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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Passion for service drives TR professor

TR+biology+department+chair+Sophia+Garcia+helps+students+Ashley+Kirkland+and+Ashley+Jackson+locate+and+identify+human+muscles.+Garcia+won+the+Chancellor%E2%80%99s+Award+for+Exemplary+Teaching+for+TR+Campus.%0A%0ABogdan+Sierra+Miranda%2FThe+Collegian
TR biology department chair Sophia Garcia helps students Ashley Kirkland and Ashley Jackson locate and identify human muscles. Garcia won the Chancellor’s Award for Exemplary Teaching for TR Campus. Bogdan Sierra Miranda/The Collegian

By Sheri-Lee Norris/ campus editor

TR biology department chair Sophia Garcia helps students Ashley Kirkland and Ashley Jackson locate and identify human muscles. Garcia won the Chancellor’s Award for Exemplary Teaching for TR Campus. Bogdan Sierra Miranda/The Collegian
TR biology department chair Sophia Garcia helps students Ashley Kirkland and Ashley Jackson locate and identify human muscles. Garcia won the Chancellor’s Award for Exemplary Teaching for TR Campus.
Bogdan Sierra Miranda/The Collegian

People often say they owe their lives to a college, but for Sophia Garcia, it’s true.

Her parents, Juan and Dorene Garcia, met on South Campus in 1978 while taking a volleyball class. Thirty-eight years later, their daughter would go on to win the TR Campus Chancellor’s Award for Exemplary Teaching.

Sophia Garcia, a biologist and life sciences department chair, wants to make a difference in the lives of students and believes her position is uniquely important.

“As department chair, I get the best of both worlds,” she said. “I have administrative duties but also have the opportunity to hire the right staff of people who love students and want to be here as much as I do.”

As a Tarrant County native and a first-generation college graduate, she particularly considers it a “responsibility and a duty” to help first-generation students.

TCC is a family enterprise for Garcia as her husband and brother both work on TR Campus. Brother Sophan Garcia is the campus strategic planning and effectiveness director, and her husband, Pete Portillo, is its student success coordinator. As all three have a passion for service, their paths often cross outside of the home as well.

Her brother enjoys sharing their mother’s daily directive, which has carried over into their adult lives. When most parents leave children at school, they often tell them to be good, but their mother said something else.

“Know him, love him, serve him and do a kind act,” he recollects.

A devout Catholic, Dorene Garcia raised both of her children to not only be a testimony to their faith but to do something good for another person each day. Sophan Garcia says his sister continues to “pay it forward every day.”

Indeed, Sophia Garcia’s life passion is not just teaching. She has a calling to help Latina women excel in the sciences. She founded the TCC Latina STEM Fellowship, which currently serves 20 women each summer on TR. Future plans include doubling grant money received for this science, technology, engineering and math program.

In her award recommendation letter, biology instructor Zuzana Garcia (unrelated) wrote, “Whether it’s making viruses out of pipe cleaners or labeling dolls with anatomical terms, her students always do something that promotes active learning. Her enthusiasm and passion for the subject, her desire to open the eyes of the students to the wonders of science is very evident.”

Portillo explains how her natural teaching ability extends to their personal lives. He recalls tossing random plastic letters to their son at home when he was small.

“She told me I was doing it wrong,” he said. “She found the letters C-A-T and held them up together for him to read. Even play was a time for teaching with her.”

Sophia Garcia finds many ways to reach students and help them be successful. She asks everybody to take a self-test on learning styles their first day, and she asks how many of them are first-generation college students. She prefers to do integrated coursework where lab and lecture are taught together when it is possible.

“I love teaching with a hands-on experience, based on learning theory, to say and do at the same time,” she said. “We should be teaching more students to learn in their own ways.”

Sophia Garcia is an active mentor of other women both at school and her local church.

“I would not be where I am now if I had not met her,” says former TCC student Anna Gandara.

Gandara is currently studying at UTA, and her goals include becoming a nurse. She says Garcia continues to push her to set even higher goals. She is also considering going on to get a master’s. Although Gandara has transferred to UTA, Garcia continues as her mentor.

“I like biology because it is the study of life and the things we are made of,” Garcia said. “Knowing what makes us function helps us take better care of ourselves and our loved ones.”

Garcia has found this important as many of her students are helping take care of elderly parents.

“Even if they don’t get an A in my class, I hope to give them an appreciation for their body and a sense of respect to take care of it,” she said.

She takes serving as a role model and mentor seriously. After getting her bachelor’s, she completed a doctorate from Texas Woman’s University and an associate degree from TCC, both in 2015.

“It was a little different way of doing it,” she said. “But I felt it was important to practice what I preach. I never got my A.A., and I discovered I only needed to take three classes to get it. So I took them, and got my Ph.D. and A.A. the same year.”

Her brother praises her passion for the sciences.

“When we were little, she would scream at a bug and tell me to get it because she was afraid,” he said. “Then, when we were roommates together in college, I would open up the freezer and find a bunch of black bugs stuck on pins inside. It was kind of funny. It’s been wonderful watching her grow as a scientist.”

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