Young Alumni Q & A: Ariana Garcia

Ariana Garcia is a higher education doctoral student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She examines the experiences of graduate Students of Color and the educational and career pathways of Students of Color in STEM. Garcia earned her master’s in education and human resource studies specializing in counseling and career development from Colorado State University’s School of Education in 2018.

Describe your current position and degree program and some of the responsibilities that come with it.

I am currently a doctoral student studying higher education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I study the graduate student experience of Students of Color and the career and educational pathways of Students of Color in STEM. I am currently the graduate assistant for strategy in the Office of the President. I work on the university’s Top Tier strategic plan. I gather, assess, and analyze metrics used to evaluate the university’s progression on its strategic plan. I enjoy learning about how the university enacts change through different policies and practices.

How has COVID-19 changed operations for your industry, and how are you responding to it?

Like many industries, COVID-19 has heavily impacted higher education. For many universities, the campus went from a place where over 30,000 people went each day to virtually zero. In a matter of days, professors had to learn to teach online, and university services had to figure out how to provide support in a way that many had never done. I work as a graduate assistant, a research assistant, and a full-time doctoral student; I went from spending 12 hours each day on campus to entirely remote. It was a large adjustment, and I struggled a lot with the transition and managing the stress from the pandemic. It required me to focus more attention on my mental and physical health, and I hope to continue these practices once we return to campus.

Why did you decide to pursue your current career path?

I always wanted a career where I could help people and saw counseling as the path to do that. I knew a career in counseling required a graduate degree. In preparation for graduate school, I participated in the McNair Achievement program as an undergraduate. As a requirement of this experience, I started working on research with faculty advisors. I found research fascinating and became passionate about it; however, I still wanted to be a counselor. I came to CSU to work on my master’s in counseling and career development. I was able to develop as a counselor and continue my research interests with Dr. Gonzalez-Voller. Through this experience, I realized my true passions involved research and studying college students’ experiences. I learned about a career as a faculty member and realized I could combine all of my interests in one career. I could conduct research, teach, and advise and mentor graduate students. This ultimately led to my decision to pursue a Ph.D. in higher education. Since graduating from CSU, I have been eager to gain experience in various sectors of higher education and experience the institution from multiple viewpoints.

How have your education and experiences at CSU helped you in your career? Was there a faculty member in the College of Health and Human Sciences who inspired you most? 

Although I decided to pursue a career outside of counseling, the skills I gained from the counseling and career development program have been invaluable. As an undergraduate instructor, I continuously use my counseling skills to work with students and support them through college. As a qualitative researcher, I use skills such as active listening and rapport building to create a safe environment for participants. I am thankful for all that I learned from the CCD program and its influence on my educational journey.

The faculty member who inspired me the most (and still does) is Dr. Jessica Gonzalez-Voller. From elementary school through my undergraduate work, I had never had a Latina teacher or professor. She showed me that Women of Color exist within academia and has served as an important role model. She provided me with holistic support through my master’s degree and helped me identify the right career path. I still go to her for advice and am thankful to have her as a mentor!

What advice do you have for students looking to join your field?

Since I am still a graduate student and navigating the field of higher education, I will give advice to students who want to start a Ph.D. program. Prior to starting your application process, make sure you have a semi-clear idea of what you want to study. This will help shape your search for programs and advisors. Doctoral programs are difficult, making it more challenging if you are studying something you are not passionate about. Once you identify programs of interest, ask if there are other graduate students you can talk with about their experience. You can learn a lot about the program, faculty mentorship styles, and program culture from talking with students currently in the program.

The School of Education is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.