Katrina Survivor's Experience Leads Her to UT Dallas
Pearson Prize Leadership Honoree to Pursue Master's Degree in Political Science
Aug. 8, 2011
A Hurricane Katrina survivor inspired by her experience in the disaster's aftermath will use a $10,000 leadership scholarship to pursue a political science master's degree at UT Dallas.
Cristina Garcia, who will be a student in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, was one of 20 students chosen nationally to receive the Pearson Prize in Higher Education Scholarship. The award recognizes commitment to public service and student leadership.
Each recipient will attend the Pearson Student Leadership Summit Aug. 9-11 in Washington, D.C.
Cristina Garcia told her story in a video as part of her application for the Pearson Prize in Higher Education Scholarship.
“Along with the birth of my daughter, it was one of the greatest achievements of my life,” she said of the award. “It’s a huge honor. It’s humbling to know that my story impacts so many people.”
Garcia was living in New Orleans in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit the city. She watched in horror as the images of the devastation flashed on her television after evacuating to San Antonio, where she and her family stayed with relatives. The aftermath and how it was handled sparked a desire to learn more about the inner workings of the federal government.
“I think it became more and more of a realization that this city knew it was in a fishbowl and was never prepared for the levees to break,” she said. “I just started seeing all the … bureaucracy that I had never opened my eyes to as a teenager.”
While in San Antonio, she volunteered at Kelly Air Force Base to help other survivors. She counseled and helped other survivors find housing, and worked with them to make sure they received their vaccinations and medical care.
She eventually moved to North Texas, where she enrolled in Collin County Community College. In fall 2009, she took an introductory government class that was taught by Dr. Millie D. Black, UT Dallas’ first PhD graduate in political science.
“It was her way of teaching and her passion for the subject that was instrumental in my deciding my career path,” Garcia said of Dr. Black. “She is the reason I became interested in this area of study.”
Garcia graduated magna cum laude from Collin County Community College in May. She will begin the Fast Track master’s program in political science at UT Dallas this fall.
“Dr. Black played a huge role in that (decision) because she’s such an inspirational teacher and is an alumnus of UT Dallas,” she said. “I looked at other universities, and UT Dallas just seemed to be a good fit for me.”
While at Collin County Community College, Garcia founded Volunteer Outreach in Civic Engagement (VOICE), whose mission is to educate, communicate and motivate the students to become involved in civic engagement and volunteerism. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa and graduated from the Student Leadership Academy offered at Collin.
She is actively involved with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), for which she was recently elected to serve as the Texas state deputy director for young adults. She is a member of the Plano Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee and is the Bilingual Outreach Coordinator for the City of Plano’s Love Where You Live Project. She also manages a plot at the Frisco Community Garden in partnership with the Student Leadership Academy and the Frisco Family Services Food Pantry.
In addition to her academic work and her school and civic involvement, Garcia is the mother of her 3-year-old daughter Aaliyah. In her essay for the Pearson Prize application, she wrote that the daily lessons she has learned raising her daughter help her with the leadership challenges she faces in various organizations.
“The people that have had the most influence on me have led by example, and I too find it most effective to lead by example whether with my daughter, at school, or in the community at large,” she wrote in her essay.
Garcia’s short-term goal is to teach government at the college level after she earns her master’s degree. She said she wants to motivate students in much the same way that Dr. Black motivated her. Her long-term goal is to be a political analyst in Washington.