Nancy Garcia Against All Odds

A Woman In Stem


Professor Nancy Garcia is an instructor of Mathematics in the science building at Rio Hondo College.

A career in a STEM field may seem quite daunting for many. In 2015-16 the National Center for Education Statistics found that “only 18% of the 1.8 million bachelor’s degrees awarded were in STEM fields.” Of those, only 36% were female, and 15% were Hispanic. 

The Educational Journey

     Despite the odds, Professor Nancy García had earned a successful career in the STEM field. She began her education at Cal State Fullerton, completing her Bachelor’s in Mathematics and later earning a graduate degree there. 

There, she was able to take classes with a math cohort. She found that “having this experience made me aware of how important it is to socialize and make connections because those classmates are the ones you tend to stay in touch with even after graduation.” 

     Cal State Fullerton became a second home for her. Her instructors believed in her and pushed her to grow, allowing her unique opportunities to display her abilities and encourage unconventional thinking. 

Her love for math was discovered during her first year as an undeclared undergraduate student.

    ”I developed an interest in math after the Supplementary Instruction (SI) Leader noticed my performance in class and my ability to explain concepts to my classmates during the Supplementary Workshop for the College Algebra course I was taking,” said Garcia. 

     She was later able to take a placement test, putting her in Calculus I. She had discovered her love of math, and her later experiences as a tutor and SI Leader led her to a career in education. 

Barriers of Women in STEM

     A career in Mathematics is no easy feat, and as a woman of color, Professor Garcia has had a unique journey filled with obstacles and hurdles. One experience she can recall occurred at the start of her teaching career and one of her graduate courses had them discuss their experiences throughout the semester.

    ”It was eye-opening to see how fellow female instructors experienced a lack of respect from their students, which I experienced in some of my classes.” She, along with many women in STEM, felt underestimated, not only by her peers but by her students as well. 

    ”We felt we had to prove our abilities much more than our male counterparts.” She’s often had to deal with people being surprised that she majored in math or assuming she teaches kindergarten or middle school. 

Thankfully, she has had a great support system to aid her in her journey as a math educator. She feels she can turn to her experienced colleagues for guidance and support. Role models, like her father and mentor, Jolene Fleming, inspire her to be innovative and persist in adversity.

Advice for Future Women in STEM

     She has been teaching for eight years at Rio Hondo and has earned the love and respect of many students. Mathematics is not an easy career path, but she hopes to encourage more women to pursue a career in mathematics. “I would say to those women who are trying to pursue a career in math that they are just as capable… No one can determine what you can and cannot do, so do not limit yourself based on someone’s comment or a course grade. You belong there if that’s where your interest lies. 

     Trust yourself if that is where your interest lies. Trust yourself, follow what you think is best, and keep moving forward.”