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Fresno State 2023 Undergraduate Deans’ Medalists Includes First-Ever Double Medalist



Top row from left, Natalie Allison, Kiet Duong, Emma Escandon, and Cherika Gamble. Bottom row from left, Joshua Hempel, Lucca Lorenzi, Sylas Ramos, and Daisy Soto-Hermandez. (Fresno State)
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Fresno State News

The eight schools and colleges at Fresno State, along with the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, each selected an outstanding student to honor as part of the class of 2023 Undergraduate Deans’ Medalists.

Especially noteworthy were the accomplishments of Cherika Gamble, who became the first Fresno State student ever to be named a deans’ medalist for two colleges (College of Health and Human Services and College of Social Sciences).

The deans selected an undergraduate and graduate medalist based on academic excellence, community involvement, and other achievements. Fresno State’s Graduate Deans’ Medalists will be announced later this week.

In mid-May, one medalist from the group below will be announced as the President’s Undergraduate Medalist, the University’s top academic honor for an undergraduate student.

This year’s undergraduate deans’ medalists are:

Natalie Allison, Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management: Allison, of Kingsburg, earned her B.A. in communicative disorders with a 4.0 GPA. She knew in high school she wanted a career in health care after seeing the compassion that a speech-language pathologist showed to her mother as she recovered from an emergency tracheostomy. Allison served in the United States Navy where she trained to be a hospital corpsman, surgical technologist, and field service technician. She earned her associate’s degree at Campbell University and worked in oral and maxillofacial surgery at the Naval Medical Center at Camp Lejeune. She received an honorable discharge in 2020 and decided to study speech-language pathology at Fresno State. Allison got involved with the veteran community on campus, volunteered on the Mobile Health Unit, and was in the College of Health and Human Services’ honors program. She participated in the National Student Speech Hearing Language Association and received the Member of the Semester Award in spring 2020. Allison hopes to serve the Central Valley veteran community at the Fresno VA Medical Center and to further her studies on traumatic brain injuries and their impact on language and cognition.

Kiet Duong, Lyles College of Engineering: Duong, of Fresno, earned his B.S. in construction management with a 3.9 GPA. Born in Vietnam, Duong and his family immigrated to the United States for a better future. He started high school at age 15 and attended Clovis Community College before transferring to Fresno State. Duong excelled in his classes, working hard to achieve A’s while also committing many hours to professional development opportunities outside of the classroom. He joined the Bluebeam User Group at Fresno State to learn about the software and its integration into the construction curriculum. He served as vice president of the International Construction Honor Society, Sigma Lambda Chi, and was a member of the 2023 Commercial Associated School of Construction Competition and the Associated Builders and Contractor Construction Management Competition. Duong was also an instructional student assistant in construction management courses, helping other students. He received the Pickett Family Scholarship, BMY Group Scholarship, Dean R. Shore Memorial Scholarship, and the Fresno State Alumni Association Harris Construction, Inc. Scholarship. Duong has accepted a project engineer position with Bluebeam User Group and Commercial Building Team partners, Quiring General.

Emma Escandon, College of Science and Mathematics: Escandon, of Fresno, earned her B.S. in computer science with a 4.0 GPA. Escandon began her college education at Fresno City College and Clovis Community College before transferring to Fresno State. She is the first in her family to pursue a degree and career in computer science. At Fresno State, Escandon said she was one of few women and usually the only Latina in her classes, but that didn’t deter her. She pushed on using the Cesar Chavez statue in the Peace Garden as motivation and a reminder of what her family sacrificed so she could attend college. Her grandparents picked produce in the Valley. Escandon was one of 18 students to participate in Fresno State’s Computer Science Google Camp to learn from Google employees and work on research. She worked on Kids Code, a program through the Kremen School of Education and Human Development, teaching in Fresno Unified after-school programs. Escandon was a computer science tutor at the Learning Center and is interning with the Hub of Digital Transformation and Innovation to create software solutions for campus and community partners. She will be attending Stanford University in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in computer science.

Cherika Gamble, College of Health and Human Services and College of Social Sciences: Gamble, of Fresno, is the first student ever to be named a deans’ medalist for two colleges. She is a double major earning a B.S. in community health and a B.A. in women, gender and sexuality studies with a 3.6 GPA. Gamble lost her mother during the COVID-19 pandemic, plunging her into housing insecurity and financial debt. She held three jobs, which made it difficult for her to qualify for a Housing Choice Voucher or food stamps, but she didn’t make enough for a one-bedroom apartment. She washed up in campus buildings at night and slept in parking lots. Her health suffered and she was hospitalized. With the help of professors, mentors, and campus resources, she found a way to keep going. She was a health advocate for the Central Valley Black Nurses Association Incorporated and with Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. Gamble is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar, scholarship chair for the Fresno State NAACP, and worked with mentor Dr. Katherine Fobear on LGBTQ+ advocacy and housing reports. She was accepted for the fall into the interdisciplinary humanities doctorate program at the University of California, Merced, where she will study critical race theory and ethnic studies.

