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A Conversation With Rob Garcia, Class of 2011
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. You attended Fellowship for Middle and High School, correct?
Yes, for grades 6-12. I graduated in 2011.
Any favorite teachers or memories from your Fellowship days?
Mr. Morecraft (I suppose Dr. Morecraft now) remains the best educator I have ever had. I have always been a good writer, but most of the techniques and devices that set me apart in college and even today come from what he taught me. More than that though, he wove an incredible thread, teaching us about the text or the passages we read, about ourselves, about God, about history. Dr. Morecraft made reading an experiential journey, and he made writing a creative and intellectual adventure. We were never told how to make sense of the theological questions in the Scarlet Letter, or the social anxieties in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", or the tragedy and conflict in "Popular Mechanics". But I remember these works because of the discussions we led and he facilitated in our class. I remember the comments my classmates made, the ways we tried to analyze and understand what the writer meant, the methods built into the text that brought the reader in and made us feel connected to the story. By making us better readers, Dr. Morecraft made me a better writer. And perhaps most remarkably, his was the only class I have ever had where no student sat on the sidelines. The most engaged and the most apathetic students were equally enthralled in the discussion, debating these ideas, challenging each other, and teaching one another. I can honestly say I scarcely remember much of what Dr. Morecraft said, himself, in any one of our classes--but I remember being excited for a class full of discussion every time I walked in, and inspired by what I learned every time I walked out.
After Fellowship, where did you attend college?
I graduated with a degree in Finance from the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business at Auburn University in 2015.
Why did you choose Auburn University?
I spent most of my life going to nearly every Auburn home football game and fell in love with the campus at a young age. A Cam Newton-led national championship victory during my senior year of high school, of course, made the decision even more exciting. However, given the cost of out-of-state tuition, I was fortunate to have earned a significant scholarship, without which Auburn might not have been an option for me.
What were your favorite classes at Auburn?
Two classes come to mind, and for different reasons:
My favorite class at Auburn was Advanced Financial Institutions and Systems, a graduate level course that I only took because of the professor, Dr. Damian McIntosh, who I took in the prerequisite the year before. Dr. McIntosh was a brilliant and renowned expert in financial institutions, but his greatest impact was how we ran his classroom. If students did not engage--ask questions, debate ideas, and push back on his arguments--he would sit quietly and wait for us to begin class. He made all of us want to come to class over-prepared, because the discussion was the only way we could learn the material and we were expected to drive the discussion.
Another was a class on Financial Measurements. The material wasn't particularly exciting, but our professor ran a "reverse classroom," which I wish I saw more of throughout high school and college. She would send the lecture to us online, which had some questions in it just to make sure we were following along. Then, when we came to class, we had a set of problems or projects to complete. We were given the choice to do them as a group or by ourselves, with our professor there to answer any questions we had. Once we finished, we could leave; if we did not finish by the end of class, we only got credit for what we did complete. I thought this was a brilliant way to teach, especially for college students, and always wondered why more classes were not structured this way.
Tell us a little about your career path after college.
Like most people in my field, I arrived here largely by accident. I originally wanted to work in economic development in my hometown community--recruiting businesses to Cobb County, helping businesses within the community grow and expand, and fostering the development of new, homegrown businesses. I had a chance to intern with the Cobb Chamber's economic development office and quickly became fascinated with how many factors affect job creation in a community--cost of real estate, tax policy, transportation and, most importantly, available workers with the skills that businesses are looking to hire. The more I learned in this internship, the more I found that a skilled workforce was the most important way a community could remain competitive in economic growth, and I proposed that the chamber develop a comprehensive strategy for addressing the mismatch between what students learn in high school and college and the skills that employers are looking for in the jobs they are creating.
Shortly after my internship, the Chamber hired me to do just that--to coordinate our local schools’ systems, technical colleges, universities, workforce training providers, and businesses to align education and training with the growing skill needs of Cobb County businesses. We developed a statewide model for how local communities organize businesses around workforce development and training, and eventually began to affect how Georgia engages this discussion as a state. Our Chamber's partnership with neighboring communities--Fulton, Gwinnett, Douglas, DeKalb, and the City of Atlanta--began to have an impact on state and federal policy around skills education, and we became a local affiliate of a leading policy advocacy organization for this issue based out of Washington, DC.
