A family born of tough times García’s parents brought their five
children to the U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico shortly before her birth.
They settled in Brooklyn, where both parents became factory workers and
raised their large family in a housing tenement. Education was a
priority for the Garcías. But to them that meant getting a high school
education. Mildred García was the only one to make it through college.
Her father died when she was 12, but her mother, Lucia – who died a few
years ago – carried on as head of the family, working long hours in the
factory and encouraging her youngest daughter’s college dreams. García
proudly calls her mother “my hero.”
“I had to work multiple
jobs to have enough money to pay for college,” she says. “When I would
get home, my mother would have my dinner waiting for me on a radiator to
It was her mother’s strength, she says, that drove her to eventually get a doctorate. García’s goal was to become a teacher.
“All I ever wanted to do was teach,” García says. With a wave of an arm in her spacious office, she adds. “All this came later.”
taught business at a community college in New York for five years. When
she was asked to be an assistant to the president at another community
college, she first turned it down
“I didn’t spend all that
time preparing to teach just to be somebody’s assistant,” she says. But
she took the job when she learned it would lead to more important
From there, her career in administration took off.
She became the college’s dean of students then kept moving up through
the ranks. She finally moved west, to Arizona State, where she
eventually became vice provost for academic affairs. But then an
executive headhunter convinced her to return east, as president of
Berkeley College of New York. But her work in national education circles
– especially Hispanic affairs – brought her much attention, and a
chance to move back west, to the presidency at Cal State Dominguez Hills
It was Milton Gordon, the outgoing president at
Cal State Fullerton, who was retiring after 22 years, who told her she
would be a perfect fit at the university.