CEDAR FALLS — Students attending a leadership conference at the University of Northern Iowa Tuesday were challenged to see the qualities they possess that could help them achieve success.
Juan Garcia, vice president of equity solutions for Midas Education, was the keynote speaker at the daylong Iowa Trio Student Leadership Conference. Midas develops education software in areas such as management, support, data and compliance. Federally supported Trio programs provide outreach and support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds like low income families or those who are the first generation going to college.
“Leader” was the theme of the conference, sponsored by UNI and its downtown Waterloo Center for Urban Education. More than 360 students attended from 21 Iowa community colleges as well as public and private colleges and universities. Breakout sessions focused on leadership topics, college applications and admissions, and career interests.
“It gives a student an opportunity to grow as an individual and also develop leadership traits,” said Megan Holbach, UNI-CUE assistant director. The Trio conference moves around the state and is hosted by different institutions each year.
Garcia, who lives in the Des Moines metro area, talked about the elements that make for a good leadership: courageous action, clear vision, honest communication, resilience, adapability and more.
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He said attendees’ ability to speak English is itself a quality that can help them achieve success and puts them ahead of some others seeking an education. That would have included Garcia when he came to the United States in 1986 as an immigrant.
“I came from Peru when I was 18 and didn’t speak a word of English,” he said. But Garcia got busy learning the language of his new country at Des Moines Area Community College while working as a hotel dishwasher. “It took me three years,” he said, to become fluent.
He went on to get an education and eventually served as the executive director of the Iowa College Access Network before moving onto ACT and working on strategic partnerships for the testing company.
In 2016, Garcia graduated from Harvard Business School’s executive education leadership best practices program. He was chosen by his 60-plus peers in the program as the speaker for their graduation. “This was the guy who was a dishwasher who didn’t speak a word of English,” Garcia said he remembered thinking before giving his speech.
In their path to an education and career, Garcia told the students to never sell themselves short. “Aim high,” he said.