Jun 24, 2024 3:06 pm

When Vanessa Garcia was preparing to graduate from Challenger High School in 2018, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to start college immediately or focus on getting work experience.  

A counselor at her school advised her to take just one class to get a jump start on her education. Pierce College was the most obvious and convenient choice for Garcia, who did not want to travel far for school.  

“I wanted something convenient that would be a good starter place and that was Pierce for me,” Garcia said. "I don’t know what I would’ve done if I hadn’t chosen to go to college, because so many of my opportunities have come from being here at Pierce College.”

Garcia started at Pierce College with a single course – choosing to take her time instead of racing through a heavier course load to get to her degree as fast as possible.  

“A lot of people I talk to are taking multiple classes, and I noticed from my conversations with them that often they get so overwhelmed that they focus on memorizing the material as opposed to really understanding and retaining what they are learning about.” Garcia said. “I really like learning; I like going in depth about what I’m doing and not taking multiple classes at once allows me to do that.”

With more time to focus on each class, Garcia was also able to spend time in the Pierce College tutoring center, connecting with a peer tutor who helped her understand concepts and problems from her assignments and feel more confident when turning in projects to her professors.  

“It can be difficult to find people who know how to teach those who are neurodivergent, but I was able to find a tutor at the tutoring center who was great at explaining things to me and if I wasn’t getting something she’d say, “no problem, let's try another way,”” Garcia said.    

Garcia, who has autism spectrum disorder, is passionate about eliminating barriers for neurodivergent students, like herself. This year, she worked at Pierce College’s Access and Disability Services, using her personal experience to help other ADS students navigate college life. She says her success, and the success of students like her, is all dependent on the opportunities they’re given.  

“I have been told before by some people who find out I have autism spectrum disorder that they were surprised I’m good at communicating,” Garcia said. “In reality, communication is one of my strengths. I like engaging in great conversations and learning about others.  Just because I’m that way doesn’t mean another person who has ASD will be though, which is why you should get to know them first. I’ve experienced and seen first-hand the incredible results when they are embraced.”

Going to school part-time let Vanessa get the work experience she wanted without sacrificing her schoolwork. On top of going to her classes at Pierce College, Garcia worked as an entertainment coordinator with Pierce College Student Life where she helped organize events like Raider Appreciation Days, family movie nights, comedy shows, and even a hypnotism event.  

Garcia’s job in student life led her to numerous other opportunities, including a job as an HR assistant at Lumen Field, and an internship at Cascadia Weddings and Events that turned in to a part-time job as an event planner.  

“Pierce College really led me to these opportunities I would’ve never imagined myself going for,” Garcia said, adding that the former heads of Pierce College Student Life – Kelsie Nabass and Sean Cooke – instilled leadership skills in her that were essential for her professional development.

Vanessa will finish her degree at her own pace, graduating with an associate of arts in communication studies in 2024.  

“I found out who I was by coming to Pierce College,” Garcia said, adding that her success at Pierce College is not due to her determination alone but is partly due to all the people at Pierce that have helped her along the way.

“I’ve had wonderful professors who have been so good to me – to the point where I might not have passed if I hadn’t had them,” Garcia said. “Kelsie and Sean in Student Life played a huge role in setting me up for success – they believed in me even at times when I didn’t believe in myself even.”

Garcia says for future Raiders, the most important thing she’s learned at Pierce College is to write her own rules.  

"If you’re like me and you’re hesitating to start college, do what feels right for you.” Garcia said. “Don’t compare yourself to other people and their journeys, because everybody is on a different path. Focus on your own self. If that means starting with one class and building from there? That’s great!”