Meet Doris Garcia, Promise Counselor
& Co-Coordinator of the Katipunan
Learning Community at CSM
Interview conducted by Katharine Harer, AFT 1493 Co-Vice President & Outreach Organizer
When did you get hired FT in SMCCCD? Did you work in our district prior to getting a full-time position?
I initially started in the district in 2017 as an adjunct counselor with the Kababayan Learning Community at Skyline College, which was honestly a dream opportunity as a new graduate to work with students that shared the same ethnic identity as me — especially since Filipinx Learning Communities are rare across the state. It had a huge impact on the work I do at CSM now, along with supporting coordination for the Rock the School Bells conference.
I was hired full-time with College of San Mateo in Fall 2019 as a temporary full timer, then hired as a full-time tenure track counselor for Promise Scholars Fall 2021. I am also the Co-Coordinator for CSM’s Filipinx Learning Community, Katipunan.
Between 2017-2019, I was a textbook freeway flyer: commuting from Oakland each day; working part time at Skyline, Outreach Counseling for DeAnza College, summer adjunct work at Laney College and as a Middle College counselor at Las Positas College. Prior to counseling, I was working in the educational mental health non-profit sector doing quality assurance and programming for middle schoolers.
What drew you to becoming a community college counselor? Did you have any experiences, personal or work related, that lead you to this “calling?”
I reflected on the times in my life I felt most fulfilled in my work and remembered how much student organizing and mentoring peers in undergrad helped me be more critically conscious of the world, especially as a Filipina in the diaspora. As a first-generation college student, I had no counselors that helped me; it was honestly my community of peers that got me through the system.
As I mentioned before, I worked in the education/mental health non-profit sector. I was surrounded by therapists and treatment plans and was encouraged to become a social worker. As I got different promotions, worked my way through quality assurance and programming positions, the natural next promotion was manager, but I just couldn’t see myself in that role. I saw how systems, including education, failed our students. I wanted to work more directly with students – to not only help students get TO college, but THROUGH college. And I felt that come alive when I interned at Berkeley City College. I’m so fortunate to do that work with, specifically, Promise Scholars, a program that works so hard to remove as many barriers as possible to help make that happen for students.
What do you love the most about your job?
This job is always more than just planning courses for transfer, despite what others may believe. I pour love into this work, and it is relational. Counseling is mentorship, it’s being a hype woman, it’s holding accountability with high support. The system and the institution of education was built WITHOUT many of our students in mind. And so, I hold the time I spend with students sacred. Our time together is a soft place to land; where they can ask the questions they are too scared to ask, so that they can grow and navigate higher education with more confidence. .
|“This work is hard work, but it is always heart work. I love that I work in a cohort model. Every student deserves to build a relationship with a counselor to facilitate their success in college. My Promise team is phenomenal in how we support one another so seamlessly.”|
This work is hard work, but it is always heart work. I love that I work in a cohort model. Every student deserves to build a relationship with a counselor to facilitate their success in college. My Promise team is phenomenal in how we support one another so seamlessly. And, of course, the Katipunan Learning Community, which we’ve worked so hard to establish, has healed parts of me that I never knew needed it, and hope it does for many cohorts of Filipinx students to come. I love feeling like I am helping to build something that will impact generations in the future.
Please share 1 or 2 short anecdotes about working with students that have meant a lot to you and/or taught you something about our students and their needs.
Working with students is forever a privilege and a humbling experience. I always say that the youth speak truth, and I try to center their voices and experiences as a guiding principle in how I do counseling.
Working with Promise and Katipunan (KTP) has allowed me to walk with my students from start to finish. From the beginning, when they feel safe enough to admit they may not even know what “transferring” means, to the moment they graduate and they are excited to introduce me to their family as someone who helped to facilitate their growth. As each semester goes by, I am warmed by moments when they begin to realize that they did something themselves: mustering the courage to go to office hours and tutoring, learning how to use Assist on their own, feeling pride in their identity, and hitting “apply” on a school that they never felt was within their reach. As cheesy as it is, it gives me a feeling of pride, of students finally learning to ride a bike on their own.
Doris with a group of her students
Most recently, I have been attending field trips to the UCs. Both times, we asked Katipunan/Promise alumni to join us, and it makes me emotional to hear how integral PSP and KTP have been to their growth as students, and how we taught them to be proud of their identity, to critically look at the world, to build community, and to dream big.
If you could change 3 things about your college and/or the district as a whole, what would they be?
One phrase I hear often as part of SMCCD culture is: “we’re building the bike as we go,” which I understand; when initiatives go into play, we want to move and serve students as fast as possible. But it pains me many times because things get left behind in the process; everything has to happen now, and it needs to be done well, which feels like it sacrifices employee mental health, quality of the work, and so much more.
I would also say that the phrase “student centered” is overused and misconstrued. I would want to see a “people centered” approach because it means that those who give their lives serving students are also included and prioritized. If those who provide the education are cared for, our students benefit greatly. And I know our union is working hard to make this happen.
I wish folks saw counseling faculty as simply faculty (along with our librarians and instructional designers,) to change language from “instructional/non-instructional” to just faculty. And while structurally it is difficult, I wish trainings around anti-racism, equity, justice work, etc. would be mandated for all, with accountability. Oftentimes those who may harm our students the most with their pedagogies and practices are the ones who wouldn’t voluntarily take these trainings.
Have you had any experiences working with a union, ours or any other? What did/do you take from your encounters with unions?
I have never worked with a union prior to coming to CSM. As someone who studied Asian American Studies in undergrad, with a love for Ethnic Studies and a bit of a background in student organizing, I’ve learned the principles of different movements (especially in the Filipino American community) so I absolutely know the value of unions.
I’ll be honest, I’m intimidated by jumping in and taking an active role, but hope to be helpful in small ways to build up my confidence to support others to keep the efforts going. While it is difficult to participate due to scheduled meetings with students and life obligations, I know our union is on the move and picking up speed in advocating for our benefits and our rights.
When you’re not working, what are some of your favorite ways to spend your time?
As a Taurus, I value comfort on the couch, and binging a good show and sleep is also a must. I love breaking bread in community; good stories, laughter, with a side of drinks. I also consider myself a PlanTITA (Tita means auntie in Tagalog,) an amateur with plants, but I love learning how to care for them and fumbling through the process.
If you feel comfortable, tell us a little bit about your family and how they influence you.
My parents immigrated here from the Philippines in 1981 to escape political turmoil and lived here undocumented for 30 or so years. The core of what kept them going here was holding higher education in the US as a transformative force for our lives and for generations after. Having their kids earn degrees in the US was the hope that anchored them through the racism and other systems that failed them, time and again. Earning my degree helped to validate that their struggle was not for nothing. However, as someone who actually went through the system here, I witnessed the multitude of injustices, and I am determined to help make it the education they dreamed it to actually be — and more. This work I do in education is a love letter to them.