Monday, August 3, 2009

Profile: HD instructor Mary Garcia

     Africanized killer bees didn’t slow down Mary Garcia.
     It was 1987. Garcia, now a Distance Degree Programs instructor, had just finished a degree in child and family development, but lacked the certificate needed to join the Peace Corps as a teacher. Instead, she signed up for beekeeper training. She was sent to a Paraguay village, where she braved the stings as she helped increase honey production.
     “I was so used to it that it was like swatting away flies,” she said. (Garcia still loves bees, and will enumerate their virtues with little prompting.)
     While in the village, Garcia wanted to teach preschoolers, but they “held class in a broom closet.” That did slow her down, but not for long. She got a $2,000 grant, bought bricks, mortar, windows, tiles, and a door. Using oxen, she helped bring the bricks to the village. When the school was built, she taught courses there.
More...     Last year, Garcia’s husband, Doug, took at job as art director at Colorado State University, and the Garcia family – including 11-year-old Gabrielle, 10-year-old Jojo, and Casey, a soft-coated wheaten terrier – moved from Pullman to Fort Collins. That slowed her down not one bit. “All I need is a reliable computer with a high-speed Internet connection,” she said.
     Her human development students certainly haven’t seen any slacking off. She’s a constant presence in the discussion boards and says “every post deserves to be read.” Along with fast feedback, her students also get her e-mail and phone number for immediate help.
     Garcia believes DDP students deserve that kind of dedication. “I have single moms, older students, moms with six kids, dads who have been laid off, grandmas, military wives, and young co-eds,” she said. “Most have full-time jobs and families. Yet after they put their kids to bed, they jump online and get their homework turned in. It’s truly amazing to see their drive.”
     After the Peace Corps, Garcia returned to her hometown of Alhambra, California, where she taught preschool, and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, helping build a two-story duplex for low income families. In 1992, she moved to Pullman, working at Washington State University while earning a 1994 master’s degree in human development. In her free time, she played guitar and led the choir at St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center.
     She taught her first online course in 1999, and has taught Human Development 204, 301, 403, 406, and 410.
     In spring 2008, she added a new twist to her HD 403 course, Families in Poverty, by requiring her 80 students to perform 20 hours of community service. They volunteered at a variety of organizations, exemplifying WSU’s mission of community engagement.
     This semester, Garcia is teaching three online courses. Part of the reason she likes online education, she said, is stage fright.
     “I taught on campus for two semesters and it turned my stomach into butterflies,” she said. “I much prefer sitting behind my computer and teaching online than face to face any day of the week.”
     One thing Garcia misses about living in Pullman is the opportunity to meet DDP students at on-campus events. One thing she enjoys about being 800 miles away? “I’m not obligated to attend meetings anymore.”
By Richard H. Miller/Center for Distance and Professional Education

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