Joshua Heupel, Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology: Heupel, of Le Grand, earned a B.S. in agricultural business and political science with a 3.98 GPA. A Smittcamp Family Honors College Scholar, Heupel double-majored in agricultural business and political science. His honors thesis for the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology was titled “California’s Pesticide Regulation Policy Future: A Case Study on 1,3-Dichloropropene in Strawberry Production.” His research allowed him to work with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. His political science project titled “California’s Water Rights: A Challenge to the State’s Mitigation of Water Needs” was on water rights, the drought, and underserved communities. Heupel was a congressional intern for congressmen David Valadao and Jimmy Panetta. He participated in the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute at Carnegie Mellon University this past summer. Heupel was a supplemental instructor in the Learning Center, helping other students with agricultural business quantitative methods. He served on the Camp Kesem coordinator board, volunteered during the Fresno State FFA Field Day, and was a finalist for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Heupel will attend Princeton University to pursue a master’s of public affairs and hopes to get a doctorate in the future.

Lucca Lorenzi, College of Arts and Humanities: Lorenzi, of Merced, earned his B.A. in media, communications, and journalism (public relations option) with a 4.0 GPA. In high school, Lorenzi underwent successful surgery to remove a tumor that grew into his left nostril, eye, sinuses, and throat. To show his thanks to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, Lorenzi started Pack it Up for Packard, a collection drive for the hospital’s therapy program and library, which donated over 3,000 art supplies, 300 books, and $6,000. He was invited to shadow the hospital’s foundation team when he discovered he could combine his passion for art, writing, and public speaking into a career in public relations. Lorenzi is a Smittcamp Family Honors College Scholar, worked as a multimedia student assistant for the Fresno State Transportation Institute, and was a writer for the Fresno County Historical Museum’s Italian Heritage Exhibit. During the pandemic, Lorenzi created thank-you videos for Lucile Packard donors and art videos for patients. He helped with fundraising for the hospital’s virtual toy drive and served as a patient ambassador for Stanford’s 2021 Virtual Dance Marathon. He was a Washington, D.C. intern in Congressman Jim Costa’s office and was one of Valley Children’s Hospital’s inaugural marketing interns.

Sylas Ramos, Craig School of Business: Ramos, of Fresno, earned his B.S. in business administration (management option) with a 3.9 GPA. After a childhood of abuse, bullying, and instability, he chose to break the negative cycle and pursue a life of positivity and good. Raised by his maternal grandparents, Ramos graduated valedictorian from Edison High School and enlisted in the U.S. Army where he served as a vehicle mechanic. He started his college career at Fresno City College, then transferred to Fresno State where he continued to serve in the Army Reserves while in school. He was also a member of the Fresno State ROTC Bulldog Battalion serving as squad leader, platoon sergeant, supply, and safety officer. Ramos mentors troubled youth and shares his stories with others. He raised $3,000 for the Central California SPCA and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Fresno. Ramos was a member of the Fresno State Educational Opportunity Program, TRiO Student Support Services Veteran, and was recently accepted into the Phi Kappa Phi and Beta Gamma Sigma honors societies. His goal is to find a job as a product manager or benefits manager.

Daisy Soto-Hernandez, Kremen School of Education and Human Development: Soto-Hernandez, of Visalia, earned her B.A. in liberal studies and teaching credential in only four years with a 3.9 GPA. She considered dropping out of school after losing her grandfather, her biggest supporter, to COVID-19, but was inspired to finish to make him proud. Soto-Hernandez is a Smittcamp Family Honors College Scholar and a bilingual authorization candidate in the Fresno Teacher Residency Program. She worked as a student assistant in the Center For Advising and Student Services, which influenced her decision to continue her studies beyond a bachelor’s degree. She presented her research on emerging bilinguals at the “Make a Difference: Teach” conference in the South Valley, the largest single event for teacher recruitment where she encouraged future teachers to use asset-based language in their classrooms. Soto-Hernandez and a classmate worked on a children’s book called “Con Mis Ojos: Privileging Emerging Bilinguals” to elevate the voices and views of girls who feel marginalized. The book will soon be published. Soto-Hernandez will begin her first year of teaching for the Fresno Unified School District in the fall. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, then a doctoral degree so she can make a difference as an education administrator.