SALINAS VALLEY — When Luz Garcia graduated with honors from Alisal High School in 1991, her dream of becoming a doctor was, agonizingly, just out of reach.
She had been offered a full-ride scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley, with the prospect of continuing on to medical school. Throughout high school, she had worked part-time in radiology at Natividad Medical Center.
But Garcia also was the 18-year-old mother of a premature baby, and her husband wouldn’t move to Berkeley in order for her to be able to care for her son and attend the university.
Instead, she enrolled at Hartnell College and graduated in 1994, her first step toward a career as a family-practice physician assistant in Salinas and in Gonzales, where she and her family now live.
Physician assistants, often known as PAs, are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare provider.
Garcia’s professional success and public service have been recognized with a 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award from the Community College League of California (CCLC), one of only three recipients statewide.
“Luckily, Hartnell College was there for me,” she said in her videotaped acceptance speech, presented Nov. 18 during the CCLC’s virtual convention. “My education has allowed me to be in a position to deliver health care to the underserved community in a rural health care clinic.”
Garcia was honored for her work as the founder and chief financial officer of the Gonzales Medical Center, established in 2016, and a jointly owned ultrasound center, also in Gonzales, where she now lives. She provides internships and mentoring for upcoming health care professionals and is an active community volunteer.
The other two CCLC alumni award recipients are George Ow, a graduate of Monterey Peninsula College who is now a prominent real estate developer and philanthropist in Santa Cruz, and William Young, a graduate of El Camino College who is president and founder of the Young Center for Academic and Cultural Enrichment in Los Angeles.
Garcia was nominated for the honor by Cathryn Wilkinson, vice president of academic affairs at Hartnell. She is a sister of Jackie Cruz, vice president of advancement and development for the college and executive director of the Hartnell College Foundation.
“In 2012, one of five people in Gonzales had no regular physician or clinic for preventive and routine care,” Wilkinson wrote in her award nomination. “Pursuing a childhood dream, Garcia played a big role in changing all of that.”
Hartnell College Governing Board President Aurelio Salazar Jr. said Garcia is an outstanding example of the opportunities that Hartnell offers to students and the contributions its graduates make in their communities.
“We are extremely proud of Luz and all she has accomplished since becoming one of our graduates,” Salazar said. “She had clear goals in life, and Hartnell is honored to have helped her achieve them.”
After Hartnell, Garcia in 1997 earned a biology degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz, which was still relatively close to home. Following post-baccalaureate study at the University of California, Davis Medical School in 2000-01, she received her physician assistant certification from Stanford University School of Medicine in 2007.
Garcia has practiced since 2009, and her earlier work experience includes five years as a math and health education teacher in Salinas and Soledad schools.
She has three children and one grandchild. Her firstborn, a Palma High School grad and 2013 graduate of Santa Clara University, is a police officer in Santa Cruz, married and the father of a 5-month-old daughter. She also has a 16-year-old daughter who is a junior at Notre Dame High School and a 7-year-old son in second grade at Sacred Heart School.
In her speech, Garcia thanked the many Hartnell faculty and staff who encouraged her as a student and voiced appreciation to employees across the California Community Colleges system. She also shared a message of pride and resilience for todays’ students.
“I accept this award on behalf of other students like me that struggled against all odds to receive a higher-level education, but made it,” she said.
Article written by Scott Faust, Hartnell’s director of communications and marketing.