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Alumni News

Featured supporters – Dennis and Cheryl Woods

Our College transforms the lives of our students and raises the quality of life in our Valley thanks to the support of people who believe in our mission. Gifts to the College allow us to provide scholarship support to students, enrich the development of our faculty, and build our resources and facilities.

131118topdog152-copyTo that end, Dennis and Cheryl Woods have made immeasurable contributions, as alumni, volunteers, and donors.

Dennis Woods, a native of Fresno,  received his bachelor’s degree in English from Fresno State in 1969. He met his wife, Cheryl, while attending Roosevelt High School. Dennis and Cheryl have two children and five grandchildren.

During his years as a student at Fresno State, Dennis, who was married and worked several jobs, felt he missed out of a big part of “the college experience.” He’s been making up for lost time ever since then, with his involvement as an active member in the Alumni Association.

“Once I graduated, I became a lifetime member of the Alumni Association and tried to find ways to make a connection with the College,” Dennis said.

Dennis planned to teach English after college, but a unique business opportunity presented itself – he and a childhood friend became co-owners of Hestbeck’s Supermarket, with Dennis at the helm, for 23 years. Then in December 1987, Dennis became a founder of United Security Bank. As a successful businessman and banker, Dennis attributes a large part of his success to the lessons he learned as an English major –good communication skills, the ability to read and interpret the world, and analytic skills.

Dennis and Cheryl are deeply committed to the San Joaquin Valley, Fresno State and the College of Arts and Humanities. He has been active in the Bulldog Foundation, was inducted into the Pinnacle Society, has been named Mr. Bulldog 22 years in a row and received the Lifetime National Fundraising Award. He also spearheaded the construction and financing of the bronze bulldog at the Save Mart Center.

In 2006, Dennis was asked to help find donors for the Arena Theatre upgrade project.

“I was asked by one of the development people, Katie Zenovich, if I could find someone who would give a gift of $250,000 to renovate the Arena Theatre with the opportunity for a $250,000 matching grant,” Dennis remembers. “I went home and talked with my wife, Cheryl, and because our son had been a music student at Fresno State and then moved on to Juilliard for a career in opera, she agreed that we should just make the gift ourselves.”

The Woods made the gift of $250,000, which triggered a matching gift from the Harry C. Mitchell Trust. The trust was established to “forward the cultural advancement of the citizens of Fresno.”

In honor of the Woods’ contribution, the Dennis and Cheryl Woods Theatre was dedicated with its new name, in honor of the Woods’ contribution, in October 2007. The 190-seat theatre, formerly named the Arena Theatre, has used the donated funds to undergo improvements, including new lighting, sound and stage equipment. The green room was also remodeled. Other improvements, using what is left of the donation, are still in the works.

“The Woods have been great friends of the Theatre Department,” said J. Daniel Herring, chair of the Theatre Arts Department. “We appreciate their support and value their generosity wholeheartedly. The great thing about it is it came at a time when things were moving toward more computerized lighting, and we’ve been able to upgrade the sound. We can do better and more artistically satisfying productions in the theatre now.”

The advancements in lighting and sound incorporated into the theatre with the renovations raise the production value significantly over what the department could do previously. This doesn’t just raise the bar for students in the Theatre Arts Department, but it also improves the theatre-going experience for every member of the community who comes to see plays and performances here.

Other renovations included flooring that was replaced and seats that were re-upholstered. All of these improvements add up to a better experience for theatre patrons. They also give students in the program the opportunity to work in a state-of-the-art environment like they might encounter when they go into a professional setting.

One element of the renovations directly benefits the students. The green room, outside of the theatre provides a space for students to gather, not only before and during shows but at other times during the semester.

“We are the envy of many departments and students on campus when they find out that we have that communal place for our students to gather both for social time but also for academic time to do study groups together or projects together,” Herring said. “The importance of that green room has elevated our students both personally and professionally. They really do have the opportunity for it to be sometimes just a social atmosphere, but other times for it to really be a space where they can study and engage with one another around academic projects.”

