As the first in her immigrant family to graduate high school and college, Yarina
Garcia, 29, felt her parents’ pride as she advanced in her studies.
“My dad always emphasized, ‘Your job is to go to school and do the best you
can.’ I remember him repeating to me every day, ‘You gotta learn English.
That’s the only way you’re going to be able to do things for yourself in this
country.’ I took that message to heart,” said Garcia, who with her two younger
sisters was born in Mexico..
“Once we all learned English, my dad said. ‘You guys have to graduate from
high school.’ He never really mentioned college, but I just took it as I have to
go as I high as i can. As a senior I heard all my friends talking about going to
college, so I took it upon myself to pursue that.”
The Omaha South High and University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate has
become the family’s trailblazer. She’s currently working on her master’s
degree. After a foray in media and communications, she’s found her niche as
Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at UNO. The bilingual Garcia
helps many first-generation students and their parents navigate the higher ed
“I love helping students who are still learning English and struggling, who are
lost in the system because they just got here or they don’t understand what’s
next or how to move forward in their academic goals.”
Information is power, so she gives prospective students and families what
they need to make informed decisions about options and opportunities.
“I find myself playing the role of an educator more than anything else. Even
for our U.S.-born students or students who’ve been here many tears, the
college application process can be tricky and tedious.”
It becomes even more daunting when applying to multiple colleges or
“It’s complicated. A lot of our Latino parents don’t understand how it works. My
job is to help parents and students understand what UNO offers and to hold
their hand and walk them through the process. It’s important they see me as a
person they can trust and open up to. The conversations definitely get very
personal. If I know exactly what their situation is, it makes it easier for me to
“Some parents are undocumented and they need to know if their son or
daughter can still qualify for financial aid or scholarships. My goal is to make
sure there are no barriers for students looking into applying at UNO. I want to
help be that bridge between them and the school so that they can fulfill their
Even though not in her job description, she said she feels duty-bound “helping
students not just get here but to actually finish and walk away with a diploma.”
“It’s very important for me personally to know that what I do matters to
somebody, somehow. Seeing those results brings a lot of fulfillment.”
She works closely with her alma mater, Omaha South, as well as Bryan High
“A big part of my heart is students from Omaha South.”
She’s pleased her two younger brothers are following her lead. The oldest is a
UNO sophomore. The youngest is thinking college, too.
Leaving a legacy is important to Garcia, who’s worked hard to realize the
family’s aspirational goals in America.
“Just last year I was able to become a legal permanent resident through
marrying my husband (Roger Garcia). The middle sister is in the same
process. The little sister is still a DACA recipient.”
Her brothers were born in Nebraska and are U.S. citizens. Ironically. they’re
able to travel freely to Mexico and back while Garcia, her sisters and parents
have been unable to return to their homeland.
Now that Garcia’s new permanent legal status means she can travel without
restrictions, she said, “I’m dying to go back to Mexico. I was really excited to
make it this year because it’s 20 years since I left.” But since she’s expecting
her second child in January she must wait.
Her own immigrant journey has made her an advocate for Dreamers and
DACA recipients. She said she’s spoken to elected officials to help them
“understand our story and to hear our voices.”
“Once a Dreamer, always a Dreamer,” she said. “More than anything, it’s an
A 2014 internship with NBCUniversal Telemundo in Washington D.C. meant
working on immigration issues.
“It was journalism on steroids every day.”
She returned to be part of the inaugural radio news team at Omaha Noticias
(Lobo 97.7 FM). She enjoyed it, but burned-out working long days for little
She tried freelancing but found it too unstable. Then she found her
professional home at UNO, whose communications department she started in.
Her work brought her in contact with the undergraduate admissions team and
when a position opened there she was encouraged to apply. She got hired
and was recently promoted.
“I love communications and a lot of my job is creating bilingual outreach
pieces. I’m definitely passionate about it. I’m doing an integrated media
master’s from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.”
She and husband Roger Garcia, executive director of Centro Latino in Council
Bluffs, have their own side business, Garcia Consulting Group. The couple
apply her communication and his administrative expertise, along with a
shared passion for community advocacy, to Latino-based nonprofits and
“We saw a need for a bilingual or Spanish communications group with a
specific niche reaching out to Latinos. We both want to use our talents and
knowledge to benefit the community.”
Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.