Fresno State student sacrifices family life for education


Courtesy of Geoff Thurner

Bella Chueh, Fresno State viticulture and enology student and winery student assistant, evaluates wines in the campus winery barrel room.

By Jiselle Cardenas, News Editor

Wen-Yin “Bella” Chueh made the tough decision to leave her three daughters in Taiwan and move to Fresno in search of a higher education.

Although she is in the final stages of her undergraduate career, homesickness was one of the hardest obstacles as a college student.

“Homesickness is definitely a big problem for me, but I stayed here for many years. I had to finish my goal. If I quit or give up because of these hardest parts, then the effort I paid is for nothing,” Chueh said.

Chueh will be graduating this May with her bachelor’s degree in enology.

She is a part of the Jordan College Honors Program, working on various research projects on campus. Chueh worked closely with professor Kristy Sun and supervisor winemaker Tom Montgomery during her time as a research assistant.

Chueh mentioned that a lot of her motivation comes from her family. Due to traveling restrictions during the pandemic, Chueh was rarely able to visit her family and still solely relies on FaceTime to communicate with her family back home.

It was hard for her to find a piece of home in Fresno, she said. As an international student, Chueh said she struggled to adapt to the campus community, from the language barrier to the different cultures.

For Chueh to be successful at Fresno State, she had to overcome a lot of obstacles that come with being an international student.

“I think [for] a lot of international students, we do need stronger support than the local students,” she said.

She hopes that the university will provide better resources for international students, especially when they first arrive.

Chueh started her first semester at Fresno State in 2019.

“I found that Fresno State Winery is not only the first and largest commercial bonded winery on a University campus in the U.S. but also it’s a winery run chiefly by students. That is to say, in Fresno State’s Enology program, I can go deeper and make wine hands-on, rather than just attending lectures and making wine in the laboratory,” she said.

Enology was her father’s favorite pastime growing up, which inspired her to pursue the field, but Fresno State’s immersive hands-on enology program is what drew her to California.

“At that time, I didn’t realize that enology is really all about chemistry,” Chueh said, mentioning how she didn’t like chemistry at first because it was her worst subject. “In the very beginning, I was so frustrated so I almost gave up. I told myself ‘Try your best to do things. Try just one semester to see if it will work out,’ so I tried and I did it.”

Chueh is the recipient of the Outstanding Undergraduate Achiever award for the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology. This past summer, she was also selected by the Cornell Food Science Summer Scholar research program at Cornell University for a competitive internship that she completed in 10 weeks.

“She is the nicest, most humble person in the world. When she first started she’d never done this before. I think that challenge with a lot of students is a challenge of confidence,” Montgomery said. “After a while, she really gained the confidence in what she’s doing and now she’s one of our best.”

The enology program at Fresno State is intensively composed of a lot of chemistry, microbiology, business management, marketing, sales and viticulture classes.

Chueh did a lot of research regarding biofungicides, practiced as a research winemaker and maintained a 4.0 gpa. She will be attending Cornell University in the fall where she will be pursuing a master’s degree in food safety.

“I wish her a big success in the future. It’s a little bit sad for me because she’s going to change to a different direction, it’s not enology, but I think I and other faculty already built a very good foundation for her,” Sun said.

Sun said she thinks Chueh will be very successful in whatever she chooses if she keeps following her path.

“One of my favorite memories at Fresno State University is the experience of working in a winery. Winemaking itself is an art, but more about science. Although this job was not easy and challenging, I gained valuable experience,” Chueh said.

She credits Montgomery and Sun for a lot of her achievements at Fresno State due to their guidance. She also said that the amiable staff and faculty, her collaborative peers and the compact campus environment made her feel comfortable.

Chueh originally applied to Fresno State’s masters program, along with Cornell.

She is eager to begin her education at Cornell because she wants to use her food safety degree to help people by creating quality, safe food products in the future.

She said she doesn’t know if she wants to pursue a doctorate after receiving her masters degree or immediately dive into helping people. Chueh said she sees herself starting a consulting business and teaching people how to curate safe consumable products.

Sonet Van Zyl, Viticulture and Enology department chair, shared how she feels as faculty about Chueh’s growth as a student.

“For us it’s bittersweet in the sense that we’re losing her as a graduate student, but she is going to Cornell. The fact that she’s got a full ride scholarship and everything for the program that she wanted to be in at Cornell. That really makes us really happy,” Van Zyl said.

Van Zyl, Sun and Montgomery all echoed the same sentiment of bittersweetness of watching Chueh grow as a person and in her career.

“We’re going to miss her,” Montgomery said.