In 2013, Dennis Woods and Omel Nieves were co-recipients of the Arthur Safstrom Service Award at the Top Dog awards banquet for their role as co-chairs of the Campaign for Fresno State, which raised more than $214 million in support of scholarships, faculty, programs and facilities.

“I have learned that there is a large group of people willing to support our University, and a great deal of them never attended our school,” Dennis said. “One of the main successes we had in our capital campaign was engaging the deans in fundraising. They had never had that as part of their job descriptions. When we explained that they are providing the workforce to all of the businesses in the region and if they asked industry to become their financial partners, it would be a win win for everyone. It was the single thing that pushed the campaign over the ($200 million) goal. and it was thrilling to watch the deans seize the momentum to exceed our goal by $15 million.”

Anyone can give back. Gifts small and large add up and they all make a difference for our students and for our broader community.

“The final thought from me is about getting comfortable with philanthropy,” Dennis said. “Whether you volunteer your time on a committee, mentor a student, or write a check, as I was taught by Bud Richter, ‘those of us who have a little extra should give a little extra.’”

Theatre Arts alum wins ‘Chopped’ cooking competition

Nov. 15, 2016

Last night Fresno State alum Alex Lawrence (Theatre Arts, Class of 2005) won “The Turkey Day Heroes” episode  of the Food Network program “Chopped,” competing against three other soup kitchen representatives.

“The entire experience of being on Chopped was so exciting,” said Lawrence, who has been an administrator for Trinity’s Services and Food for the Homeless in the East Village for several years. “As far as the competition part of the show goes, it is as real as it looks. They truly don’t tell you what is in the baskets, and the clock is really running down. There is no cheating, and no messing around.”

Alex & Cody.jpg
From left, Alex Lawrence and Cody Andrus.

Lawrence met his husband, Cody Andrus, while they both attended Fresno State. Andrus was also a Theatre Arts graduate (Class of 2006).

They moved to New York together after they both finished college. In addition to acting, Lawrence took a job as a choir director at a church, which ultimately led to a role as administrative director for the emergency feeding program the church runs – Trinity’s Services and Food for the Homeless.  Andrus is the associate marketing director at Lincoln Center Theatre.

When “Chopped” reached out to soup kitchens in New York City, Lawrence jumped at the chance to participate.

“I loved being able to flex my creative muscle and come up with something out of nothing,” he said. “As an artist, that’s what you’re doing all the time. And food is a really cool in that the creativity part just happens to be a really awesome art that you can literally consume!”

Lawrence and Andrus stay connected with other fellow Fresno State graduates, even across the country.

“Some Fresno State alum will be coming to my apartment in Harlem for ‘friendsgiving.’” Lawrence said. “I really found supportive faculty and an even more amazing group of students at Fresno State.”

Upcoming airings of the “Turkey Day Heroes” episode of “Chopped” can be found here.

Community film premiere celebrates poet alumnus Larry Levis

~ By Jefferson Beavers, reprinted from

Nov. 10, 2016

The Fresno State Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing will host the Central California premiere of a new documentary film about the late author Larry Levis, a nationally honored poet and Fresno State alumnus who grew up in Selma.
The film premiere will be at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18, at The Tower Theatre (815 E. Olive Ave.). Tickets cost $10 for general admission. Proceeds from the event will go toward the creation of a new Larry Levis creative writing scholarship.

The screening of “A Late Style of Fire: Larry Levis, American Poet” will include a discussion afterward with the filmmakers, director Michele Poulos and producer Gregory Donovan, as well as Fresno State alumnus and poet David St. John, who edited the posthumously released January 2016 collection of Levis’ poetry, “The Darkening Trapeze,” for Graywolf Press.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in English from Fresno State in 1968, Levis earned a master’s from Syracuse University and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. His writing awards included three fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Fulbright Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Levis taught at the University of Missouri, the University of Utah and at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he was a professor when he died in 1996 at age 49.

