By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities
Following the death of his father in 2000, he got involved with the wrong crowd and started abusing drugs. In 2009, he was found guilty of theft of firearms and burglary and began serving a sentence at Airway Heights Corrections Center in Spokane, Wash.
There, he started a plan to ensure he would never see the inside of a prison cell again: “I enrolled in some college classes,” he said.
Thanks to this first step, and help from the federal TRIO program, he has overcome his criminal past and is thriving as a student speaker and future leader. TRIO provides low-income, first-generation and disabled students with tutoring, counseling and other resources to help them succeed both inside and outside the classroom.
“TRIO changed my life,” Garcia said. “I don’t know where I would be today without the TRIO program and the help I’ve received through Washington State University Tri-Cities.”
Care, concern keep him on track
While taking courses in prison through Spokane Falls Community College, Garcia worked with his chemical dependency counselor to end the toxic cycle of substance abuse and addiction. He got a job, earning 30 cents an hour, to pay off $1,500 in college debt he owed from a previous try at community college.
“I was battling many personal issues and many personal demons,” he said. “I wanted a better life for myself. I knew it could be done through the power of education.”
Out of prison in March 2012, he enrolled in Big Bend Community College. After a successful first quarter, he decided to take winter quarter off.
“I was just feeling that I wasn’t adequate and I wasn’t worthy to go back and be in school,” he said. “My thought was ‘How is a convict like me ever going to change?’ That was when a TRIO advisor called me. They cared enough to call and see if I was OK.”
That gave him the motivation to complete his associate’s degree before enrolling at WSU Tri-Cities, where TRIO has continued to be crucial to his success.
Better future based on education, experience
A junior psychology student, Garcia ultimately hopes to earn a doctorate and start a nonprofit organization to help out others with troubled pasts.
He said the TRIO staff at WSU Tri-Cities has been able to locate scholarships for him that he would not have known about otherwise. He is on a psychology research team and participates in community service projects. He holds a 3.8 grade point average.
He has served as a resident advisor for TRIO Upward Bound, the organization’s summer academy program, where he shares his story with younger students.
“Things are going really well for me now, and I owe a lot of that to the TRIO program,” he said.
He works with the El Nuevo Camino organization, a crisis intervention program to reduce youth crime and violence. He serves on the board and is being trained to become project manager.
“It is a new organization, but we collaborate with local law enforcement, judges, district attorneys, community leaders and health professionals,” he said. “Our plan is to make a real difference right here in our local community.”
Aiming for grad school, inspiring others
Garcia said he hopes his story encourages others on the path to success and will motivate others to apply to TRIO and get involved.
He recently spoke at WSU Tri-Cities’ first celebration of National TRIO Day:
“I want to encourage you, if you are a first-generation, low-income or disabled student, to sign up for TRIO today,” he said. “I am fully convinced that TRIO works. I am living proof. If I can do it, so can you.”
He plans to apply for TRIO’s Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, which is a competitive grant for graduate school for participants from disadvantaged backgrounds who have demonstrated strong academic potential.
For more information about the TRIO program at WSU Tri-Cities, visit https://tricities.wsu.edu/trio/.