Different strokes: Garcia paints full career in STEM, leadership

Mar 1, 2024Courtney Morris
Dr. Rachel Garcia, San Jacinto College associate vice chancellor of teaching and learning

Starving artist. Now there’s a phrase that gave college-bound Rachel Garcia pause.

Dr. Rachel Garcia, San Jacinto College
Dr. Rachel Garcia

While she liked sweeping a paintbrush across a canvas, swirling colors together, Garcia decided to channel her creativity into science instead. After all — with the Texas Medical Center, Port of Houston, and NASA nearby — she’d have plenty of STEM career options.

Today, with a Ph.D. in chemistry, the former chemistry professor and physical sciences department chair serves as San Jacinto College’s associate vice chancellor of teaching and learning. In honor of Women’s History Month, we celebrate women like Garcia who lead change in their fields.

Garcia shares her career journey, her advice to younger women, and one passion she hasn’t given up.

Q: Describe a woman who motivated you to reach higher.

A: My mom — she struggled financially when she was separated from my dad and took on a few jobs so she could move on her own. Watching the relationship dynamic between my parents made me believe I should never be financially obligated to stay in a failing relationship. I put my education and career first until I had financial security on my own.

Q: What’s the biggest career challenge you’ve overcome?

A: Understanding that everyone is not built the same. When I started, I thought the hard skills I learned in my formal education were obtainable for anyone. If people didn’t obtain the same results as me, they were not trying hard enough. I didn’t consider we all have strengths and weaknesses and that my weakness was someone else’s strength. Once it dawned on me that I worked with people who complement my skill sets, I built relationships and accomplished much more.

Emotional intelligence is critical. Leadership training has helped me understand myself and better serve others.

Q: What led you to San Jac?

A: I met the former chemistry department chair at an American Chemical Society event. I was a new stay-at-home mom and decided to teach evening classes to get a break. After eight months, I went back to the workforce but kept my adjunct role at San Jac. I loved San Jac’s focus on student support and success. That dedication to students resonated with me, and the rest is history.

Q: What excites you about your current role?

A: I get to provide solutions to a variety of aspects of the College. The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning oversees College Community Week and College Community Day, but we are involved in so many other functions College-wide — from the Chautauqua lecture series, book discussions, and new faculty academy to curriculum and the course catalog. I enjoy working with my team and amazing leader, deputy chancellor Dr. Laurel Williamson.

Q: How did you feel about receiving the Outstanding Women in Texas Government Award in 2018?

A: I had no idea I was nominated, and winning was one of my most memorable experiences. Being recognized for your hard work and dedication is important for anyone’s well-being, and I was happy that San Jac and Texas leadership recognized me for my contributions. It still motivates me to do my best every day. People notice your work ethic.

Q: What’s one thing you would tell your younger self?

A: Take care of your health. I used to put work and other obligations over my health and would neglect my well-being. Even though I had sports injuries, I would still push myself to compete, work out hard, and cope with pain. Now I’m paying for it. Take time to address any health issues you have.

Q: What advice do you have for the next generation of women?

A: Society has certain expectations of you as a woman — and possibly ethnic expectations too. As a Hispanic woman, I think many people think of servitude…. Don’t spend copious amounts of energy to disprove that, like I did. It drained me and drove me to become defensive. You can use people’s perceptions to your advantage, even if you know you’re nothing like what people think you are.

The most important thing is to make a good impression. If you’re comfortable with yourself, you can control how you engage with others — how you present yourself. Carry yourself with dignity and pride.

Q: Do you still pick up a paintbrush?

A: I do! Now it’s with my two daughters, who love art as much as I do.

Learn more about San Jac's STEM programs

Categorized As