In 1995, Levis was awarded the University’s Top Dog Outstanding Alumnus Award from the Fresno State Alumni Association, on behalf of the College of Arts and Humanities. Dr. Lisa Weston, chair of the Department of English, said Levis’ creative writing work as a student and longtime friend of the late U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine is but one example that “Fresno is a place of poetry.” Levine served as U.S. poet laureate from 2011-12, and another Central Valley writer, Juan Felipe Herrera, currently holds the position.

“Showcasing alumni like Larry Levis is a way of showing how much a part of the Valley’s culture we are,” Weston said of the Creative Writing Program. “It tells students here who might be interested in a writing life that we can help them grow, and they can contribute their writing to engaging back with the community as our writers have been doing for so many years.”

Since 1997, the Creative Writing Program has co-sponsored with the Academy of American Poets an annual writing award, the Larry Levis Memorial Prize. “When an undergraduate student receives this prize, that student will be entering into a tradition and a legacy of Levis’ poetry,” Weston said. She said the creation of a new Levis scholarship will be another way to honor Levis’ writing and support up-and-coming writers.

The film is sponsored by the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing, with support from the College of Arts and Humanities, the Fresno Poets’ Association Reading Series and the Fresno State Alumni Association Creative Writing Chapter. Community sponsors include the Fresno City College Friends of the Arts, The Tower Theatre and Professor Emerita Linnea Alexander.


Maughelli exhibition opens Nov. 4 at Madden Library

Oct. 20, 2016

An exhibition titled “Mary Maughelli: Abstract Expressionism and Feminist Artwork” opens Nov. 4 in the Leon S. Peters Ellipse Gallery in the Henry Madden Library at Fresno State with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Maughelli, a professor emerita, taught at Fresno State from 1962 to 1998. She died in October 2015. She was a prominent feminist artist, a contemporary of Judy Chicago and a founding member of Gallery 25.

This exhibition, presented by the Department of Art and Design in partnership with the Madden Library, examines Maughelli’s early work. Maughelli was a student of the first California art movement, abstract expressionism, at the University of California, Berkeley under the tutelage of historically relevant artists. After graduating, she spent two years in Europe completing back-to-back Fulbright scholarships, competitive, merit-based grants for international educational exchange students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists and artists.

Upon her return, she began her 36-year teaching career at Fresno State. During that time, Maughelli and other helped set the foundation for the arrival of Judy Chicago, who formed the first feminist art program in the United States.

This exhibition is aimed at educating millennials about abstract expressionism and the feminist art movement in the context of the cultural and political environments of those times. In addition to traditional elements, the exhibition will incorporate elements of augmented reality, allowing viewers to interact with content in a deeper, more meaningful way.

By using smartphone app Aurasma and scanning certain trigger images throughout the exhibition, viewers can access additional content to enhance their experience. Viewers should download the app and create a free account before arriving. Other multimedia components — the film “Womanhouse,” which covers artwork by several of the first feminist program students in Los Angeles; the Hans Hoffman film “Artist Teacher, Teacher Artist,” which is both an explanation of modert art and the story of an artist and teacher of thousands; and several interviews with Maughelli — will be available for viewing on three monitors in the gallery.

“Mary Maughelli is a trailblazer, and we are all indebted to her artistic vision,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “She transcended her own historical space and forged a new meaning for the female body, one that challenged the typical binary model that made use of an essentialist nature in order to limit the creative process and value of womanhood.  She created a legacy that epitomizes the generosity inherent in art — the creative process envisions a new perspective of a better world.”

This free, public exhibition, curated by Nanete Maki-Dearsan and Robert Ogata, will continue through Dec. 16 during normal Library hours. RSVP by Oct. 27 for the reception (enter code LIBMAUGHELLI).

