Embracing Faith through Service: Q&A with Elvira Garcia ’20Ed
St. John’s University alumna Elvira Garcia ’20Ed has successfully integrated faith and service into her life and shared her extraordinary journey with us to commemorate Founder’s Week, an annual event honoring the University’s Vincentian and Catholic traditions.
Ms. Garcia was honored at St. John’s with the Catholic Scholar Award, which highlighted her unwavering dedication to embodying the Catholic tradition through leadership and excellence. Her active involvement in the St. Vincent de Paul Society, participation in Campus Ministry programs, and volunteer work were testaments to her commitment to service.
Ms. Garcia’s contributions went beyond her academic achievements, and she emerged as a campus leader. She founded and led DALE, the Staten Island Latinx Club, and served as a Diversity Peer Educator through the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Today, Ms. Garcia continues to shine as a living example of faith and service as a Resident Minister for Leadership, Social Justice, and Community Development on St. John’s University’s Queens, NY, campus.
I. Academic Service & Impact
Can you describe the impact of the St. John’s Catholic Scholars program on your academic career?
I first connected with my faith through Sunday school in my parish community; I volunteered as a catechist for all four years while I was in high school. Learning about the St. John’s Catholic Scholars program was the perfect fit to continue my journey.
Being a Catholic Scholar at St. John’s, in addition to my catechist experience, not only guided me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, but also allowed me to deepen and learn more about my faith.
II. Shaping Career Path through Mentorship and Experiences
Can you recall an impactful memory that influenced your career path?
In February of 2020, I attended an annual conference at Stanford University called FLICON that focuses on the experience of first-generation and/or low-income students.
I was selected to give a presentation on creating an alliance at a PWI (i.e., a predominantly White institution). I spoke about my roles as an undergraduate student at St. John’s and how I started the Latinx club, DALE.
Talking about my experiences on campus was a pivotal point in my career. I learned I love presenting at conferences, talking to college students, and connecting with other university administrators.
As a student, how did you balance academics, extracurricular activities, and your faith?
I always tell students to seek out a mentor on campus. In my case, that mentor was Rosa Hanco, who is currently the Assistant Dean of The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies on the Staten Island, NY, campus. Rosa supported me throughout my entire time as a student at St. John’s University.
I first met Rosa while volunteering at Give Kids The World Village. She was one of the administrators there. During a service trip, we sat on the plane together and talked throughout the flight. We realized we have many things in common, such as being a first-generation Latina college student.
As a sophomore, I wanted to create a community centering on the first-generation experience. Rosa helped push me out of my comfort zone and helped me to take the initiative. Eventually, I worked with her and several of my close friends who also identify as Latino, Latina, and Latinx to create DALE.
III. Continuing Values Beyond Graduation
Transitioning to post-graduation, you’ve continued to hold leadership and mentorship roles. How have these roles allowed you to advance the values you developed at St. John’s University?
St. John’s instilled in me the importance of service and giving back to the community, especially as I progress in my career, whether it is through volunteering at a soup kitchen or being a mentor and support system for another student. I continued to follow those values of service and faith as I pursued my master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs at New York University (NYU).
At NYU, I was a focus mentor at the center of the Multi-Cultural Education program. This mentorship focused on first-year students who identified as students of color, specifically first-generation college students. During this time, I mentored a lovely young lady who was also a first-generation college student, like me, and Mexican American. It was inspiring to see her growth within the year we worked together.
What is your perspective on how incorporating one's faith can improve personal and professional growth?
Leaving St. John’s University made me realize my service roles and faith’s profound impact on me, especially when I finished my time as a Catholic Scholar. As a graduate student, I used to pray and meditate in the chapel on campus.
Despite life being busy, it is crucial to reflect and express gratitude for your current situation. Personally and professionally, my faith has been a grounding force for me during difficult times.
IV. Faith and Service in Current Role
Can you explain your role as a Campus Minister and how you continue to integrate your faith into your work with students?
My St. John’s University title is Resident Minister for Leadership, Social Justice, and Community Development. My role is vital to supporting third-year Catholic Scholars as a moderator and mentor.
This year, the scholars must complete an apostolic year, which includes serving within their parish communities and completing 40 hours of service. As their moderator, I support and help them develop their faith and leadership skills.
I also serve as a resident minister and work with various campus housing, specifically supporting the Residential Life team in Donovan, Century, and Carey Halls. We strive to emphasize building community, both on and off campus. Currently, we are creating various off-campus experiences to get students involved.
What advice would you give current and prospective St. John’s University students looking to strengthen their faith and engage in meaningful service while pursuing their education?
I would encourage them to visit our campus ministers. Everyone is very friendly and always willing to engage with students, especially new students interested in exploring the different opportunities we offer on and off campus.
Finding a person or mentor who can guide you throughout your academic journey is a great way to get started.
If any students want to connect for any advice, email me at [email protected].