who helped pave the way for Native Americans in the region.

Now nearly seven decades later, Ruiz is following in her grandfather’s footsteps, serving as the chief executive officer of the Fresno American Indian Health Project – a nonprofit health and social service organization that serves Native Americans in Fresno County. Through the organization, services provided are focused on health, prevention, health education, youth programing and connecting clients to resources to help improve health and wellness.

Ruiz got her start at the organization in 2003, as the front desk receptionist. At the time, she was pursuing her bachelor’s degree in History and Cultural Anthropology at Fresno State. Thirteen years later, she leads the organization, overseeing operations, grant writing, finances and a staff that is more than double the size of when the organization first began.

Most recently, the organization began offering mental health services. This was crucial, as there were no other agencies in the region offering these services for Native Americans. In order to make that happen, Ruiz and her team built up their behavioral health department by securing necessary grants and funding. For her part, Ruiz has nearly doubled the annual operational budget of the agency, creating greater access to a wider range of health services for the Native American community in the Valley.

Today, they have three licensed mental health counselors and four care coordinators, all of whom provide services to families going through very difficult situations. Ruiz says having care coordinators available helps increase support by linking families to needed services and resources, reducing the likelihood of stressors that can lead to a mental health crises for families.  A culturally adapted wraparound model of intervention is used in working with families.

“Unfortunately, there is an overrepresentation of Native American families in the child welfare system,” Ruiz said.  “Tribes and tribal organizations serve as an important resource for children and families in the system, by providing needed services, helping children remain connected to the tribal community, and by educating social workers about how to better work with Native American families.”

The agency also successfully published the first comprehensive needs and service system assessment of the Fresno Native American community, accumulating valuable data about the needs and service system gaps that currently exist so that greater health equity can be pursued.

After obtaining her bachelor’s degree, she went on to receive her master’s degree in Business Administration from Fresno State. She maintains a close connection with the University, as president of the Fresno State Native American Alumni Club, which she created two years ago with others in the community to raise scholarship money for Native American students at Fresno State.

In spring 2016, Ruiz taught an anthropology course at Fresno State on California Indians. In addition, she was involved with the SERVE: Indigenous Community Social Workers for Change program out of the Department of Social Work Education. The program aims to preserve the culture of Native American children and families by working to increase the number of social work graduates of Native American descent.

“We need a lot more of our young people to go to college,” Ruiz said. “It’s really important to have social workers that are well-trained to work with Native American families. Our tribes need them. Our families need them.”

In a way, Ruiz’s journey has come full circle from watching her grandparents pave the path for so many in the community to now leading local efforts through her own academic and nonprofit-based work. Through it all, she still credits the ones who came before her.

“My grandparents inspired my passion to continue working in the health and social services field,” Ruiz said. “If I could inspire even a quarter of the positive impact that my grandparents did, I would consider it success.”


The 2016 Community Heroes Awards, which celebrates heroes from each of the seven departments, as well as centers and institutes within our college, will be held on November 2, 2016 at Fresno State. For more information on the event, contact Sandra Daily at 559.278.3603 or or click here.

Alumni Spotlight: It all Started at Fresno State in 1950

This story is reprinted from The Fresno State Alumni Association as written by Marisa Mata. Originally published in the September 2016 issue of the Fresno State Alumni Association Newsletter.

“My sorority was having a dance and it was girls ask the boys, so I asked him, and that was really our first date,” Shirley Aney said.

This year, Tom and Shirley Aney celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary in Palm Springs, about 90 miles from their home in Hacienda Heights, where they’ve lived for 52 years. When they first met at Fresno State after a football game, the quarterback and a song girl, they were drawn to each other but had no idea they would get married, live in Japan, start a family and live out their golden years in southern California.

After the dance, Tom and Shirley continued dating. Tom graduated in 1950, as an alumnus of the Department of Kinesiology with and an emphasis in Physical Education. He then started teaching in Clovis while Shirley finished her last two years of school. Then the Korean War broke out.

Tom said, “I enlisted in the Air Force and went to pilot training. The pilot training took a lot of time, but it was worth it because I earned my wings and became a fighter pilot just as [things were] heating up.”

Tom’s training took place in Florida and lasted for two years. In that time, he and Shirley didn’t see each other much, but when Tom found out that he was going to have a day off from training, he called Shirley and asked her to go to Florida so they could get married.

Tom and Shirley were married on July 4, 1952, and three months later, the Air Force sent Tom to Okinawa. Shirley also graduated from Fresno State that same year with her degree in Kinesiology, also with an emphasis in Physical Education. Shirley taught school in Pasadena before joining Tom a year later.

Shirley said, “I think the experience over there was wonderful — we met such wonderful people, we made friends that we still correspond with. And it was a time that you really had to depend on each other because you were so far away from your own relatives. I think it was a growing experience for both of us, and we became very close.”

