Meet Nelida Garcia: “I’m thinking a lot about how we reach families where they already are.”

Nelida Garcia, our Director of Partnerships and Outreach, is a creative thinker who brings experience supporting first-generation college students (and having been one herself, too).

Nelida Garcia recently joined our team as EdNavigator’s first Director of Partnerships and Outreach. A proud first-generation college graduate herself, Nelida has spent her career supporting low-income and first-generation students to thrive in college and beyond. Nelida loves to read fiction and can occasionally be found camping in her spare time—but preferably with an air mattress.

Hi Nelida! Tell me a little about what you were doing before EdNavigator.

My career so far has focused on increasing education, opportunity, and success for students of all backgrounds. It's something that has always been very personally motivating. I am a first-generation college graduate, a child of immigrants, so navigating schooling wasn't always the easiest thing. I really wanted to make that easier for others. I started off doing a mix of school operations and college access at a charter high school in Brooklyn, New York. I love that age because they're very much young adults and you get that, but they're teenagers so they're a little bit silly. That role got me thinking about higher education and how to ensure that I wasn't just focusing on getting them to college, but also being successful there. I found a good home in career services at the University of Chicago and grew as a professional there.

What does a career services office do?

It’s a large priority of the University of Chicago. The office is huge—almost 50 staff. I dedicated my time there to programs that serve first-generation and low-income students. We did a lot of work to increase students’ exposure to different types of careers, and to job search and interview processes. Many students don’t know what a resume is or what it should look like, for example. We were walking students through how to apply, interview, all of that—starting as early as possible. We need to start having these conversations with 18-year-olds walking onto campus, rather than waiting until students are about to graduate.

We also offered a lot of experiential learning, helping students connect with employers through site visits, micro-internships, just building familiarity and skills in different fields. We wanted to provide some of those core experiences so that students could say, "Yes, I tried this and I loved it," or "I really did not like this at all, and now I know I'm not going to pursue it."

“I am a first-generation college graduate, a child of immigrants, so navigating schooling wasn't always the easiest thing. I really wanted to make that easier for others.”

That’s the shift we're supposed to be making in math instruction with the Common Core—toward a more conceptual understanding of math, right?

Yes. Yes. Really getting kids to understand the why and develop those critical thinking skills. It’s different for parents and teachers compared to how we learned, but it makes a world of difference.

What drew you to EdNavigator?

As a teacher I really loved bonding with my kids and their families. I had a family call me recently—their daughter was like my mini-me in third grade. She’ll be in seventh grade in the fall. Her mom called me for Teacher Appreciation Week and said, "You know, you're still our favorite teacher.” I really value building those relationships with families, and sharing how they can be a part of their community and support each other. That’s a value that was instilled in me growing up as a child. With a parent in the military, we relied on our communities, especially when we had a parent deployed. So that drew me to EdNavigator: the chance to establish meaningful relationships with families and help them navigate the education space.

As a military child, I’m guessing you went to a lot of schools yourself?

Oh yeah. At one point I think I went to at least five different schools in five years. My parents did a great job of preparing us for those transitions. As an adult, I think I'm able to adjust and adapt because those were life skills I learned at an early age. So I'm grateful for that. It's kind of contradicted who I should be as a Leo.

Tell me more about Leos.

We can be very, very stubborn. I’m glad I’m not as stubborn as I could be.

What are you most excited to do as part of the EdNav team?

So much in education is hidden from families. In New Orleans especially, the education system is designed in ways that keep parents unaware. And that didn't sit well with me as a teacher. You can’t sweep things under the rug, or not give parents the information they need to advocate for their children. I’ve seen circumstances where school leaders knew that some children weren’t being served well, but didn’t want to clue parents into that because they wanted to keep their enrollment numbers up. When parents are not knowledgeable about things that are directly related to their children, they can’t make well-informed decisions. I'm excited to help parents realize that they and their children are deserving of a positive, supportive school experience. So much good can happen when parents become aware of their power to hold the system accountable.

What you love to do outside of Ed Nav?

Singing was always my first love. I've been really trying to step into the power I have as a lyricist, because I love storytelling through songs. And of course, being a dog mom is my favorite thing right now. My dog is 14 months old. His name is Oreo Devante. He is a whole hoot and a half.

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