For more information, call 559.278.5792 or email

Two MCJ Alums will speak at Pay It Forward Luncheon Series on ‘How to Land Your Dream Job’

~ by Erica Bermucez, reprinted from

pay-it-forwardCassidy Smith, Andrew Hoover and Kelley Lowe will come to Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union on Thursday, Oct. 13, as part of the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Pay it Forward Luncheon Series. The three will share insights on how they landed their post-graduate positions with, Google, and McCormick Barstow LLP, and lessons they learned along the way.

Smith and Hoover are Fresno State alumni from the class of 2011. Both studied Media, Communications and Journalism (MCJ) during their time at Fresno State. Smith was a Smittcamp Family Honors College alumna and graduated as the Dean’s Medalist of the College of Arts and Humanities. She continued her education by earning a master’s degree at Georgetown University and now works on the public relations team at, managing the company’s CheapTickets brand.

Hoover began his time at Fresno State by studying music before transitioning to MCJ. He currently works as a program and product manager at Google in the San Francisco Bay area. Hoover originally worked with Google X and helped with the release of Google Glass in the US and Europe. He is now focused on how Glass can help large businesses improve the performance and experience for their workers and customers.

Lowe is a Central Valley native, born and raised in Fresno. After graduating from Edison High School in 2007, she moved to Los Angeles, where she attended USC to pursue a dual degree in history and political science. Lowe continued her education at USC Gould School of Law before returning to the Valley, and now works at McCormick Barstow LLP as an associate attorney.

The trio will share tips with students and community members on important business and life lessons learned during the early years of their professional journeys, as well as share the paths they took to obtain their current positions, the challenges they have faced in the professional world thus far, and their future growth potential in their chosen fields.

“The group of young professionals that make up this month’s speaker panel bring a unique perspective that provides real-life experience about the transition from student to full-time employee,” said Mendy Laval, intrapreneur-in-residence of the Lyles Center and moderator of the Series. “These three are a great example of how determination, passion and a great attitude build a strong foundation for post-graduate success.”

“We are very excited to hear from these three successful individuals at the upcoming Pay it Forward Luncheon,” said Dr. Scott Moore, interim executive director of the Lyles Center. “The advice they are going to share will be invaluable, and we can’t wait for students to learn from their journeys.”

Attendees are also encouraged to bring gently worn business attire to the Pay It Forward event to donate to the Fresno State Clothing Closet. This project provides students with professional clothing for interviews, career fairs, and first jobs.

To register for the free Pay it Forward Luncheon, visit

For more information, contact Erica Bermudez at or 559.278.3726.

Second volume of ‘My Name is Armen’ to publish in November

armen_full_newcoverOct. 4, 2016

The book “My Name is Armen – Outside the Lines (Volume II),” by Fresno State alumna Armen Bacon of Fresno, will be published in November by The Press at California State University, Fresno.

The President’s Office at Fresno State and the College of Arts and Humanities will celebrate the book launch with a public reception and signing on Nov. 9 in the Table Mountain Rancheria Reading Room in the Henry Madden Library.

Bacon made her authorial debut co-writing the memoir “Griefland – An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship” (Globe Pequot Press, 2012), a story of two women whose words and astonishing friendship helped them survive the ultimate loss.

Her second book, “My Name is Armen – A Life in Column Inches” (2014, The Press at California State University, Fresno), contained a decade’s worth of the essays on family, friends, love and loss published in The Fresno Bee.

The author says Volume II takes readers outside the margins of everyday life – always circling back, returning home – celebrating the resilience of the human spirit.

Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro and his wife, Mary, said in their foreword for Bacon’s newest book:

“This book provides readers with an authentic voice about life in the Central Valley. Armen cherishes the tales you entrust to her because she believes them to be fragile, powerful and enlightening. They are all as valuable to her as they are to us. She keeps them close to the heart until the moment they are ready to be shared with her audience. Armen touches the core of our humanity by showing us how we are connected across many lines and barriers.”

