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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

ARPE’s Garcia-Navarrete Honored for Work to ‘Send the Elevator Back Down’

Dr. Sylvia Garcia-Navarrete

For Dr. Sylvia Garcia-Navarrete (’91, ’12), awards season is apparently in full swing. The lecturer in San Diego State University’s Department of Administration, Rehabilitation and Postsecondary Education (ARPE) received two major honors recognizing her achievements and dedication to her home community in San Diego’s South Bay area.

In February, she was recognized as a Chula Vista Champion by her hometown of Chula Vista. And just days later, she received a surprise phone call informing her that she’d been named the Woman of the Year for the 40th Senate District by California State Senator Ben Hueso.

“It's wonderful and it's an honor,” Garcia-Navarrete said. “One of my things is that I try to remain humble, because I know all of these accomplishments aren't something I've done myself. There are many people who have opened up doors for me, who have encouraged me and who have challenged me to go above and beyond just the status quo.”

Sending the Elevator Back Down 

A professor of English and reading at Southwestern College, Garcia-Navarrete was honored for her work as a role model to students of color — something she said was lacking for her growing up as a young Latinx student. She brings that same aim to SDSU, teaching in the M.A. in Postsecondary Educational Leadership: Specialization in Student Affairs, and in ARPE’s Pacific degree programs in Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and American Samoa.

It all stems from her experience growing up in the underserved community of east San Diego, and being bussed to the more affluent community of Clairemont as part of a voluntary integration program (VIP). The hostility, detrimental labeling and imposter syndrome she dealt with there is something she remembers well. Her inspiration now, she said, is to "send the elevator back down" to help those from similar backgrounds who need support.

“I look back now and think, 'What were those things that didn't work for me, and how can I make a difference now so that this younger generation won't have to go through the same struggles that I did?’” Garcia-Navarrete said.

“What I bring to the class is a different approach for learning,” she adds. “It's more of a thinking-centered approach that creates an inclusive environment that is equitable — everyone has a voice at the table.”

Struggles and Inspiration 

Garcia-Navarrete first came to SDSU as a transfer student from Southwestern in 1985, majoring in English. She returned in 2009 to pursue her doctorate — an experience that exposed her to several mentors who impacted her teaching, including ARPE professors Dr. Caren Sax and Dr. Fred McFarlane.

“They've been instrumental in really showing me what leadership is like,” Garcia-Navarrete said. “It's not about having the power or the position to make a difference, but really supporting the person to surpass you — to have the student master the teacher. It's not about earning those three letters after your name, it's how you pass that on.”

That’s not to say those three letters — Ed.D. — don’t serve a function. In fact, she goes out of her way to provide inspiration to her Latinx students by introducing herself as Doctora Garcia-Navarrete. The implied message: “I am a Latina with a doctorate. This is a possibility for you, too.”

“I've had students come up to me and tell me that just me introducing myself as Doctora has inspired them to continue with education,” Garcia-Navarrete said. “I think that's the most beautiful thing.”