Barrier-Breaking Academic Leader Encourages Life of Advocacy
Former UT Brownsville President Dr. Juliet García Spoke at the Women's History Month Luncheon

Juliet Garcia poses with UTD students

From left: Brooke López BS’17, Dr. Juliet García, Mercedes Molina, an international political economy senior, and Maria Cruz, an information technology and systems senior, pose for a photo at the Women's History Month Luncheon.

Dr. Juliet García shared the story of her path from first-generation college graduate to the first female Mexican-American to lead a U.S. college or university at the recent annual Women’s History Month Luncheon at The University of Texas at Dallas.

García, who served as president of The University of Texas at Brownsville for 22 years, said growing up with two brothers, debating in the college men’s division and meeting her father’s high academic standards prepared her for a career path she never expected.

“I think growing up with guys was a good thing,” García said at the event hosted by the Galerstein Gender Center. “I wasn’t intimidated by men — that was the only thing I’d ever known.”

García said her mother, who died when she was very young, always encouraged her to use her gifts to advocate for those who could not advocate for themselves. As UT Brownsville president, García expanded access to higher education in the South Texas border region. She eliminated transfer barriers for students, built the university’s programs including chess and physics, and played a key role in the university's merger with UT Pan American to become The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). The university’s chess team recently won the Presidents’ Cup, considered the Final Four of college chess.

“Never underestimate the power of the human capital that you have to work with. There’s nothing wrong with the kids in the Valley. There’s nothing wrong with the people in the Valley,” García said. “If they’re given the opportunity to learn physics or chess, they will take it.”

If you’re going to have to spend your life anyway, you might as well spend it doing important and noble work. How sad not to have had the opportunity to do that.

Dr. Juliet García, former president of UT Brownsville

García became the first female Mexican-American president of a college or university in 1986 when she was appointed to lead Texas Southmost College, a community college in Brownsville. From 1992 to 2014, she served as president of UT Brownsville, leading the institution as it more than doubled in size and produced 35,000 college graduates.

In 2009, Time magazine named García one of 10 Best College Presidents, and in 2014, Fortune magazine named her one of the top 50 world leaders. In 2016, she joined The University of Texas System as senior advisor to the chancellor for community, national and global engagement. García is currently a professor at UTRGV.

In response to a question from the audience, García said that she never expected to become a university president. She said she received a lot of help along the way from women “who thought more about what I could be than I did myself.”

She talked about dealing with resistance as a female college president and how sometimes she had to “borrow courage” from others. García closed her speech by encouraging students in the audience to “choose a life of advocacy for others.”

"If you’re going to have to spend your life anyway, you might as well spend it doing important and noble work," she said. "How sad not to have had the opportunity to do that.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].