After a year in Okinawa, the couple moved to Texas for Tom’s next assignment. In 1955, after Tom received an honorable discharge from the Air Force, he and Shirley moved back to California.

“He enrolled at USC for his master’s degree and taught at Paramount High School, and I was teaching at San Marino High School. We were so busy going in different directions we decided to see if we could find a high school that would take both of us. In 1956 we both became teachers at Puente High School in San Gabriel Valley.”

In 1957 the Aneys bought a home in Hacienda Heights and had their first child, Tim. Then their school district split, putting Shirley in the Hacienda La Puente district and Tom in the Rowland district.

Tom coached football while working his way up to principal at Rowland High School, whose football stadium was named after him in 1985. Shirley worked in the Hacienda La Puente School District as a teacher, counselor and administrator over the course of 31 years. During this time, they had two more children, Matthew and Shelley.

Now retired, Tom and Shirley spend their days active in their church and their Nifty Fifties group, where they take day trips throughout Los Angeles.

“We also have our old school ties, it’s really fun to reminisce,” Tom said, “I was quarterback my senior year. It was fun. We didn’t have a real good team, but we enjoyed the comradery, it was a good group.”

“I was a song girl, like a cheerleader,” Shirley said, “I was in everything — Tokalon Orchesis, Delta Zeta, Pi Epsilon, I was secretary of the senior class. I loved everything about school, academics and all.”

“I think the most fun is when we reminisce and realize that we knew the same people in college, that really has made our marriage wonderful. We didn’t really see each other much for two years because of [Tom’s] Air Force training, but he came back in March of my senior year and asked if I would marry him. And when I got home from the day of [my] graduation, there was a ring in a box on [my] doorstep. That was a very happy moment when I got the ring on my graduation day. And it’s worked out for 64 years, and it all started at Fresno State in 1950.”

The Aneys with Dean Jody Hironaka-Juteau in 2015.


Meet 2016 Community Hero, Jan Duttarer: Passion for physical therapy extends beyond classroom

On November 2, the College of Health and Human Services will host the 2016 Community Heroes Awards to recognize the unsung heroes in our community whose actions, thoughts and words have had a transformative impact in our region. For the rest of the month, we will be highlighting our  nine honorees in our Community Heroes Series.


duttarerjan2Name: Jan Duttarer, Ph.D., P.T.

Occupation: Part-time faculty in the Department of Physical Therapy at Fresno State

Nominated by: The Department of Physical Therapy

Personal hero: “Helen Hislop, PT, Ph.D. – a visionary person who was always looking ahead 20 years to see where, as a profession, we should be and developing plans to get us there. I worked with her for 10 years and she really taught me how to be a great faculty member and teacher.”

For more than 50 years, Dr. Jan Duttarer has been a pivotal player in the physical therapy profession. Even after her many decades of service to the field, she has no plans of slowing down. Every Tuesday through Thursday she can be found at Fresno State’s Physical Therapy lab room, teaching aspiring young physical therapy students – each on their quest to obtaining a doctoral degree.

In 2004, Duttarer initially retired from teaching at Fresno State, after 20 years.  During the last 4 years of that tenure, she served as department chair. Just three years after retiring, Duttarer was back on campus with the intent of helping the new chair, Dr. Peggy Trueblood, acclimate to the changing Physical Therapy program, which was transitioning from a master’s to doctoral program.

The decision to come back was an easy one and she hasn’t looked back since.

That’s pretty much how Duttarer’s career has played out. Her passion for the profession simply keeps her going.

She received her bachelor’s degree in Physical Therapy from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1963 and went on to the complete the Physical Therapy Credential Program at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. During that time, she was exposed to research projects that investigated the effects of exercise for children with cystic fibrosis and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Having worked with kids with handicaps before, this was an area that greatly intrigued her.

“I like working with people and I don’t know what better service we can provide than to help them be more functional and continue to live the lifestyle they want,” Duttarer said.

After passing the state licensing exam, she began her practice career at Rancho Los Amigos, a nationally renowned rehabilitation center.  As a senior therapist on the spinal cord injury unit, she published one of the first guides for management of patients with spinal cord injuries. She also helped develop the first obstacle driving course for individuals who drove vehicles with hand controls. It was at that time she met her husband, Duane “Bud” Duttarer, who was the president of the optimist club overseeing the project.

Duttarer would later discover that clinical education was her calling.  At Rancho, she became the clinical instructor for graduate and undergraduate therapists from across the nation., Her passion for teaching took root, leading to her completing a master’s degree in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California. She became a clinical assistant professor at the University in 1971.

