Photo contributed by Olga Nunez

Bettering families’ educational journeys, bettering families’ lives

By HANNAH POORE, Student Writer

“I fell in love with the program from the first time I heard about it,” says Olga Nunez (2003) as she remembers learning about the Parent Institute for Quality Education. In her eight years of working at the nonprofit, her love for PIQE has only grown.

A track runner and cross-country team captain at Fresno State, Nunez graduated with her degree in psychology in 2003. She thought she wanted to be a school psychologist, but as an undocumented citizen, she couldn’t apply for any master’s programs.

When she became eligible for documentation and her social security number in 2005, she began working at a physical therapy office. Although it didn’t directly relate to her degree and was different than her goal job, Nunez enjoyed helping patients and seeing their progress. It was there, working with patients on their path to recovery, that she realized her passion for helping others.

In May 2007, Nunez felt ready to move on from physical therapy.

“I remember that day. I was in church and I prayed, ‘I want to work where I could feel like I’m helping the community,’” Nunez said. “Something that fills me, something where I feel like I’m making a change.”

While grocery shopping later that afternoon, she met the executive director of PIQE. They quickly realized they had been in a few study groups together as students at Fresno State. The director told Nunez about PIQE and that there was an opening for an associate director. Nunez was immediately intrigued and began learning more about PIQE.

For the past 27 years, PIQE has worked directly with parents by putting on morning and evening workshops at schools, teaching parents how to navigate their kids’ school system and be involved in their education, with the ultimate goal of their children attending higher education institutions.

Workshops are offered over a span of nine weeks. Schools contact PIQE to request their programs, and then PIQE contacts parents, inviting them to attend. They put on tailored workshops for every stage of school: elementary, middle and high school.

“The minute she started explaining it to me, I visualized myself working there,” Nunez said. “I went home and I told my husband, ‘I found my next job.’”

Nunez applied and interviewed for the position, and in August 2007 began working at PIQE as associate director.

“From the first day, I just loved it. I can’t believe that there’s a job that’s meant to help families move their kids into college, which was the dream of my parents. They wanted my brother and I to go to college, and now I’m being part of that. I was so incredibly happy for the opportunity,” Nunez said.

“The moment I got in front of a group of parents, that sealed the deal even more. I would see them as a reflection of my parents: they worked in the fields, were members of unrepresented communities who need help and just don’t know how to navigate the system, and they love their children.”

“I’ve always been very passionate about education,” Nunez said. “I didn’t know how much until I started working here. I’ve always thought education is the vehicle to get me out of poverty.”

Now, as the executive director of PIQE’s regional office in Fresno, she says her favorite part about her job is “helping the community and bringing awareness to parents that they are the biggest advocates for their kids’ education. The parent is the one that has the most influence on their kids’ life.”

Nunez said she loves getting to see the change that PIQE helps make in families’ lives.

“Parents coming to us and letting us know, if it wasn’t for PIQE, I wouldn’t have had these types of conversations with my kids about financial aid, about what classes they needed to take in order to graduate from high school, get into college,” Nunez said. “We know we didn’t do it all — there’s so many variables that contribute to the success of their students — but just the fact that parents are so grateful. And they say, ‘My son got accepted to UCLA, or my son got accepted to Sacramento State, or my daughter got accepted here — any kind of higher education — we celebrate that!”

“It’s very rewarding,” Nunez said. “I have incredible staff, I love coming to work, but most importantly, what moves me every day is seeing the positive impact we’re doing in the community. It’s very fulfilling and rewarding.”

PIQE has 11 offices throughout California and is expanding to other states. They put on workshops in 16 different languages across the state, and the Central Valley Region serves about 2,500–3,000 families every year at 50–60 school sites. To learn more about PIQE, visit piqe.org.

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Contact Matthew Schulz at mschulz@csufresno.edu to be featured in Alumni News.