You could say this year’s birthday present for Fresno State’s Karina Ortega was getting the phone call on her birthday letting her know she was the 2022 College of Health and Human undergraduate dean’s medalist.
“It’s such a prestigious award, and award I never thought I would get. It’s just really significant for myself and my family because receiving a higher education is a privilege for us because you know, it’s a little bit harder,” said Ortega who earned her bachelor’s degree in social work with a 4.0 GPA. .
“I just felt proud of myself that I wanted to make my parents proud and like my family and like my boyfriend and like everyone who was with me throughout these four years, you know, they really helped me,” Ortega said of her journey to higher education as a first-generation college student. “So I was just in awe. I’m just happy that I’m like paving the way for future generations and especially like my kids are no longer going to be first generation and just helping them get through it.”
“I don’t want to let my parents sacrifices like being vain and I want to make them proud because they came into the United States with like, almost nothing and they give me everything I ever needed to succeed,” the 22-year-old Ortega said. “And so I just wanted to do that in honor of my parents.
Ortega was one of more than 1,000 graduating college students who took part in the College of Health and Human graduation ceremony Saturday (May 21) morning at the Save Mart Center.
For Ortega, of Fresno, being a child of Mexican immigrants has given her a nuanced understanding of what many Central Valley families go through.
During her sophomore year, she helped execute the first ever First-Generation INSPIRE conference at her alma mater, Edison High School, to promote post-secondary education to families in southwest Fresno.
Ortega went through a lot of transitions and losses during the pandemic, and in summer 2021 and into the fall semester Ortega worked with the Social Work Student Association, University President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval and other departments to organize a mental health initiative to showcase resources on campus.
“During the pandemic, you know, we all suffered in many different ways. We all experienced losses and changes and just different transitions in their lives. So you know, anxiety, increased depression, you’re kind of just included in your household,” Ortega said. “So the whole mental health initiative is kind of what we decided to do, a fun way to bring bulldogs together to celebrate the return to campus.”
“But more so to show that there are resources on campus to show students that we’re here to help, that there’s resources on campus for them to go to especially in the health center,” Ortega said adding that they teamed up with Alegría Mental Health Task force with the president’s office, to promote those resources on campus that are free as part of their tuition.
Ortega also volunteered on a voter advocacy drive, migrant donation drive and led a Christmas toy drive for foster children.
Ortega just got accepted for her master’s degree program in social work at Fresno State.
“Which was very hard, but I got accepted to the masters of Social Work at Fresno State. So I plan on continuing my education as a Bulldog and just obtaining my master’s in social work with the PPS. And then after I graduate, I want to be licensed so I want to get my LCSW to be able to give more in depth services.
“I really want to go into my masters to get even more experience before going into the field,” Ortega said, adding that she did intern one year at Justin Garza High School and in the next two years of her masters she’ll be able to intern at two other places.
For Ortega, it is important to fill in the gap that exist field of social work in the Central Valley, which has a huge Hispanic population with a significant amount of Spanish speakers at schools.
“I just want to fill in that gap of like any, like systematic limitations that the school system has and just me being a Latina in general, I can help connect with students through experiences,” Ortega said adding that the Hispanic population it can be like shameful or like taboo to go to therapy or talk about family problems.
“And I just want to bring that cultural awareness to show like the importance of mental health and educate families on like services and seeking support,” Ortega said. “I just want to focus on like the cultural acceptance of like, receiving guidance, because like I said, like, especially in like our culture, some people believe that therapy and talking to professionals are not necessary.”
“But with my assistance, I just hope to aspire to be a part of the change and encourage healthier coping mechanisms with any of their struggles,” Ortega said. “So that was like my main goal of going into my masters and going into this field in general.”
She would like to get a pupil personnel services credential so she can become a school social worker.
Honor: College of Health and Human undergraduate dean’s medalist
Family: Parents Victor and Maria Ortega: Siblings: 4, Edgar Ortega, Victor Ortega Jr., Daniel Ortega, and Nathaly Ortega.
High school: Edison High School (2018)
Hobby: Love hanging out with family and friends. My favorite hobby is flying to México. My parents are from San Marcos, Jalisco. Every break I get I am there, two or three times a year.
Music: I listen to everything, Latin top hits. I like Vicente Fernandez and Joan Sebastian.
Food: Sopes and tostadas de Tinga.