Written by Mialise Carney, COSS Communications Student Assistant

Sonya Peña loved school since she was a little girl. This love continued into adulthood and every job she held has related to education, but it was a tutoring job that expanded her interest in helping students.

For eight years, she worked as an Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) tutor at Kingsburg High School, her former school. There, she realized she enjoyed helping students apply to colleges and scholarships.

“I had a curiosity to go into higher education, specifically advising. I remember when I was in undergrad here at Fresno State, I would spend so much time carefully picking out which GE course I would be most interested in, coming up with multiple schedules, and deciphering my DARS report on my own,” Peña said. 

After applying to several advising positions but not getting hired, she decided to apply for masters program in academic counseling. Accepted to a few different CSUs, she chose Fresno State. 

“I was pretty reserved in undergrad and commuted as well, so I never pushed myself to participate in anything outside of class,” she said. I saw completing my masters at Fresno State as a “redo” in some way and I’m so glad I came back.” 

In 2018 she graduated with her MS in Counseling, and has since worked as an academic counselor in the College of Social Sciences’ Advising Center. Peña says she loves speaking with students, learning their personalities, and seeing them grow during their time at Fresno State. One of her favorite topics to cover when speaking with students is graduate school, because it is the start of a new goal and she loves that she can help them explore the next steps. 

“The theme that I love is potential. Potential in their majors, in their future careers, and possibly in continuing their education beyond a bachelors,” she said. 

During the past year of virtual learning, Peña saw the challenges students faced. One student told her she was the first person they had “met” at Fresno State, and it broke her heart to know that students weren’t getting the full college experience of enjoying their campus, meeting new people and forming friendships.

“I am so grateful we have the technology to continue to see our students and catch up with them, and if anything, it has made advising more accessible,” she said. “Knowing they have gone through so much loss in different parts of their lives is tough, but I am grateful to be someone who can be there for them.” 

Peña was awarded this year’s outstanding academic advisor award for the College of Social Sciences Advising Center. She was recognized for her excellence in encouraging students to look beyond their current goals and reach their full potential, and for truly caring about her students and their success. She was surprised to receive the award. 

“It is really meaningful that there were individuals who thought to take the time to write and submit a nomination for me. I love academic advising, so to be acknowledged for it is very rewarding.”