English and Reading Professor Dr. Sylvia Garcia-Navarrete has been recognized as the Woman of the Year for the 40th Senate District by California State Senator Ben Hueso for her dedication to teaching diverse populations and overcoming a lifetime of adversities to become an inspiration to her students and colleagues.
Each year, Senator Hueso honors women who are passionate and committed to empowering and improving their communities. Dr. Sylvia Garcia-Navarrete will be honored at a ceremony at the state Capitol on March 23.
“I have a huge heart and that guides me,” said Dr. Garcia-Navarrete. “I open my heart to doing what I do and it lets me love what I do. That’s how I continue to move forward and help other people move forward. When people know that you care about them, especially our students, that’s what’s going to keep them going.”
Dr. Garcia-Navarrete is a true role model for Southwestern College students. She grew up in a disadvantaged neighborhood in southeast San Diego and was labeled mentally challenged in kindergarten because Spanish was her primary language. She later battled through poverty, hunger, homelessness and life as a single mom while working toward her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Dr. Garcia-Navarrete coincidentally received the news in a phone call from Senator Hueso on her 55th birthday inside the office of Dr. Joel Levine, dean of the School of Language, Literature & Humanities. Present alongside Dr. Levine to hear the news was Journalism Professor Dr. Max Branscomb, who nominated Dr. Garcia-Navarrete for Woman of the Year and praised her contributions to Southwestern College and the adversity she’s overcome.
“Sylvia is not only my friend, she’s my hero,” said Dr. Branscomb. “She had people telling her all her life that she couldn’t do things and she ignored them and pushed through that. Sylvia is one of those rare people. There are educators who teach and mentor and inspire people, and she does all those things just by existing.”
Her classroom is a model for working with diverse and unique populations. She’s created curriculum that has revolutionized education within poor and historically underserved communities and written and presented extensively on the subject.
“I’ll tell students, ‘go see her classroom, it’s a different world,’” Dr. Levine said. “Her classroom creates a culture of thinking and students feel respected. Her classroom is unique not only because of what she teaches and how she teaches, but who she is.”
Dr. Garcia-Navarrete’s teaching career began when she was a Southwestern College student in 1983 and was hired as a student worker and tutor in the Reading Center. Now, in addition to teaching Southwestern College students, she works with the Restorative Justice program to teach inside prisons, she mentors fellow Southwestern College professors and she teaches in the master’s and doctorate programs at San Diego State University.
“My experience is a reminder to our students that if I can do it, anyone can do it,” she said. “That’s an important message that we give to our students. Don’t let any adversities stop you, they may put you on hold for a little bit, but always find a way to get around them and continue moving forward.”