Fresno State graduate, Monique Bienvenue grew up in a big city with little knowledge of the agriculture community. With the intent to study equine science, Monique entered Fresno State only to be introduced to the world of central valley agriculture. Monique found her passion in the agriculture industry and has established herself as a business leader in her field. We dive into some of her favorite accomplishments and who her mentor was growing up!
Q: Who inspired you growing up?
My grandmother, Maria Bienvenue, is by far the most amazing woman I've ever met, and she definitely inspires me every day. When she was only 19 years old, her family arranged her marriage to my grandfather, an American soldier, and she moved to the United States from Mexico not knowing a lick of English. She not only worked hard to become an American citizen, but she did so while teaching herself how to speak English, and earning her keep in the work force. For years, she worked as a teacher's aide and raised a total of seven children. She never learned how to drive a car, but nothing stopped her from getting from point A to point B. Whether it was walking the streets of South Gate or Cudahay in her heels, or taking the bus to get herself to a doctor's appointments, she never let obstacles get in the way of her completing a task or accomplishing a goal.
A devout woman of faith, my grandmother is the definition of courage under pressure. She has always tackled life's stressors with a quick prayer and a smile on her face, and she has always reminded me that if I'm unhappy in a situation, to change the narrative. She's one of my best friends and the woman I most admire; it's because of her unending support and unwavering love that I've been able to accomplish what I have in my career, my relationships and so much more.
Q: Like you, I also changed my major in college. What would you say to someone who is apprehensive about switching majors?
Life is unruly and often doesn't go the way that we had planned. When this happens, it's helpful to look at your current situation and think about the things you can do to set yourself up for success. When I originally moved to Fresno, I was certain that I was going to graduate from Fresno State with a degree in Equine Science - but when I discovered that I had a passion for agriculture and the farmer's story, I listened to my gut and decided to change my major to Agriculture Communications. Deep down, I knew that being a trainer wasn't going to fulfill my dream of being an advocate for California's ag industry, so I took a chance on pursuing a degree I knew little about and decided to make the most of it. Changing my major was the best decision that I made during my time at Fresno State; it opened up so many doors for me and set the trajectory for some of my best accolades and the career I'm in now. If I hadn't listened to my gut and changed my major, I would have missed out on meeting some of my closest friends and wouldn't be where I am today.
Q: How does innovation play into the Agriculture Industry?
Innovation and agriculture go hand-in-hand. California is home to over 400 different agricultural commodities and our amazing farmers and growers feed not only our nation, but the world. Every day, the world's population continues to grow, and with that so too does the demand for fresh, healthy food. State-of-the-art technology is instrumental at every point of production - whether it's using the most advanced irrigation systems to water our crops or utilizing palletizing equipment to get pallets of fresh produce ready for shipment, there is not one step of the production process that does not benefit from the use of technology.
Q: Having served as the Director of Communications for Bee Sweet Citrus, what advice would you like to give other young women about to enter the workforce?
If someone who's just about to enter the workforce were to ask me for advice, I would tell her two things. One: it's important to have a mentor in the field or job that you're pursuing, and two: be confident in the skills you know you bring to the table. There are a lot of young professionals who go into the workforce not knowing what to expect and quit or change career paths when they experience challenges or things don't quite go the way they had planned. Having a mentor, whether it's at their place of work or someone who has experience in their field, can offer a lot of valuable insight when you face challenges, and can also help you navigate unknown territory. I cannot tell you how many times I've called my mentors when I had questions, and every time that I did, I left the conversation feeling composed, confident and ready to tackle whatever situation I was dealing with.
Having confidence in yourself is also imperative to creating the image that you want in the work environment. If you have an idea, share it; if you'd like to help with a specific project, ask to be a part of that team. I find that young professionals often feel that they aren't qualified to handle certain projects or job responsibilities before they've even tried; but that mindset limits growth, and it delays the process to be the best version of yourself on and off the job.
Q: What has been your greatest success thus far?
Since graduation, I've been able to help my team at Bee Sweet Citrus build and maintain its communications department, and I've assisted two non-profits with building their image in Fresno and its surrounding communities. I've only been in the workforce for five years now, but I'm honored and privileged to know that there are others who believe in my abilities and are willing to listen to, and implement, the ideas that I have. Building an image is everything when it comes to public relations, and I'm very passionate about the work that I do.
Q: Last and most important question; How do you take your coffee?
