• Julie, Piedad & Michael Pulido
  • Piedad Pulido
  • Piedad Pulido

A Family Recipe for Success

Graduation weekend will be extra special for senior Piedad Pulido and her son Michael

Mother’s Day was celebrated on May 12 this year, but the bigger celebration for Fresno State graduate Piedad Pulido is planned for a week later.

That is when the 45-year-old undergraduate student will receive her dietetics and food administration degree alongside her son Michael, 23 years old, who will also graduate with a Fresno State bachelor’s degree in psychology.

For Piedad, the gathering for over 100 friends and family is a fitting springboard into a new phase of her three-decade journey that has always emphasized food and nutrition while helping others.

It started for her just before she turned 17 years old when she moved to California with her father and mother and six of her nine brothers and sisters from Michoacán, Mexico.

She started taking classes as a high school sophomore at Dos Palos High School, but after three months her family moved to Fresno, and she switched to Roosevelt High School. She immediately had problems adjusting to the new location without English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and soon begged her father to instead take her to work with him as an agricultural field laborer.

Over the course of the next three years she helped provide income for the family while working in production and processing roles for oranges, lemons, grapes and green beans.

After dating her eventual husband, Miguel, for three years, they got married right before she turned 21 years old. Since he already had an associate’s college degree, she encouraged him to finish his education at Fresno State towards becoming an elementary teacher at Heaton Elementary School, while she worked to support the family.

That began a 10-year position as a food service & lunch program director at St. Helen’s School. She oversaw all the kitchen staff, food preparation and lunch menu creation for 300 elementary students.

When she became pregnant with their third child when she was 32 years old, she quit her job and started the GED process through Clovis Adult School. A year later, she received a high school equivalency degree after never completing a full year of high school in either Mexico or California while caring for their infant.

She later resumed her prior position at St. Helen’s at the request of her boss, and worked for three more years before the position was eliminated, and she was laid off.

What could have been a roadblock she saw instead as an opportunity, so she began her next dream, and started taking classes towards a biological science associate degree at Reedley College, which she later received in 2016.

Fresno State became her next destination after a career fair when she met Dr. Steven Rocca, an agricultural education faculty member and student outreach coordinator. After enrolling in the fall of 2016, she returned the favor and became a part of his agricultural ambassador student team that mentors high school and transfer students through campus farm tours and recruiting events.

“I was attracted to the food science and nutrition department at Fresno State because it’s such a vital place to learn real life concepts,” Pulido said. “The faculty is so knowledgeable about the science and methodology behind food creation, preparation, nutrition and so many other aspects. I’ve also been inspired by the experience we’ve gotten interacting through clubs and classes, ranging from residents dealing with food insecurity in West Fresno to teaching cooking classes at youth summer camps – there’s a definite connection to our community.”

Managing a busy schedule also includes serving as a mom to a 21-year-old daughter, Julie, who will graduate with a Fresno State psychology degree next year, and a 12-year-old son, Isaac. She has also put family first by spending extra time in recent years taking care of her father who overcame surgery complications, and her mother who has undergone cancer treatments.

“I’m so proud of my mother because she is finally being rewarded for being so selfless,” said Michael, her oldest son who wants to work with youth as a math teacher. “Both her and my father have worked so hard to create better lives for us and opportunities to get our college degrees. I remember when I was young we had family meetings around the dinner table where she made us promise to tell her if she was falling behind as a mother when she went back to school. We have always emphasized how important it was for her to do it, and that it was our turn to share the load, and even help raise our younger brother. Being able to work next to her at home late at night studying for our college classes and exams has created a special bond, and gives us extra motivation to do our best.”

Her family nutrition experience has been put to good use in community service learning projects trips to Fiji the past two winters. Besides helping Fresno State students screen residents for glucose and high blood pressure levels, she assisted registered dietitians in teaching breastfeeding classes to expectant mothers and counsel hospitalized patients, and even served as a group leader in 2019.

Looking ahead to this fall, she hopes to begin a fall internship with an area Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program or Clinica of Sierra Vista so she can help families prevent obesity and incorporate healthy nutrition principles at an early age.

After that she hopes to become a registered dietitian and work with a community organization that interacts with mothers and children

“When I look back, I have had doubts along the way, but so many people have given me encouragement,” Pulido said. “There are many other Spanish-speaking people and minorities in our area that face the same family, cultural and education adjustments. I want to be there for them so they can provide for others, and especially in rural areas. It's crucial to set a good example, connect with them, and show it’s possible for anybody who works hard.”

Proof of that is on the refrigerator at home.

After hanging a congratulatory letter from the University President on her 4.0 fall semester, her youngest son, Isaac, has followed suit. He put his report card of straight A’s right next to it to prove that he is ready to carry on the family tradition.

He is already thinking about an electrical engineering degree, and not surprisingly, Fresno State is at the top of his list of college wish list.

 

* Read the story of another inspiring JCAST graduate here