Growing into higher ed

Sonia Garcia pictured with her parents.Sonia Garcia, of Hales Corners, Wisconsin, graduated in December with a major in communication studies. She poses for a picture at commencement with her parents, Cindy and Ruben Garcia.

Grad finds future in student affairs through experience in clubs, classes, campus offices

Dig deep into your identity. Start challenging conversations. Become a leader and a mentor.

That sounds like a lot of work.

But UW-La Crosse December graduate Sonia Garcia has done it all — and she’s only getting started. Garcia is now applying to graduate school in Student Affairs Administration to become a higher education professional dedicated to supporting students in her future.

Before Garcia figured out the career track she wanted, she dug deep into her past. When she came to UWL in 2013, classes and organizations got her thinking more about her Puerto Rican roots.

“I became more interested in what it means to be Puerto Rican and how that influences everything I do — what is important, what I value and how I process things,” she explains.

Through the UWL student group, Mujeres Orgullosas (translated to “proud women”) she dug further into challenges faced by fellow Latina students and provided support. They became mentors to middle and high school Latina students in a neighboring community, sharing their college experience through regular visits. Garcia also became a leader of Intercultural Organization Promoting Awareness and started conversations on social justice and diversity issues as a member of UWL’s Awareness Through Performance troupe.

Along the way, she always wondered how her own college experience, being from an underrepresented background and first-generation college student, could help others. She saw staff at UWL working toward goals in the Office of Multicultural Student Services and Student Support Services, but she didn’t know how she fit in.

It wasn’t until a meeting with her advisor, Michele Nauman, during her junior year that Garcia realized she could go to graduate school in Student Affairs Administration and make a career in higher education.

Garcia had first-hand experience at UWL seeing the value of Student Support Services. As a member of the leadership council and a peer coach for the office, she served on panels and created programming to help first–year students from low-income and first-generation backgrounds adjust to campus life and classes.

When Garcia got involved in The McNair Scholars Program, she saw how graduate school could become a possibility. She conducted research related to advising and supporting first-generation college students and their parents or guardians. She presented it alongside Nauman at the National Academic Advising Association Conference, a regional conference in Illinois, as well as other locations.

Garcia is grateful for all of the connections she has made — from Student Support Services to organizations to McNair Scholars. “If not for people in those offices, I wouldn’t be where I am in my development and pursuing the career I am,” she says.

Nauman recalls how eager Garcia was to make the most of college from the moment she met her as a first-year student. Today Nauman is just as eager to see Garcia make the most of her future career.

“She is someone who is ahead of the game,” says Nauman. “She has a clear path of what she is passionate about, what it means to be a higher education professional and the impact you can have on students. I’m so excited for her.”


Learn more about UWL’s Student Affairs Administration program.