The College of Health and Human Services and West Fresno Family Resource Center recently teamed up to get youth excited for college. On April 30th, they hosted the first “iFuture: You Belong at Fresno State” event at the organization, located in West Fresno.

Sounds of laughter and sneakers running across the gym floor could be heard as young kids, ranging from preschool to middle school, played an interactive game of tic-tac-toe as kinesiology students looked on.

52That was just one activity designed to show young children the various career and degree options available at Fresno State.

The event, hosted in collaboration with the colleges’ Advising and Career Development Center and the Department of Criminology in the College of Social Sciences, was aimed at fifth and sixth graders from five elementary schools in Fresno Unified School District, including Colombia, King, Kirk, Lincoln and Sunset.

The goal was to provide early outreach to young students of color, particularly African American and Southeast Asian, and their families to improve access to higher education and support academic success. Students were exposed to information about career options in the health and human services field, as well as criminology.

“We want to let young people and their families, as well as the community, know that they belong at Fresno State,” said Dr. Jane Middleton, professor emeritus in the Department of Social Work Education. “To that end, our focus has been on attracting young people of color whose group retention rates are significantly low. Creating opportunities for them to explore their interests and building bridges of hope may result in young people thinking more broadly about their choices.”

Public Health senior, Justin Tonooka, shows Charles Butler how to stay on top of his health.

Senior Public Health major, Justin Tonooka, led an interactive station that demonstrated proper hand washing techniques and also gave information on caloric intake of certain foods. He said the feeling of excitement from the young students was mutual.

“I feel like every day that I do something like this, no matter how big or small, I’m making a difference,” Tonooka said. “If I  can pass on one little piece of knowledge that may help them down the line, that will go a long way in helping them with their overall health.”
Ten-year-old Charles Butler had a great time at the event, saying that it was “fun, educational and interesting” and that his favorite part was learning about all the different majors available to him when he enters college in the future.
Counseling Intern, Christina Esquivel, engages youth in a fun activity.

The career counselors on hand, including the college’s Advising and Career Development Center and the university’s Career Development Center, provided parents with strategies to navigate steps toward higher education for their child.

“Some students don’t realize that college is obtainable,” said Academic Counselor, Grace Castaneda. “They don’t see people around them that are going to college or don’t realize that Fresno State is accessible. Our hope is to show them Fresno State students that they can relate to, who grew up in the same area, and show them careers that they may not realize they can go into.”

The pilot event was the result of the College of Health and Human Services’ Retention Advisory Committee, which began last year through a University initiative to engage students in dialogue about belonging and academic success. The event was inspired by research indicating that early outreach activities designed to increase college awareness in students at the elementary level help improve educational attainment.

Albert Hart (R) has told his kids that college comes first.

Longtime West Fresno resident, Albert Hart and his wife, brought out their five young kids to the event, after hearing about it from a friend who said the event would be perfect for them.

“It’s a wonderful thing for them to be able to come out and learn, because they are really at the stage right now where they like learning about being healthy and eating right,” Hart said. “It was a good thing to bring them out and let them see this, especially the police because they like that and they want to learn all about that.”

When asked what they wanted to be when they got older, his two eldest sons, Jeremiah (6) and Isaiah (5), beamed with pride as they said, “police officers”.

For Criminology senior, Jessica Munoz,  that is exactly why she participated in this event.

“Educating youth is so important especially in areas like West Fresno,” said Munoz. “Even if one student comes, just one, and it sparks their interest in college, even if its not criminology, than it was worth every second of my time. I love kids so this was a great opportunity  and I was very happy to give back.”

Recreation Administration students had a great time teaching these youth all about their profession.

Yolanda Randles, executive director of the West Fresno Family Resource Center, said the relationship young people in the community have with colleges and universities are important to their long term success.

“When universities immerse themselves in the students’ community, meeting students where they are and developing connections with them, it’s a win for the students and a win for the university,” Randles said. “It says and means a lot to students that a university would take the time out to visit them in their neighborhood. It’s encouraging and inspirational, but more importantly, it puts college at the fingertips of students.”

Hart agrees, emphasizing to his children that college isn’t simply an option, but a priority in their household.

For more information, contact Jane Middleton at

Kinesiology students got the kids up and running for their tic-tac-toe activity.


Dr. Jane Middleton, Emogne Nelson and Grace Castaneda recently appeared on Central Valley Today to talk about “iFuture”. View their segment.