A photo of a man from the chest up. He is smiling and wearing a gray sports coat with a white button up shirt.
Nick Garcia, Ph.D., a three-time VCU alum, started as the associate dean for student success in the School of Pharmacy this year. (Thomas Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Drawing from his own VCU journey, Nick Garcia helps School of Pharmacy students navigate their paths

The new associate dean for student success earned three degrees on campus and now relishes helping future generations.

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Nick Garcia is a VCU success story – the first-generation college student has earned three degrees – and now he’s helping students find their success.

“I get the most joy out of my role,” said Garcia, Ph.D., who in January became associate dean for student success in VCU’s School of Pharmacy. “I love to connect with people, and that is such a great thing in the role I am in now.”

Garcia thinks of the office of student success as a one-stop shop for students.

“Whatever issues they are facing, I try to help find a solution,” he said. “Education can be such a daunting experience even if you aren’t a first-generation or nontraditional student.”

VCU offered Garcia the personal, academic and professional support that has powered his success, and he feels compelled to do the same for his students now.

A native of King George County on Virginia’s Northern Neck, Garcia came to VCU as a freshman in part to be exposed to the school’s diverse student population.

“I really liked the idea of coming to a college somewhere that was different from my hometown. King George is pretty rural,” said Garcia, who is of Puerto Rican descent. “Growing up in a small town, there were not that many Latino families. I wanted to come to an urban school so I could see more individuals like me.”

He now wants to help students who have similar backgrounds feel comfortable on campus.

“I feel a sense of responsibility,” Garcia said. “I didn’t have the language to ask questions that I needed to ask when I was an undergraduate. I felt like I was walking blindly through my degree. I realized some of the things I learned in my journey would help inform students and give them a better experience than I had.”

He is passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion on college campuses.

“I want to ensure that everyone has equal access and equal opportunity to pursue their educational goals and to remove societal barriers that can hinder a person’s ability to improve their station,” he said. “Our students may be from different backgrounds. They may not be from a very privileged background, but they want to make the world a better place to make more opportunities for others.”

Garcia started working part-time as a supplemental instructor in the Campus Learning Center in 2009, providing tutoring to students in lower-level chemistry courses. While getting his master’s degree in public administration, he served as a part-time advisor to undergraduate students in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

“I would hear their concerns and try to start helping them in some way,” Garcia said. “Realizing the impact I had on students encouraged me to get my Ph.D.” in education in the School of Education, with a concentration in educational leadership, policy and justice.

Those advisor experiences, as well as his studies, have shaped his perspective on the evolving ways to fully serve students.

“It’s our job in student success to make it as easy as possible for students to work and earn their degree,” Garcia said. “We have to be able to think creatively to solve problems. That may come in the form of tutoring assistance, different courses or working with a student organization to create studying sessions. It can just be advocating for more resources.”

He noted that the cooperative culture in the School of Pharmacy is a powerful foundation to work from.

“Students here are so engaged, so active in supporting each other and the school. They want to go out in the world and become pharmacists and scientists and improve the world, make it a more healthy and equitable place,” Garcia said.

He also cited the school’s new Bachelor of Science degree in pharmaceutical sciences, with VCU being the only public school in Virginia to offer the program.

“It’s especially exciting when I think about the real-world impact they will have,” Garcia said of those upcoming students. “The medicines that you are taking might be ones that will be designed by our students.”

That evolving environment energizes Garcia. He said working with students means never doing the same thing day to day, month to month and year to year.

“It definitely keeps you on your toes,” he said.