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Nelly Garcia’s bright smile exudes confidence and she will not hesitate to tell you where that confidence comes from. Education has, and continues to, truly transform her life.
“Education has incredibly improved my self-esteem, as a woman, a Hispanic woman, an immigrant and as an American,” Garcia said. “Education helps self-esteem, but you have to keep learning new things always.”
Garcia considers herself a lifelong learner whose journey began even before she enrolled at Brookhaven College.
A first generation Mexican immigrant, she came to the U.S. alone 21 years ago. She didn’t know much about this country. She said her mother was born in Chicago but moved to Mexico when she married.
“I was not a U.S. citizen by birth, but I am one now,” Garcia said.
She wanted to study and loves to learn, but life and family took priority over school. A friend told her Brookhaven College was an affordable and flexible option.
“I was in a new country – lost and confused. My professors at Brookhaven used real-life experience to teach and encourage. I was encouraged at every step but not coddled,” she said, adding that her first course, government with Professor David Griggs, was a great experience and helped her learn how the U.S. works. “For me, Brookhaven was a great place to start.”
For Garcia, the best part of her Brookhaven experience was the professors – their professionalism and patience. That patience made a huge difference and kept her going, especially when she became discouraged.
She knew she liked science and research, and at Brookhaven she was able to explore and narrow her interests to psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience. After graduating with her Associate in Science degree in 2002, transferring to a four-year school was the obvious next step.
She went on to earn her Bachelor of Science in Psychology at SMU and Master of Science in cognition and neuroscience from the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UTD, and plans to pursue her Ph.D.
Garcia is the founder of Brain Change 101, a non-profit organization that works with caregivers and family members to help them learn how to communicate with dementia patients. She explained that people with dementia don’t stop communicating, they just communicate in different ways. Her positive approach focuses on the parts of the brain that are still working.
Brain Change 101 states that knowledge and understanding are key factors in helping caregivers understand and adapt to behavioral changes associated with dementia. The company’s slogan - Conquering fear through Knowledge, captures the mission of using education and training to empower caregivers and encourage positive relationships.
“The fear goes away with learning and you know what you are confronting,” she said.
For Garcia, beginning her academic path at Brookhaven College was the right choice, from the quality of the instructors to the culture that encouraged a passion for learning.