My journey back to school … the series continues


Donita Lyn Garcia (left) tutors a TRIO student in Hale Alaka‘i – Cynthia Lee Sinclair
Donita Lyn Garcia (left) tutors a TRIO student in Hale Alaka‘i – Cynthia Lee Sinclair

Donita Lyn Garcia is an adult learner who came back to school after 40 years to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer. The 60-year-old grew up in Hawai‘i and is a widow with three grown children, three grandchildren and one more on the way.

Garcia is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in justice administration law. She was a WCC student and has transferred to UH West O‘ahu to complete her education but continues to be on campus as a TRIO tutor, a role she has fulfilled for two years.

“Without her I wouldnʻt be passing right now,” said Joshua Garcia (no relation), one of the WCC students whom Garcia tutors.

She attributes TRIO–a program in Hale Alaka‘i that provides tutoring, computer access, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and much more to students at no cost–as being the main contributor to her success as a student and encourages others to take advantage of the free program.

“I couldn’t have made it without TRIO,” she said.

Garcia has also served as a senator and vice-president in the Associated Students of the University of Hawai’i-Windward Community College. In addition, she was the WCC chapter president of Phi Theta Kappa, a national honor society for community colleges, and volunteers on its planning and budget committee.

She said her biggest struggle academically has been with math. It took five semesters of math classes to finally complete the requirement she needed. But she conquered her issues and is now a math tutor at TRIO.

“Determination is what will see you through any struggle you face,” she said.

To other adult learners, Garcia says “always follow your dreams” and “never quit.”

Carla Rogers, WCC’s counselor for adult learners, works with older returning students like Garcia.

She was an adult learner herself at WCC at the age of 40. The oldest student she has worked with is 88.

Rogers said that “all services serve all students” and that “Windward Community College is not an us and them learning environment.” She said that adult learners do best when they assimilate into the classroom.

Some of the best resources on campus for adult learners are the access to night classes, online classes, quiet study spaces and tutoring, because they provide more options to fit each individual’s needs.

Rogers said that about a year ago when the shift to assigned counselors took place, it was good for all students but especially adult learners, because it helped to facilitate relationships between student and counselor, allowing the counselor to be better in tune with what each student needs.

“Adult learners are an asset to the learning environment because they bring experience and perspective,” she said. “They are valuable as mentors for younger students.”

Rogers has recently become the student/parent counselor and works with students who deal with the special issues involved with balancing parenting and school responsibilities. She is instrumental in organizing the campus childcare facility that is in the works.

Our series continues next month with a story that features two student/parents, their struggles and successes.

by Cynthia Lee Sinclair, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter