For David Garcia, words matter.
“The way that you speak to people really dictates what people are willing to do for you, what they can do for you and how they understand what you want from them,” says the graduating English major with a minor in writing at Rutgers University-Camden.
It is this fundamental understanding of the importance of language that has propelled Garcia from a career leading others in the U.S. Army to a position serving as a resident director at Salisbury University upon receiving his degree this May.
As the Mount Laurel resident recalls, after graduating from Lenape Regional High School in 2005, the former “Air Force brat” – who had grown accustomed to a life around the military – needed direction and enlisted in the U.S. Army. Scoring high on multi-aptitude tests, he would serve as a military intelligence specialist for five years, attaining the rank of sergeant.
For two years, Garcia worked primarily in Iraq and Germany conducting aerial reconnaissance, analyzing imagery and producing intelligence reports for high-level commanders.
“We didn’t have time to waste, so you had to be good with your language; you had to be brief and concise,” he explains. “They needed to make decisions based on what you told them. If you didn’t know how to tell it right, you would be wasting their time.”
Recognized for his patience and methodical approach, Garcia was also put in charge of training soldiers in the Iraqi Army on how to set up and operate surveillance and tracking systems.
“Even though our languages didn’t connect all the time, I could understand their broken English enough and took the time to figure out what they were saying,” he recalls.
Although Garcia relished his responsibilities, he increasingly felt that his leadership style didn’t mesh well with what the Army looked for in its leaders. Nonetheless, he did realize his strengths – leading effectively through open dialogue and a concerted effort to teach those under his command.
“Every single one of my soldiers told me that I should be a teacher,” he says. “I didn’t spend time punishing them, but rather trying to teach them how to do a better job, how to avoid getting in trouble, or how to be a better soldier. You can’t do that if you are constantly breaking someone down.”Garcia was honorably discharged in February 2010 and enrolled at Rutgers-Camden that fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in English. For the past two years, he gained invaluable experience mentoring children – teaching them karate and helping them with their homework, among other things – as an education ambassador in the Ignite program at Cooper’s Poynt Family School in Camden.
He has also tapped into his experience leading young adults as a resident assistant at Rutgers–Camden since fall 2014. He soon realized that, while he enjoyed working with children, young adults were most receptive to his leadership style.
“I was finding out where my strengths were,” says Garcia, who was named Resident Assistant of the Year by Rutgers-Camden’s Office of Housing and Residence Life for the 2014-2015 school year. “I feel most at home in an environment where young adults are building themselves up and looking ahead to the future.”
Garcia has been an active member of the Rutgers-Camden community. As service chair of the Mu Tau chapter of Phi Mu Delta fraternity, he helped to organize the annual St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser, generating $3,000 for pediatric cancer research.
He now plans to employ his same time-honored approach – relying heavily on simple, effective communication – in his new post at Salisbury, realizing that it is important not only to connect with students, but their parents, and his team of resident assistants.
“Each one of these groups is a different contact zone. You have to be able to strike the right chord,” he says, adding, “Parents want you to take care of their kids and if you can’t explain why you should be that
He will continue his own education at Salisbury, pursuing a master’s degree in conflict analysis and dispute resolution – skills that he knows will benefit him in a career in student affairs. Whatever the tasks at hand, Garcia looks forward to his familiar role being a positive influence on others.
“They say, ‘If you can reach just one, you can make a difference,” he says. “I want to reach hundreds.”