Overcoming the odds

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Like many first time college students, Nathania Garcia anticipated her transition into university life with equal parts excitement and trepidation. Leaving her hometown of Nogales, Arizona to pursue her goals, Garcia wasn’t sure what shape these goals would actually take. But through the help and support of her peers and mentors, Garcia, a senior majoring in sociology, has found her own calling as a mentor. She has also found a way to give back to the community that assisted her in her time of need.

Finding direction

Upon her arrival in Flagstaff, Garcia was introduced to the university experience through the Successful Transition and Academic Readiness (STAR) Program, which provides personal and educational resources to help students better navigate their new surroundings. Despite the resources provided by the STAR program, Garcia initially struggled to find her place in her new surroundings. At one point, Garcia considered dropping out of higher education all together.

“It became increasingly difficult for me to stick around to find any meaning in what I was doing,” Garcia says. “I couldn’t relate. Culturally, things were different because I grew up in a border town, and I just felt really out of place in terms of family background, socioeconomic status, and all of those factors.”

However, the constant comfort and support of her peers and mentors provided her the motivation to persevere. She remembers one instance in particular when Arianne Burford, a lecturer in the Women’s and Gender Studies program, encouraged her not to give up on her dreams of attending graduate school and one day becoming a teacher.

“Burford encouraged me and showed me how I was making a difference,” Garcia says. “She helped me out in that way, in class specifically and outside of class, too. We would just have conversations about our place in the world and how we can change things and what kind of positive effects we have.”

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Repaying the debt

With a newfound sense of resolve, Garcia focused on giving back with the hope that she could provide someone else the same help and support she received. The STAR Program provided outlets for Garcia to work with various student organizations across campus, including Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A) de NAU, a group dedicated to educating the Flagstaff community about the issues facing Latinos today.

Garcia also played a part in the university’s chapter of the Repeal Coalition, a group that works towards repealing anti-immigrant laws throughout the state of Arizona and further educating the public on prevalent social issues in today’s society.

As she prepares to graduate, Garcia is drawing from her knowledge and experience to help a younger generation of students as a Peer Adviser with the Inclusion and Multicultural Services Center. Garcia says her position has given her the opportunity to help incoming students cope with obstacles presented during their first years at the university, and to hone her mentorship skills as she prepares to pursue a career in teaching. 

“I had so much support around me and I was able to use it in my academics and personal life,” Garcia says. “I’m really appreciative of all the help I got, and I really want to reflect that in my own position.”