Garcia's legacy includes generations of college graduates

(05-29-2008)

Mike Garcia, executive director of TRIO programs at Adams State College, can be assured his 32 years of service has impacted the lives of many individuals. His commitment to his profession has encouraged countless first-generation students to pursue a college education. He is retiring this spring.

Garcia is an established and respected national leader in the area of Federal TRiO programs and in particular, Upward Bound, according to Dr. Frank Sanchez, former Adams State vice president now serving as associate vice chancellor of enrollment at the University of Colorado at Denver.

"For over three decades, Mike has demonstrated an unwavering commitment and diligence to the success of first-generation and low-income students," Sanchez said. "Mike's innovation and service to Upward Bound is exemplary and cannot be replaced. There are countless students and now professionals whose lives were transformed because of Mike and the potential talent he saw in each of them."

Garcia earned his BA in elementary education and MA, in guidance and counseling, from Adams State College, in1973 and 1977, respectively.

Career in Upward Bound started early

He started his career in the Upward Bound program, while he was an undergraduate, as an instructor for a Basic Skills Course. Previous to this position Mike worked with the Centennial School District through a program for future teachers developed by the late Dr. Lawrence Gomez. As a graduate assistant, Garcia worked with the College Assistant Migrant Program (CAMP) as a tutorial coordinator, supervising 30 academic tutors and the overall scheduling of tutorial services for one hundred college students.

These experiences helped him step into the position as project director for the Upward Bound Program in 1976; he became the executive director for the TRIO Programs in 2003.

Angelica Gallegos '98 '08 will succeed Garcia as TRiO director. "Coming up from a whiny sophomore to eventually be his successor truly speaks to Mike's ability to see the potential in people. Upward Bound made such an impact on me that I not only participated in the program, I went on to work for the program during college and after I graduated."

Garcia initiated the Math and Science Summer Scholars Programs and the Student Support Services Scholars Program at Adams State College. Both programs are significant in the enrollment and retention of college students at Adams State College.

He continuously looks for opportunities for his program. After contacting the US Department of Agriculture, Mike secured funds to subsidize the cost of meals for his summer Upward Bound students, while they are on campus, saving his program ten to 12 thousand dollars per year for over twenty years.

"Mike has been instrumental in my life for the past 17 years," Gallegos said. "I have seen Mike stand up for students that others were ready to give up on, only to see that same student thrive and succeed in college. I cannot convey the number of people Mike has touched, but I can only imagine that his impact will ripple for years to come."

Active in many programs

Garcia currently serves as the site coordinator of Colorado Alliance for minority participation, CO-AMP, a National Science Foundation funded collaboration of 15 colleges in Colorado and the four corners area. "A major component of CO-AMP's effort is to provide opportunities for students to participate in undergraduate research," Garcia said.

Dr. Omnia El-Hakim, the principal investigator and director of Louis Stokes CO-AMP and professor of civil engineering at Colorado State University, Garcia is passionate about his profession.

"Mike is a role model and leader for the ethnic minority students," she said.

Garcia has served on the faculty of the Pell Institute, a Washington, D.C. based Organization. He is one of the founders of the ASPIRE Association and has served two terms on the ASPIRE executive board, and on two separate occasions served as president of the Colorado chapter of ASPIRE. Garcia was a founder of the Colorado TRIO alumni association, later became the National TRIO alumni association. He has been recognized as an exemplary director by the US Department of Education. He served as a national education trainer for the University of Wyoming.

Amanda Atencio '05, counselor coordinator for Upward Bound, respects Garcia. She said: "I believe that working with the programs has been so much more than a career for Mike. Due to his interactions and strong belief in the TRiO mission, it's been about the relationships developed with students and staff."

At Adams State College, Mike recently served on the president's administrative council, and was chairperson of the ASC retention committee, which successfully conducted a valley-wide conference bringing together faculty of SLV schools and ASC faculty. He has held leadership positions on the faculty senate, student financial aid policy committee, and Center for Excellence in Teaching, and the ASC admissions committee.

It was all about the students

Dr. Joe Vigil '59, emeritus professor of health, physical education and recreation, concurs. "As colleagues, Mike and I often visited about our professions. Mike always remained upbeat and positive. He has always been excited about his work and does a great job with those kids."

In the community, Mike has served in numerous leadership positions, including eight years as president of San Luis Valley Chapter of the Latin American Foundation, board member of the SLV Comprehensive Mental Health Center, board member of the SLV Coalition of Student Service and the SLV Council of the Arts.

"Through my time here, Mike has taught me what it means to have a TRiO heart," said Gallegos. "One of his best assets is his ability to always look ahead. Never, would Mike leave without knowing that his hard work was not going to continue, his passion for the program runs deep and will not end when he retires."

Garcia and his wife, Carla, have two children David, a graduate student at Keck School of Medicine and Diana, a senior Sports Medicine at Colorado State University.

Garcia credits Carla for her support, especially those numerous times when he was required to be away from home. He also credits his mom, Grace, for always making sure he stay involved in school, and for supporting a family of seven, even though times were financially difficult.

"The best rewards are having students come back and share experiences and talk about how the Upward Bound Program made a positive difference in their lives," Garcia said.

By Linda Relyea