From Student to Fellow: Opportunities Are Created
The story of life consists of a series of endeavors; its chapters are forged by a force that we often attribute to fate or chance. More precisely, this directing force can be described as opportunity. While some may still debate as to whether or not these moments are the product of fortune or free will, our latest guest offers up his personal journey in arguing for the latter. In tracing through his steps from life as a college student to a member of his alma mater's administration, Freddimir Garcia reminds us that the story of life is ours alone to write.
In 2005, I began my collegiate experience at Marist College. As an 18-year old freshman hailing from the Bronx, the campus in Poughkeepsie was nothing like my city. A car was needed to get anywhere important, noise from construction and music did not exist, and I was the only Dominican in any given class. Everything from the people, the classes, and even the food choices was different. But despite all of these unfamiliar things, I not only saw opportunity, I created it.
As an undergrad, I focused on three points that eventually became the foundation for my approach to creating opportunity. First, work hard to obtain grades high enough for me to get a good job after I graduated. Second, meet and interact with as many people as possible. Lastly, get involved with everything and anything that would put me out there and allow me to achieve points one and two.
Looking back, I can confidently say that my time at Marist was a total success. I was dedicated and hardworking enough to earn a GPA that kept me in great academic standing for four years. I was involved in intramural basketball, flag football, and volleyball. Believe it or not, this aspiring Allen Iverson even tried fencing! I was also an active participant in the Black Student Union, International Club, Appreciating Races Creating Opportunity club, and many other organizations that allowed me to better understand the cultural uniqueness within us all. Lastly, I worked at College Activities, where I met other students, faculty, staff, and a variety of guest lecturers in the Student Center from 2005 – 2009. Because I worked that much, because I provided active service to my fellow undergrads, and because I embraced the unfamiliar, I had the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of all aspects of the student experience and simultaneously, without even noticing it, was being evaluated and watched by all those around me.
Opportunities don’t just appear—they are created. This mantra, although simple, changed my life. Of course it wasn’t easy as a college student. After all, to achieve point two, I had to be present. There were times I wanted to take a five-hour midday nap. There were times I had questions for a professor but I was too afraid or embarrassed to ask and sound dumb. Even my initial shyness as a Bronx fish out of Bronx water made me hesitant about sharing my thoughts and experiences with complete strangers. But I skipped the naps, I asked the questions, and I shared to my heart’s content. Being present led to me making the right decisions and creating the intentional and unintentional connections that have put me where I am in life today.
Upon graduation, after making the moves I thought were necessary during my time at Marist, the one thing I did not have was a job. I applied everywhere and continued getting the same results. No calls for an interview, jobs wanting me to have decades of experience, or positions that paid less than work study. It was disheartening. Why had I worked so hard in college? Why did I strive to put myself out there and be present? What was the point of graduating if I could not get a job? Why wasn’t I one of the lucky ones? After almost calling it quits, I asked myself two very different questions. What am I good at and what do I know best? The answers came to me fairly quickly when I actually sat down and thought about it. Freddy is great with people and, after years of being immersed in campus life, Freddy knew and understood Marist College better than anyone else. So with nothing to lose, I went online, saw an admissions job at Marist, and applied.
Opportunities don’t just appear—they are created.
After an optimistic and energetic interview for a position in graduate and adult admissions a few days before graduation, I was told I did not get the job. Undeterred, I saw another position in the same department, and applied. A few days later, I received a call from the Dean. “Hi Freddy, thanks for your interest in our office but we have an internal candidate who will most likely get the position. Would you still like to come in and interview again?” Now I could have answered the Dean in many ways. I could have asked him what the point was if he had someone in mind already. I could have even been honest and told him I didn’t want to waste the same suit at the same department just to get the same rejection email. But my answer, just like my mantra was simple: “Absolutely!”
Opportunities don’t just appear—they are created.
Two months later, I received a call from the Dean asking if I had a job yet. I told him that I did not (though not for lack of trying). He said that because of my energy, passion, and apparent interest, he was working on getting me back to Marist. In March 2010, I stepped back on campus, not as a student but as an employee. I was officially an Adult and Graduate Admission Counselor. Getting the job didn’t happen by luck or coincidence. Instead it happened because of my willingness to make sure that I, Freddimir Garcia, was part of the conversation.
As an Admission Counselor, I was given the chance to understand Marist from a marketing perspective. I learned more about Marist’s strengths in relation to the external community and how to generate leads while delving deeper into the higher education landscape. Part of my role was also to comprehend and learn the financial aid process for the one-stop-shop experience. My willingness to learn, to put in the work, and to commit to the institution actually led to a promotion. Within months, I became the Assistant Director of Financial Aid and helped support adult and graduate students with the financial aid process. I took a real liking to the people, the stories, and the potential of those I came across every day. I familiarized myself with institutional policy and procedures, default rates, student debt, etc. I got a better understanding of the challenges within higher education while learning about the financial concerns of families at Marist and across the country. In my mind, I was just doing my job. But looking back, I was doing so much more. I was building a portfolio of different experiences. Without even realizing it, I was preparing myself for that next opportunity.
After two years as the Assistant Director of Financial Aid (2010 – 2012), I was pretty content. I mean, what more could I do or want? Apparently, a lot more. On an average day no different than any other, someone asked me what I thought about the opportunity of working in the President’s Office, directly with Dr. Dennis J. Murray, President of Marist College. I immediately pushed the notion aside. Me, working for the President of Marist College? Not a chance, I thought to myself. Then it dawned on me. I realized that this question was asked specifically to me for a reason. This opportunity was being crafted and had been in the works, figuratively speaking, since my first year as an undergrad back in 2005. I had come to know Marist better than most because of my fervent networking. Not only did I understand the Marist experience as a student and alumnus, but I had managed to understand the industry of higher learning from the various perspectives of an employee. It sure seems like someone randomly asking me about the opportunity to work with the President of Marist just appeared. But I am certain that this was the result of others seeing me excel in my role and all the conversations that I had with the right people. So I emphasize again…..
Opportunities don’t just appear—they are created.
Appointed in 2012, I serve as the Presidential Fellow at Marist College. As an administrative member of the Cabinet, I work directly with the President on student and external relations, diversity & inclusion, and community engagement. I barely remember my first year as a Presidential Fellow because I learned so many new and exciting things. I had the privilege of serving an outstanding leader in Dr. Murray, earning my master’s, and continuing my academic, professional, and personal development. I participate in all aspects of the College, attend all internal meetings, get involved in the community, and make myself accessible to students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Now here I am, five years in and working with our newly appointed President, David Yellen, who has continued to move Marist forward to greater success.
Aside from not getting to wear sweatpants everywhere I go, my current role really isn’t so much different from my approach as an undergrad. The stakes are bigger, but the pieces are the same. First, I work hard. Second, I meet and interact with as many people as possible. Last, but not least, I get involved with everything and anything that allows me to achieve the first two points. I follow the mantra I set for myself 12 years ago. If you intentionally put yourself out there in the desired circles, you’ll one day confirm that opportunities don’t just appear, they are created. That unfamiliar place you walk into, that hand you shake at an event, that lesson you learn from a recent failure—all of that is simply showcasing your value, which is simply creating opportunity.
With special thanks to my good friend Richard Frias. His constant support, encouragement, feedback, and edits led to the final product.