That organization, National Skills Coalition, reached out to hire me shortly afterward. I initially declined for a number of reasons. For one, I loved what I was doing and I loved the community I was working for. I also liked working on the ground, bringing partners together, and addressing these issues at the local level. I also didn't know anything about policy, especially federal policy, and was not confident that I was a good fit. However, as they kept reaching out, and as I continued working with them, it became clear that this was an incredible opportunity for me to learn from the greatest experts in my field and develop the knowledge and expertise that I lacked when I first stepped into this role. I took the leap, accepted the offer, and immediately realized how much more I have to learn--which is both frightening and incredibly exciting. A far cry from my original plan, but I am thrilled to see where the Lord is taking me on this unexpected journey.
How did Fellowship prepare you for your current job?
Fellowship taught me how to learn, how to think critically, how to ask questions after trying to find answers myself, how to explore ideas I may or may not agree with, and how to make sense of who I am and who the Lord has called me to be.
What is the greatest impact Fellowship made on you?
The greatest and most enduring gift of my Fellowship education is what I took for granted most at the time. The opportunity to read and study Scripture in a guided way by men and women of God is an unbelievable gift, and one that I am so grateful for now. My knowledge of Scripture, the verses ingrained in my memory, my understanding of concepts like sanctification and believer's freedom and irresistible grace, just to name a few, were all cultivated at Fellowship. Sometimes I struggled with the natural desensitization that can come from the fact that the privilege of studying the Word of God was reduced to 4th period between Biology and Spanish, and the value of corporate worship and fellowship was lost in the mundanity of Chapel on Thursday mornings. But I can still sing most of the songs that Mr. Bullington wrote for Scripture memory, which allows me to recall some of my favorite passages in Scripture. I still remember the heart for learning what God's Word had to teach us that Coach Kinsey instilled in each of us. When I left Fellowship, and the decision to remain involved in the church and in a community of believers was mine and mine alone, it was these blessings that helped me remember why it is so critical for our personal and spiritual growth.
What advice would you give to current Fellowship students on faith and pursuing their dreams?
As you prepare to leave high school, you have so many ideas of what is next and where you will end up. I know I did. And not only did none of those ideas turn out to be true, very few people I graduated with are doing now what they expected to be doing then. Graduation is seen as the end of something; in truth, it is the beginning of a journey that can go in so many directions. I had classmates who were excellent students in high school, but their college experience turned out to be the wrong fit--and now they have gained skills at a technical college and make far more money than I do (and without student loans to cover). I had classmates who were apathetic students in high school, but who excelled in college and found their stride. I remember being terrified in my first weeks at Auburn, wondering if I was in the right place or if I was going to be able to find community. Immediately, the Lord began putting people in my life, putting opportunities in front of me, closing doors that I thought I was going to walk through, and opening doors I had no idea I were in store for me. I thought I knew what my dreams were then--and perhaps in part I was right--but one thing my faith has taught me is that the Lord is actively working in our lives, and He is going to take us where He wants us whether we want it or not.
I guess what I am saying is: dreams are important, and pursuing them teaches us so much; but faith is the foundation of our joy. I often hold two verses side by side when I think about this. "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36) and "You make known to me the path of life; for in Your presence is the fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11). Often when we think about our dreams, we are thinking along the lines of the first one--seeking to have illustrious and successful careers, to be and be seen as successful, to have everything we need and everything we want. But these things, however valuable, are not, nor will they ever be, enough. But the Lord will show us what He has for us--and ultimately it is He who brings us the joy we seek, and He who will never fail to satisfy us. Our dreams on this earth are good and valuable, they help us set goals and have ambition. But our greatest gift is to be a vessel in the expansion of His kingdom and make His name known.