Haha! You can never go wrong with a light roast blend of coffee, topped with hazelnut or caramel creamer!
When I met Jody Hudson just about a year ago, her charm and dedication to the community left a lasting impression. When I was crowned Miss Fresno County, I made it my goal to serve my community with the same light and enthusiasm Jody showed me.
Jody serves as a leader in our community with the impacts she’s made as the founder of the Alex Hudson Lyme Foundation. She’s also dedicated her time working for the Southern Central California Girl Scouts and has solidified herself as a business leader in our community.
Q: Who inspired you growing up?
A: Unfortunately, I did not have a mentor or an inspiring figure when I was growing up. I was born to a single mother who placed me in foster care when I was born. Several months later I was adopted by parents who battled alcoholism. It wasn’t the best scenario. I spent most of my childhood trying to forget about my childhood. That is why I am so passionate about mentoring and helping young women today. It’s important for me to share experiences and pass on nuggets of wisdom on things that I had to learn the hard way. But then it’s also made me into the strong, independent woman that I am today.
Q: You’re very involved in the community; How do you inspire others to do the same?
A: I learned at a young age to have a servant’s heart. My father was a teacher and a summer camp director. Most of my summers were spent on the shores of Lake Michigan working with underprivileged children from the inner city of Grand Rapids, MI. It broke my heart to see children jump off the school bus with only a grocery bag of clothing for two weeks. I literally wanted to give all of my clothing away. While I myself was not well off by any means, I appreciated the fact that I had a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food in my belly. That stuck with me and formed my empathy and compassion for others. It is what we must do as a Christian. “To whom much is given, much will be required.” Luke 12:48
Q: As the founder of your own non-profit organization, what is one thing you want young women to know about being a self-starter?
A: Wow, just one thing… I could tell you many. The one thing that sticks with me and motivates me is purpose. To do anything well in life requires disciplined focus and purpose. When my daughter passed away at the young age of 22 from Lyme disease, I had a choice to make. I could choose to wallow in self-pity and go dark, or I could choose to honor her name and carry out her legacy in a meaningful way. I chose the light. I chose a way to honor Alex and make sure that the pain and suffering she endured would have meaning. I would attach her suffering to my life’s work and purpose. Once you figure out your purpose, the rest just flows naturally.
Q: I know when I studied engineering at Fresno State, I felt very underrepresented, being one of the few girls in every class. Have you ever felt underrepresented as a woman in your workforce? What advice would you give to young women having those same feelings?
A: I have never felt underrepresented in my professional career, but I have felt an uphill battle in my advocacy work with the Alex Hudson Lyme Foundation. I think there is a correlation between feeling underrepresented as a female in the workforce and facing an uphill battle with advocacy work. It’s the belief system. It’s getting people to validate your work. It’s having to put double the amount of effort into everything that you say and do. It’s exhausting. But it can also be the most rewarding thing that happens to you. When you finally get people’s attention and they start listening to you- that’s magic.
Q: What should young professionals know when entering the workforce?
A: Times have changed from when I first entered the workforce many years ago. I think work ethics have changed and I feel as if everyone is more keenly aware of balance. I would encourage young professionals to have more “pause” moments and appreciate the processes as well as the accomplishments. I would also encourage them to find the person whose best at what they want to get good at and have them be your mentor. When I first entered the non-profit sector from the retail industry, I had a learning curve. I asked around and found out who my pace-setter was. Who was doing what I wanted to eventually do. I reached out to that person and asked for advice. It accelerated my growth rate and it shortened my learning curve. Lastly, I would encourage young professionals to be authentic and lead with value. You will go much further providing value to as many people as you can with little expectation for anything in return.
Q: After already achieving so much successes with the Alex Hudson Lyme Foundation, what’s next for you and the organization?
A: I have been blessed by such great success with the Alex Hudson Lyme Foundation from the onset. Research grants, Lyme patient financial grants for treatment, and community advocacy events/fundraisers are just a few of our early accomplishments. Our next goals will be our co-sponsored Lyme curriculum with the Girl Scouts of Central California South and our distribution of Lyme literate books for all Fresno/Clovis elementary schools. I also would like to focus on CME’s for our medical community, so they can better understand the symptoms of Lyme disease and its treatment. In addition, I am working on a book that details Alex’s journey with Lyme disease and the spiritual formation that took place. I am hoping to have it released in 2021.