Deborah Garcia is a success coach at University of Maryland Global Campus, joining the university in April of 2020. For UMGC’s 75th anniversary, we spoke with her about some of her favorite experiences and where she hopes to see the university in years to come. She works remotely and supports students throughout their education journey. She develops learning strategies, assists with scheduling classes, and is a support system as students achieve their goals.
During your time at UMGC, how have you seen the university evolve and change? What is the most significant change you’ve witnessed at the university?
UMGC is the epitome of an organization that is always asking, “How can we improve?” I have seen the university continue to evolve and change in a continuous effort to create the best educational experience for our students. The most significant change I have witnessed was the move from Academic Advisors to Student Success Coaches. With the Student Success Coach model, each student is assigned an individual Success Coach.
UMGC has always been top-notch in responsiveness to students with our phone, chat, email, in-person and virtual advising availability. When UMGC moved to the Student Success Coach model, we added a vital one-on-one relationship component with our students, without losing the accessibility. UMGC is a large university. On the website it is noted that, in Fall 2019, the student population was 58,281. Switching to the Student Success Coach model has allowed for a relationship to be established with students. Words can’t express the amazing feeling of making sure each student in my cohort feels seen. It has always been an honor to assist students with pursuing their goals. The ability to work continuously with a cohort of students has created the opportunity to acknowledge the full lives of our students by being able to ask how their daughter’s graduation was or if they heard back from the job interview they talked about during our previous conversation.
What has been your favorite part about working at UMGC?
My favorite part about working at UMGC has been building relationships. It is an honor to learn the story of UMGC’s students and partner with them in pursuing their goals. The greatest privilege is to be able to provide hope when a student faces a roadblock. That relationship building is also a key aspect of the work environment at UMGC. Just as my goal as a Student Success Coach is to make sure each student I work with feels seen, I also feel like a valuable member of the UMGC staff. Whether it is sharing successes or struggles via Team Chats, weekly meetings with my director, or a fun game of trivia with the team, I feel part of a community at UMGC.
Can you name some UMGC Faculty/Staff members (or even students/alumni) who impacted your career here at UMGC?
I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am today without my director, Rodwell Cole. Rodwell helps me to see the best in myself and encourages me to share that with others. He provides a safe space to process struggles and the wisdom to guide me to solutions.
I was also fortunate to be an original member of Caitlin Saavedra’s team who focused on partnering with students who have taken an extended break from school. Caitlin demonstrated the importance of finding each team member’s strength and encouraging them to flourish. Caitlin also demonstrated leading with compassion and advocacy.
UMGC is celebrating 75 years of excellence in education – what does that history mean to you? Why is it important?
UMGC’s history means everything to me! UMGC’s history provided the foundation for UMGC’s continued excellence and it is why I am here today. As I have pursued my M.Ed. Adult & Higher Education degree, my focus has been online education. Online education is important to me because of the opportunity provided to expand the accessibility of higher education.
A year before I started working at UMGC, I wrote a research paper on the history of UMGC for a master’s course that I was in at another institution. It was at that time I came to understand the unique history of UMGC and the vital role it has played in UMGC’s continued growth. The original call to take the classes outside the university walls came from the military. Providing educational opportunities across the globe, including in war zones, built an educational foundation that could serve students outside of the traditional classroom.
UMGC’s foundation of providing educational opportunities to students where they were, instead of the traditional college campus, began before the internet. However, I believe it is that foundation, the ability to provide educational opportunities outside of the normal setting, that has set UMGC apart as the move to online education has grown.
Which of UMGC core values resonates with you the most and why?
UMGC’s core value “People Always” resonates the most with me. People Always encompasses key aspects of a variety of UMGC’s core values. Within People Always, I see the call to treat all students with respect and value the diversity in the students I work with. People Always extends that same call of respect and valuing diversity to everyone I interact with, including staff members, faculty, and students.
UMGC recently introduced its new mission “Inspire hope, empower dreams, and transform lives ... one student at a time.” – What does that mean to you?
UMGC’s new mission “Inspire hope, empower dreams, and transform lives…one student at a time” speaks to the purpose of higher education. It is a reminder that every interaction with a student is an opportunity to inspire hope. Every time we partner with a student to map out their path or overcome a roadblock, we are a part of empowering their dreams. I have had many students remind me that, through the work we do, we are not only transforming the life of the student, but also the lives of their family and loved ones. Finally, “one student at a time” acknowledges that each student is unique. To inspire hope, empower dreams, and transform lives, we must first take the time to really see and understand the needs of each individual student.
How do you feel about UMGC’s role in supporting the military, wherever they are?
UMGC’s role in supporting the military, wherever they are, is a key component of the success of UMGC and a key reason why I have chosen to work at UMGC. Prior to working at UMGC, when I was writing a research paper about UMGC for a master’s class I was in at another institution, I came across a quote that moved me. At a 1959 University of Maryland commencement address in Tokyo, Dr. Mason Daly eloquently stated the school’s purpose:
“We are here today because America’s alliances take its citizens to far places, and because America has asserted that its citizens in uniform are neither separate nor unique. The man flying the aircraft based on the Kano plain of Japan, pulling sentry duty on the jagged scar of demarcation in Korea, patrolling the troubled water between two Chinas, securing island fortresses in positions of containment and readiness – that man must have access to the system of education from which his culture and country spring.”
If you had one word to describe your experience at UMGC, what would it be and why?
Growth – UMGC is constantly growing and changing to best meet the needs of the students we serve. As an employee, I feel that I am also empowered to grow and change to continue to do my job and serve the students I work with at the highest level.
Where do you hope to see UMGC in the next 75 years?
I believe in 75 years UMGC will be continuing to “Inspire hope, empower dreams, and transform lives ... one student at a time.” UMGC’s unique ability to grow and change to meet the evolving needs of students ensures that, whatever the needs are of the student 75 years from now, UMGC will have adapted to meet those needs.