Who she is: Assistant dean for student support and success, Fordham College at Rose Hill
What she does: She is working to boost student retention, provide students with meaningful academic counseling, and help them feel like Fordham is home.
How long at Fordham: Eleven years (A month and a half as assistant dean)
She remembers the lilt of bachata and salsa songs in the streets, the hydrants spouting water in the summertime, the graffiti that felt more like art than vandalism. She spent her childhood in the Bronx—a place that, after many years, still feels like home. And it was there, in the Bronx, that she found Fordham.
“I would drive by campus and see campus as a kid, but I didn’t know what it was,” said Christie-Belle Garcia, the new assistant dean for student support and success at Fordham College at Rose Hill. “And then years later, I came to Fordham. It was kind of foreshadowing, right?”
Garcia grew up in the Bedford Park neighborhood—a nine-minute walk from Fordham’s Rose Hill campus. She was raised by her mother, a NewYork-Presbyterian nutritionist, and her father, a sales representative in the milk industry. Garcia’s parents immigrated to the Bronx from the Dominican Republic in the ’70s. Her father, she said, showed her the value of networking and making meaningful connections with strangers.
“I learned that really early,” said Garcia. “That people matter. Relationships matter. And that everyone’s connected in some way, shape, or form.”
She decided to become a teacher. But as an education graduate student at Manhattanville College, Garcia didn’t take on a traditional teaching position. She started working as a counselor with the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) , a statewide program that helps underrepresented or economically disadvantaged students succeed in the STEM fields. Instead of following a standard curriculum in a classroom, she was doing something different: listening to her students’ ambitions, discussing their challenges, and working with them on an individual basis.
“That, I think, just changed the trajectory of my life,” Garcia said. “I started realizing that all of the things that really mattered to me—creating opportunities for students, supporting student success, coaching students through how to make things happen for them—I could do more in that role than I could in a classroom.”
In 2007, Garcia began her first day at Fordham as a CSTEP counselor. Within a few months, she worked her way up to assistant director for STEP, the junior high and high school version of CSTEP, and later the assistant director of CSTEP. In those eighteen years, she’s done a lot: counseled hundreds of students, supervised counseling staff, and organized events and workshops.
“I tell students, ‘Sometimes I’m a cheerleader, and sometimes I’m a coach. There’s moments where we’re celebrating your successes, and we’re cheering you on in the middle of difficult situations,’” said Garcia. “‘And in other moments, I’m coaching you so that you know what decision to make next, and how to go about doing that.’”
And now, as of late July, she’s doing the same thing on a much larger scale—as assistant dean for student support and success at Fordham College at Rose Hill.
Her responsibilities include assisting students on academic probation, promoting an emerging online platform that will help advisers detect student issues and tackle them sooner than later, and boosting student retention rates. It comes down to one thing:
“How do we identify the things that help students feel like they belong here?” she said. “And how do we make that a reality for them?”
In the meantime, Garcia is working on her Ph.D. at Fordham’s Graduate School of Education. She’s researching racial microaggressions and how they impact underrepresented students in the STEM field—a topic whose roots began with CSTEP. And speaking of roots, she is the first in her family to have a master’s degree and, soon enough, a Ph.D.
“Working in the Bronx for the last eleven years has been a full-circle experience,” Garcia said. “Contributing to this community, and to education in this community…I very much enjoy it.”