Bacon was honored as the 2015 Top Dog Distinguished Alumna of Fresno State – the highest honor awarded by the Fresno State Alumni Association. For two decades, she served as administrator of communications and public relations for the Fresno County Office of Education.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and she spent four years honing her writing craft in the acclaimed CSU Summer Arts Program, where she studied memoir, poetic prose, narrative nonfiction and flash fiction. Summer Arts will return to Fresno State for five years beginning in June 2017.

“My Name is Armen – Outside the Lines (Volume II)” will be available through The Press website after Nov. 1. The cost is $20 for paperback.

The mission of The Press is to publish great literature by both emerging and established voices, scholarly books that expand the horizons of human knowledge and other works that promote the rich cultural heritage of California’s Central Valley.

~ By Lisa Maria Boyles, reprinted from

Related Links:

2016 TOP DOG, College of Arts and Humanities: Dr. Janice M. Emerzian

janice-emerzian-head-shot-croppedSept. 26, 2016

Each year, one alumnus from each of the University’s eight academic schools and colleges, as well as the Department of Athletics, the Henry Madden Library, the Division of Student Affairs and the Division of Graduate Studies are chosen to be honored with the Outstanding Alumni Award.

Dr. Janice M. Emerzian B.A. 1969, ’73 (a lifetime member of the Alumni Association) is the 2016 Outstanding Alumna for the College of Arts and Humanities.

~ From the Alumni Association

Following the tragic loss of her younger brother as a result of his disability, Dr. Janice Emerzian, a first-generation college student who grew up speaking only Armenian, was inspired to dedicate her career to educating and advocating for people with disabilities.

She currently serves as the State Center Community College District director for Disabled Students Programs and Services, a resource she has grown from serving 300 to more than 5,000 students. Her career also includes positions as administrator of educational services and planning for State Center Community College District and director of Fresno’s Welfare-to-Work Neighborhood Centers.

She travels the nation speaking, teaching and advocating for people with disabilities. Dr. Emerzian has taught at Fresno State, Fresno Pacific University and UCLA, received numerous distinctions in her field, consulted various educational groups and served on multiple boards including the National Council on Vocational Education, California School of Professional Psychology, Council on Exceptional Children, Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors, the Fresno Housing Authority, the Central California Cancer Board and Leadership Fresno.

Dr. Emerzian received her bachelor’s in English and Biology, as well as her master’s in Special Education and Vocational Education from Fresno State. While a student she was named National Raisin Queen and runner up for Ms. Tulare County.

She earned a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of La Verne.

She had held leadership positions with the Governor’s Committee on Employment of Persons with Disabilities, Lt. Governor’s One California Commission, Governor’s School-to-Career Commission, Governor’s Commission for Employment, the California Advisory Commission on Special Education, Presidents Committee on Disability, and the California Commission on Athletics Appeals. Dr. Emerzian founded the California Governor’s Youth Leadership Forum, the Guild for Handicapped Citizens and The Forum, a women’s leadership organization.

Her involvement with Fresno State includes work with the Bulldog Foundation and supporting the construction of both Bulldog Stadium and the Save Mart Center.

Dr. Emerzian has been married to farmer and retired school administrator Les Emerzian for 47 years. The couple met on the Fresno State campus and their sons David and Aaron Emerzian are both Fresno State alumni. In her free time, Dr. Emerzian enjoys playing a baby grand piano.

Top Dog Details

Every year, Fresno State awards more than $4.1 million in student scholarships. At the Top Dog Alumni Awards Gala the Fresno State Alumni Association will recognize 100 of these scholarship recipients.

Tickets for the Top Dog event are $135 per person and available by calling 559.278.ALUM or online at For event information, contact Katie Adamo at or at 559.278.5723.

Sponsorship opportunities are available. Contact Javier Morales at or 559.278.8520.

Bulldog named to lead Marjaree Mason Center

linder-nicole-533x800Sept. 14, 2016

Nicole DiBuduo Linder, class of 1998, was recently named the new executive director for the Marjaree Mason Center, a shelter for victims of domestic violence in the Fresno area.

While she was a student at Fresno State, Linder studied public relations in the Mass Communications and Journalism Department and was a member of the Barking Bulldogs team.

“Nicole was an outstanding member of the Barking Bulldogs team, specializing in oral interpretation and winning awards at tournaments throughout our region,” said Douglas Fraleigh, chair of the Communication Department and coach of the Barking Bulldogs during Nicole’s time here. “She represented Fresno State at Nationals in 1995.  Her strong public speaking and interpersonal communication skills are a great fit for her new position.”

We asked Linder a few questions about her new position and her time as a Bulldog.

Question: What are your goals as you embark on this new role?

Answer: Since the Marjaree Mason Center supports those affected by domestic violence, my goal (and likely that of my predecessors) would be to be out of a job. However, unfortunately, in Fresno County, domestic violence is rampant. In addition to providing support for victims, my hope is to break unhealthy cycles and educate our youth on how to have healthy domestic relationships.

Q: What did you gain from your experience with the Barking Bulldogs?

A: I recall most of my work being on the forensics team.  After four years of being involved in forensics at Clovis West High School, it was natural to continue on at Fresno State.

During my time at Fresno State, I became much more confident in my extemporaneous speaking. What started as a hobby and activity probably gave me some of my best utilized professional skills: the ability to confidently speak to others either individually or in a crowd.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our Fresno State community?

A: I am proud to be a Fresno State alum (along with my husband Colby Linder, BS-1999, and most of my immediate and extended family.) Having wanted to originally go out of town for school, I can see Fresno State was the perfect university for me.

In addition to a fantastic education that prepared me for a future career, I had the ability to get involved through campus activities such as the Barking Bulldogs and Vintage Days, the Greek system Kappa Alpha Theta and even Study Abroad.

College is what you make and Fresno State provides an abundance of opportunities!

MCJ Grad Covered Olympic Women’s Basketball Exhibition Game

xfxApxNhAug. 9, 2016

Jillian Bertolucci, a 2015 Fresno State MCJ graduate, covered an exhibition game that the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team held at University of Southern California late last month, just ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio.
Bertolucci earned her degree in in Broadcast Journalism and Public Relations and was the Dean’s Medalist candidate for Mass Communications in Journalism in 2015. She is entering her second year of the Strategic Public Relations Masters program at the University of Southern California, where she is a Dean’s Scholar.
While at Fresno State, Bertolucci was a communications assistant in the athletic department, where she worked as the sports information director of the Bulldog Equestrian team for two years.

“In our MCJ classes at Fresno State, our professors always encouraged us to keep an online portfolio,” Bertolucci said. “The managing editor of Swish Appeal (SB Nation’s Women’s Basketball Online Platform) reached out to me after coming across my portfolio and asked me to join his team. I am now the beat reporter for the Los Angeles Sparks WNBA team.” The U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball team held an exhibition game at USC to prepare for Rio, and I covered it for Swish Appeal!”

Bertolucci was also a Smittcamp Family Honors College student during her time at Fresno State. Here’s a little bit more about Bertolucci’s work with Swish Appeal.

Rachel Starnes on ‘The War at Home’

12489248_438562313005497_2942834897659990885_oJuly 19, 2016

MFA Creative Nonfiction graduate Rachel Starnes was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air by Terri Gross for her recently released memoir, “The War at Home: A Wife’s Search For Peace And Other Missions Impossible.” Her book grew out of Rachel’s MFA thesis.

Here is the Fresh Air intro to the interview: As the wife of a Navy fighter pilot, memoirist Rachel Starnes has had much of her life — including where she lives and how often she gets to live with her husband — determined by his career.

I’m coming to the decision that – you know, or the impression that maybe that’s not the way to look at it. Maybe I need to just really concentrate our time together when we do get it and not have that sense of, well, I’m waiting for when you’re going to be around more, and, you know, that’s when we’ll – that’s when our lives will start.

You can listen to or read the transcript of the interview here:

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