Even with a growing family and full-time career, Duttarer still had the desire to do more for her profession, which lead to her 20-year involvement with the American Physical Therapy Association. She became Secretary  and served on the Board of Directors of the newly created California Chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association in 1972 and over the next four years, would go on to serve in a variety of roles, including stints as President and Chief Delegate to the APTA House of Delegates.

During her time in APTA, she helped persuade the House of Delegates to adopt a master’s degree as the minimum entry-level degree for physical therapy education and to establish the Physical Therapy Foundation to fund and support the development of physical therapy research, among other notable achievements.

Due to her considerable involvement and dedication, Duttarer was awarded the Charles Magistro Award for Outstanding Service – one of the most distinguishing honors given by the California Chapter of the APTA.

She counts her involvement with APTA as one of her greatest memories in her 50-year physical therapy career.

Never one to pause for too long, Duttarer returned to her academic roots, completing Ph.D. in Physiology from the Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans in 1984. Soon after, she was recruited to Fresno State, to help then-chair, Darlene Stewart, build the Physical Therapy program to be one of the premier educational programs in the state.

In addition to teaching at Fresno State, Duttarer remains active with the Physical Therapy Alumni and Friend’s Chapter of the Fresno State Alumni Association, serving as president. She works diligently to build a thriving alumni connection and keep nearly 400 alumni in touch through the chapter’s social media.

Her commitment to the physical therapy profession, as well as Fresno State, can best be summed up through her work in the classroom.

“For me, teaching is similar to the concept expressed in the proverb ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,’” Duttarer said. “I could choose to treat patients, which I love, or I could teach others and positively affect the lives of so many more.”

The 2016 Community Heroes Awards, which celebrates heroes from each of the seven departments, as well as centers and institutes within our college, will be held on November 2, 2016 at Fresno State. For more information on the event, contact Sandra Daily at 559.278.3603 or or click here.

2016 Top Dog, Debbie Poochigian: A lifetime of service

Fresno County Supervisor, Debbie Poochigian

Debbie Poochigian has spent a majority of her career and lifetime giving back to others. Whether it’s serving her constituents in the Valley as a supervisor on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, coaching Little League teams, or teaching in the athletic setting – one thing is clear: Poochigian enjoys being of service to others.

After all, servant leadership runs in her family. Her father, Deran Koligian, also served on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors in 1982 and had the distinction of becoming the first Armenian-American to be elected to public office in the U.S. Now 34 years later, Poochigian is completing her second, and final term, as supervisor.

Tomorrow night, Poochigian will step on stage at the Save Mart Center and receive the 2016 Outstanding Alumna Award for the College of Health and Human Services at the Fresno State Alumni Association’s Top Dog Alumni Awards Gala. This prestigious honor is given to Fresno State alumni for their accomplishments in their fields and commitment to service in the community

Poochigian, a lifelong resident of Fresno County, is proud to be a bulldog. Fresno State is where she got her start in teaching and athletics. It’s where she found her love of volunteerism. And it’s where she met her husband, Chuck Poochigian, who is a former Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal and a former California State Senator.

In 1974, Poochigian earned her bachelor’s degree in Physical Education (now known as the Department of Kinesiology) from Fresno State, including two teaching credentials. For three years, she was a student-athlete, where she played for the University’s tennis team. After graduating, she taught physical education and coached middle school students before focusing on raising her growing family.

Supervisor Debbie Poochigian is among 15 Top Dogs to be recognized by the Fresno State Alumni Association.

During that time, Poochigian became deeply involved as a volunteer  with various organizations in the Valley. She got her start in politics in 1978, having organized and chaired numerous events on behalf of political and government officials. She has also served as a delegate to two national political conventions.

In her role on the Board of Supervisors, Poochigian represents her constituents from the eastern portion of Fresno County. She was elected just after the devastating economic downturn had severely impacted federal, state and local governments.

Poochigian has spent her career working to restore economic stability, strengthen public safety and protect property rights of individuals and families right here at home. And she managed to do all this while still remaining active in the community, serving on many boards and even coached Little League and taught Sunday school for over 40 years.

L to R: Chuck Poochigian, Debbie Poochigian and First Lady, Mary Castro.

At Fresno State, Poochigian has been active with the Henry Madden Library Leadership Board, Ag One Foundation, Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and the Fresno State Alumni Association.

Poochigian and her husband, Chuck, have three children, two daughters-in-law and three grandchildren, many of whom will be cheering her on as she accepts the 2016 Top Dog Award for the College of Health and Human Services.


To learn more about the Top Dog Gala, please visit their website.

Our College empowers students to take a whole body approach to improving the quality of life. Our faculty and students are dedicated to helping Central California live well. Click through the slideshow to the right to learn about each of our seven departments within our college: Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies, Kinesiology, Physical Therapy, Public Health, Recreation Administration, School of Nursing and Social Work Education and Gerontology.