Daniela Duron Garcia

Daniela Duron Garcia knows how challenges can become opportunities. “It was one month into school … and I’m already here shaking hands with the president,” the Texas native explains.

While years of challenges have brought her to this moment, with her first semester ended at Georgetown University, the freshman has not only met President Obama, she’s also earned a 3.9 GPA and had the chance to sit courtside at Washington’s Verizon Center to see the Hoyas’ 83-62 win over St. Francis.

The university has a strong mentoring program, and Garcia has been able to network with some heavy-hitters. One of those mentors Daniela Duron Garciaasked her to help staff Georgetown’s information table for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Gala Awards. Following his address to the caucus, Obama shook hands with Garcia and other members of the audience.

Garcia became interested in Georgetown when she visited the nation’s capital during SkillsUSA’s Washington Leadership Training Institute (WLTI). A criminal justice student at the Judge Barefoot Sanders Magnet Center of Public Service in Dallas, she’d been encouraged to join her local SkillsUSA chapter by instructor Severo Perez. It would help Garcia better cope with a tragedy that had occurred in her family, Perez believed.

After taking criminal justice classes, she realized that career was not for her, but mathematics was. Garcia competed in
SkillsUSA’s Related Technical Math competition and twice placed first at the district level. She’s now majoring in math and may double major, adding physics, economics or computer science.

Garcia with a friend during the president’s speech.

It’s a drastic contrast to her humble beginnings. “My parents were both born and raised in Loreto, Rio Grande, Zacatecas, Mexico,” she explains. “My father dropped out of school in the 10th grade because he decided he did not like school and would rather work to help his family. My mother, on the other hand, really loved school and wanted to become a doctor. Unfortunately, my grandmother became sick, and my mom was only able to finish high school because she had to take care of her.

“We’ve gone through so many hardships, like not having water because we live in a trailer and the water freezes when it gets really cold, or fearing that we’re not going to be able to pay rent the next month.” Her parents stressed the importance of working hard in school, she adds, “so that when I grow up and I have my family, I won’t have to go through things like that.”

Not weighed down

Through these tough life challenges and with the support of her closely knit family, Garcia has remained positive. She attributes her upbringing with helping her to see that she need not look far to find someone worse off than she is.

Moving 1,300 miles away to attend Georgetown hasn’t been easy. When feeling homesick, Garcia reminds herself that her family is the reason she’s able to pursue a higher education. “They always told me you can always make something good out of something bad, and you can’t let one situation hold you down because you have so much potential,” she says.

Garcia is grateful for the opportunities she’s had because of Perez and her Georgetown mentors. Without career and technical education — and SkillsUSA — she believes her college application may have been overlooked. To pay it forward, she’s seeking a career that will allow her to incorporate math into helping others.

“SkillsUSA has definitely equipped me with the necessary tools to succeed in college,” she explains. “The value of networking was reinforced through SkillsUSA and has already proved to be beneficial at Georgetown.”