Alumni News

Celebrating the 2021 Top Dog Honorees

The Top Dog Alumni Awards has acknowledged exceptional alums since 1953. Fresno State honorees have included astronauts, politicians and U.S. Olympians. Over the years, the Kremen School of Education and Human Development has honored a variety of leaders in education and counseling. This year we are unable to celebrate our honorees in-person, but we can celebrate together virtually.

Watch the Awards Ceremony Live

Tune in for a one-hour televised special of Fresno State’s Top Dog Alumni Awards.

With a legacy of more than 355 recipients since 1953, the Top Dog Alumni Awards is a proud Fresno State tradition. This event honors alumni and friends who embrace the Bulldog spirit through dedication to their field and commitment to community.

Sunday, April 18
Live on ABC 30 at 7 p.m.

Live-stream also available at abc30.com and on all ABC connected apps.

Three Kremen School Alumni Are Among the 2021 Top Dogs

2021 marks a special year when three Kremen School graduates are being recognized for awards at the annual Top Dog event. Dr. Maria Maldonado is the Kremen School of Education and Human Development honoree, Dr. Robert Nelson is the Division of Research and Graduate Studies honoree and Frank Johnson Sr. is the Henry Madden Library honoree – all alumni of the Kremen School. Read more about these extraordinary graduates below.

Maria Maldonado, Ed.D.

Kremen School of Education and Human Development’s Top Dog

  • 2000 – M.A. in Education, Administration and Supervision
  • 2006 – Professional Administrative Services Credential
  • 2016 – Doctorate in Educational Leadership, P-12 

Maria Maldonado vividly remembers moving to the U.S. when she was 13: “It was summer and the sprinklers on both sides of the freeway were going and everything was green and beautiful and clean. In between all of the really difficult things that we were going through, it felt like this would be a good home, that we would eventually be OK.”

Now retired as assistant superintendent of English Learner Programs and Services at Fresno Unified School District, Maldonado was born in Guanajuato, Mexico. Her father was a migrant worker who often came to the U.S. for work, and when he passed away in this country, Maldonado’s mother came to the U.S. for her father’s services. She spent two weeks in Fresno with her brothers and fell in love with the city.

Robert G. Nelson, Ed.D.

Division of Research and Graduate Studies’ Top Dog

  • 1996 – M.A. in Education, Administration and Supervision
  • 1996 – Multiple Subject Teaching Credential
  • 1998 – Preliminary Administrative Services Credential
  • 2004 – Professional Administrative Services Credential

As the superintendent of Fresno Unified School District, Nelson believes in the power of education to combat the negative connotations people associate with Fresno. He says, “We have systemic poverty in the Valley, and education is the ticket out … My job is to make sure that every single door is available to [students] to do the widest array of things. This is like a calling for me: to try and make things better.”

Nelson, originally from Sacramento, earned his bachelor’s degree at USC in 1991. He met his wife in Fresno that same year, while singing at his cousin’s wedding. Nelson moved to Fresno and began working as a sixth-grade teacher at Burroughs Elementary School that fall.

After earning his master’s degree in Educational Administration and Supervision from Fresno State in 1996, he held positions as a resource teacher, technology specialist, vice principal, principal and human resources administrator. In 2012, he became the superintendent of Chawanakee Unified School District in Madera County.

Frank J. Johnson, Sr.

Henry Madden Library’s Top Dog

  • 1963 – B.A. in Education

The sixth of ten children, Frank Johnson, Sr. was born near Hope, Arkansas in 1939. Very early in his life, Johnson learned to value education. In 1943, his parents, Irene and Odell Johnson, Sr., moved the family to Imperial, California, to escape racism and to seek better schools, colleges and jobs for their children. Five years later the Johnson family settled in Fresno, when his oldest brother Roland accepted a scholarship to play football for Fresno State College.

Johnson graduated from Fresno State in 1963 with a B.A. degree in education and holds several credentials in the field of education and counseling. After graduation he began a 16- year-career with the West Fresno School District and his roles included teacher, counselor, principal and most notably, the first African American superintendent in the Central Valley. In 1977, Johnson was honored as the “California School District Superintendent of the Year” by the members of the California Black School Board Association. The award honored his innovative changes in the West Fresno School District, including smaller classes, increased teachers’ pay and major renovations and repairs to buildings on campus. Additionally he was credited for improving the curriculum that resulted in increases in the students’ California Achievement test scores.

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