An SDSU Staff Member’s Ongoing Support of Engineering Students

November 15, 2023
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Theresa Garcia

As a two-time alumna of San Diego State University, a staff member for over three decades, and a dedicated donor, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Theresa Garcia ('91, '09) has demonstrated steady support for College of Engineering students. 

Beginning her career with the Math, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA) program in 1991, Garcia was surrounded by students who were interested in STEM but had yet to realize their path forward. 

That’s when she became passionate about helping students identify their dreams. 

When Garcia became director of MESA in 1997, she began giving back to the college every month through the payroll deduction program.

“I was inspired to help students realize their dreams to become engineers or scientists,” she said. “Oftentimes, they were first-generation and low-income. We needed scholarship funds at the time, and I couldn't contribute a large amount, but what I could contribute was helping incrementally, a little bit at a time.”  

Since then, she has become one of the most loyal faculty or staff donors of the College of Engineering.

“It was to serve the students and truthfully, that’s just been my work to serve students and help them reach their success.”

Garcia can personally resonate with the obstacles students face because she was a first-generation college graduate who hadn't initially realized her call to higher education. 

Coming from a family of agricultural workers, college was never in her line of sight until she was approached by a high school teacher who encouraged her to apply.   

“Being from a poor family, being guided by a high school teacher and others, helped me get to where I am,” said Garcia. “From that experience, I just want to help others because it changed my life, and it changed the lives of all of my family members after me.”

The assistant dean now holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management, along with her master’s in education, both from SDSU, and she credits the teacher who inspired her to pursue her education.

Garcia directly understands the impact that giving back has on student achievement. 

“It is truly the people that helped me that I am where I am. It's about paying it forward. It was because of the teacher that put me on the path to college.” 

In 2019, she increased her contribution when she named the MESA Collaborative Annex, a student study room, with alumna Daisy Galeana ('98) in the Center for Student Success in Engineering.

Creating opportunities 

Garcia’s support as a staff member and donor is reflected in the success that MESA and College of Engineering alumni have achieved after graduation. 

“We never had an engineer in our family, I was a first-generation college student raised by my grandparents, and without the opportunities that MESA and Theresa provided, I don’t know where I would be,” said MESA graduate Jeremiah Jeffries (‘15). 

After spending some time working in industry, Jeffries earned his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and began teaching for the San Diego Unified School District at Lincoln High School in the Valencia Park community. 

Recently, Garcia connected him with Director of Outreach Luis Topete, who manages the K-12 MESA programs and together, they re-established a MESA program at Lincoln. 

Last year, Jeffries brought his high schoolers to Senior Design Day on campus to meet professors and view the inspiring projects that the students had created. 

As a teacher at a low socio-economic high school, Jeffries finds it especially important to bring his students to a college campus to interact with engineers. “It helps them establish long-term goals and envision themselves in the future,” he said. 

“These are the kinds of stories that inspire me to continue doing what I’m doing. It’s not for any glamour or pay. It’s just the right thing to do, to help someone else,” said Garcia.  

This is why she continues to give to the college. She encourages others who would like to give back to consider the payroll deduction program as well, as it is simple to set up.

For additional information on making a gift to the College of Engineering, contact Kate Carinder, Senior Director of Development, at: [email protected].