When Dr. Alicia Garcia became Chair of Brescia’s Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences in 2006 she had one important goal: to expand the internship opportunities for the exceptional students within the program. In order to do this, she proposed opening a bold new program: a Masters of Science in Foods and Nutrition (MScFN). In September 2007, Dr. Garcia – and a dedicated team at Brescia – successfully opened this revolutionary program at Brescia to 13 students. Since its launch, the MScFN program has seen tremendous growth and has educated and graduated some of Canada’s leaders in Foods and Nutrition, many of whom have received incredible internship opportunities – thanks, in large part, to Dr. Garcia. In addition to the development of this program, Dr. Garcia’s impressive research on topics such as: the use of photovoice in nutrition and dietetic research; eating behaviours of different cultural groups and immigrant populations and the evaluation of school meals have not only challenged the status quo of food but have also bestowed her with a variety of awards and accolades throughout her tenure at Brescia. After 29 years of service, on July 1st, 2018 Dr. Garcia retired, leaving a lasting legacy at Brescia through her remarkable program, thought-provoking research and through the many students whose lives she touched and benefited.
Why did you choose to become a faculty member at Brescia in the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences?
For me, coming to Brescia and to Canada felt like it was meant to be. When I originally interviewed for the faculty position at Brescia in June 1989, it was the first university job I applied for in Canada. At arrival, I immediately found that the Department Chair – the late Dr. Patricia Giovanetti – along with the faculty, search committee and the Ursuline Sisters were incredibly friendly and welcoming. I also found that I liked the atmosphere at Brescia, which was very similar to Saint Scholastica’s College, a women’s college run by Benedictine sisters in Manila, Philippines, where I taught previously. Finally, Dr. Giovanetti took me around London and I realized that I loved the city and the environment. So, knowing all these factors, I quickly felt comfortable and was thrilled to accept the faculty position. Today, I am grateful for my 29 years of service to Brescia and the wonderful life I had while teaching.
What path led you to your role at Brescia and advocating for the Foods & Nutrition Masters program?
While pursuing my undergraduate in Public Health at the University of the Philippines, Manila, I was also fortunate to work on a special project funded by the World Bank with the Philippines Food and Nutrition Research Institute, which allowed me to travel all over the country to conduct a survey on food intake. Following this, I worked in the field before receiving my Master of Food and Nutrition Planning – supported by the Netherlands Universities Foundation for International Cooperation. Throughout my educational experience, my love for foods and for understanding why people eat certain foods developed and grew. This love, and my incredible educational experiences, led me to apply for further graduate studies. Because of this, and the political turmoil in the Philippines, in 1984 I left to pursue a 1-year professional development program sponsored by the Hubert Humphrey International Institute, and subsequently my PhD, at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. In May of 1989 I graduated from Cornell and decided to officially immigrate and find work in Canada, which is where I was introduced to Brescia and London. I interviewed at Brescia in June 1989 and officially began my 29-year career at the University on July 1st, 1989.
After a number of years working at Brescia, I discovered that internship opportunities for our graduates were grossly limited in number, which was making our students unhappy. So, one of the plans I presented to the search committee, when I applied for Chair of the department in 2005, was to develop a Masters program. Working hand-in-hand with our faculty, administrators, Western’s School of Graduate Studies and London and area Dietitians, I led the development of the proposal to offer a Masters program at Brescia with two pathways – an internship stream for new graduates and a thesis stream for those who were already Registered Dietitians.
Planning for our MScFN program began in August 2006, and although we had initially planned for 2-3 years before launching, due to funding we ended up fast-tracking the process and having less than one year to prepare and officially open the program for students. In September of 2007, 13 students became our first MScFN class. And, to this day, I know that this would not have been possible without the contributions of so many community members: Brescia’s previous Principal, Dr. Theresa Topic; Marianne Simm in our Registrar’s Office; Barbara Szapiel in our Business Office, and so many other faculty, staff and amazing alumnae. We all were determined to make this program happen, as we knew it would not only give Brescia a competitive edge but also really help our students. And we did it!
Once the Masters program was fully operational, we also implemented a 1-year Diploma program to offer additional internship positions for our grads. Together, these two programs were able to offer more than 30 internships positions by the time I retired from my position after 11 years as serving as Chair.
What are some of the most important learnings that you have been able to take away from your experience at Brescia?
The most important learning for me was the need to work well with various faculty, administrators, staff, students and community professionals. I greatly valued the warm and professional relationships I developed with many people during my tenure – both as a faculty member and Chair of the department. Without those relationships, I would not have been able to achieve everything I did while at Brescia.
In addition, interacting with, nurturing and educating students, who would later become your colleagues in the profession was highly rewarding for me. Knowing that, somehow, I had influenced their personal growth – no matter how small that may have been – was so rewarding.
To what do you attribute your professional success?
I work hard, and – I hope – smart. This, along with my respectful advocacy for the needs of our faculty and staff, have really helped my professional success. My personal form of advocacy was centred on my ability to be organized and to bring all relevant details and evidence with me when needed. In fact, Brescia’s former Principal Dr. Colleen Hanycz once told me that she loved that I always brought all the necessary information and statistics to a meeting, which made me very persuasive – and hard to turn down. This persuasiveness, as well as my appreciation for others, have also greatly contributed to my success. While I take great personal pride in what I have contributed to Brescia’s Foods and Nutrition program, I also recognize that many people at and beyond Brescia have assisted me and the School when we were in need. As I am an introvert, it took a lot of courage for me to ask for help, when I needed it. But, in return, I reciprocated as much as I could and rarely turned away any requests for help.
What advice would you give to Brescia alumnae and students?
To Brescia’s alumnae: I hope that you look back with gratitude at your wonderful experience at Brescia. And, as much as possible, I would encourage you to try in varied ways to support other Brescia students and their experience – your time and assistance would be more appreciated than you know.
To our current students: I encourage you to try your best to excel in the academic aspects of your program, but as the same time, enjoy your university life by participating as much as you can in the many co-curricular experiences you are offered. Finally, study smart, eat well, exercise more, be friendly, be happy and stay focused on your life-long goals.
How do you define leadership? Or, what characteristics make a great leader?
To me, a leader is someone who can motivate and mobilize people to do great things for the benefit of the community. A leader is one who is not afraid to work even harder or smarter than anyone, someone who respects and appreciates the contributions of everyone and one who shares in the glory and joy of things well done. A great leader also recognizes and accepts challenges as opportunities, harnesses the strengths of people and finds resources to achieve goals and objectives.
What are your hopes for Brescia in the next 100 years?
My hope is that Brescia continues to grow in population, and in its mission in educating women and helping those who are intellectually gifted – but may not have the adequate financial means to complete their university education. In this regard, my hope is that alumnae will respond generously to fundraising initiatives that will help students in financial need. I truly believe that with the help of alumnae, Brescia – and its community of compassionate leaders – will flourish over the next 100 years.
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