How many years did you attend FCS?
I attended Fellowship from 9th through 12th grade.
What were your favorite classes at FCS and why?
My favorite classes were AP Calculus with Ms. Topham and AP Psych with Mr. Hughes. I liked them because they were challenging and forced you to work hard, but Ms. Topham and Mr. Hughes also managed to make them fun at the same time.
Any favorite teachers or memories?
I don’t think I can pick a favorite teacher-I loved them all! But I will give special shoutouts to Mr. Morecraft and Ms. Topham because I had them for several classes and had such good experiences in all of them, and to Mr. Hughes because not only did I have him as a teacher but I also played soccer for him all four years at FCS and he always inspired me to work hard. I’ll never forget my AP Calculus class with Ms. Topham-there were only 4 students (including me) in that class, so we were able to move quickly and have fun in the extra time. Ms. Topham would bring up word puzzles and brain teasers on the projector at the beginning of Friday classes, and that was always one of the highlights of my week.
After FCS, where did you head to college?
I graduated from Georgia Tech with honors in May of 2018 with a BS in Industrial and Systems Engineering and a concentration in Supply Chain Engineering.
Why did you choose Georgia Tech?
I chose Georgia Tech because it is one of the top public colleges in the country. It is highly ranked in engineering (their Industrial Engineering program is the #1 IE program in the country) and I knew that if I went there and did well that it would open up many doors for me.
What were your favorite classes at Georgia Tech?
My favorite classes at GT were my computer science classes. Industrial Engineers get some basic courses coding in languages like Python and Java and though they were definitely challenging, they were something new and different that I really enjoyed putting the time into.
What made you choose the U.S. Navy after graduation?
I have wanted to be a pilot for as long as I can remember. When I was researching options in aviation, the military was one of the first ones that came up. I looked further into the different branches and immediately was drawn into the mission of the Navy. I couldn’t imagine anything more fulfilling than being able to use my passion for flying to help and protect people around the world. The Navy and Marine Corps also get specialized training in order to be able to land on ships out in the middle of the ocean, and the challenge of learning to land on an aircraft carrier sealed the deal for me.
What has been the most challenging part of the aviation experience?
The most challenging part of the aviation experience so far is the vast amount of information that I am expected to learn and be able to recite verbatim. The Aviation community prides itself on what is referred to as “the firehose effect”, which basically means that the amount of information they throw at you at one time is comparable to trying to drink from a firehose. Good study habits are key, and luckily I was well prepared through my AP classes at Fellowship and through my time at Georgia Tech.
What has been the most rewarding part of the aviation experience?
The most rewarding part of my training so far has been when I find out that the hard work I put in has paid off. Students here will study for weeks and work really hard, but its all worth it when you see that you aced that test or when you get to solo a plane for the first time. The workload is tough but the rewards are high, and SO worth it.
What is the end goal for your career?
The end goal for my training is to work hard to be a great pilot, and then to thrive in whichever community the Navy decides to place me (it could be Maritime, Helicopters, or Jets). For my career overall, my commitment to the Navy is 8 years after I get my wings (which I receive after I finish my ~2 years of training), and after that commitment, I will either leave the military to be a commercial pilot or I will stay in and continue my service.
Are there any special accomplishments for which you have received recognition?
I am about to start the phase of training where we get graded on each flight and begin to earn our official rankings, so I don’t have an official class rank yet. But at the very beginning of training we go through a phase called Introductory Flight Screening where we go to a civilian airport and learn the basics of flight in civilian aircraft (I learned in a Cessna 152). You have an instructor for about 14 hours of flight, and the phase ends with you soloing in that aircraft. At the end of my time there, my instructor told me that I was the second best pilot he had ever had come through as his student. I’m hoping that by continuing to work hard I can keep that reputation up and that it will eventually be evident in my official ranking!
What impact do you think FCS made on you that you carry with you today? How did FCS prepare you for where you are today in your career?
FCS taught me to always work hard and strive to better myself in any aspect that I can-spiritually, academically, physically-anything. That mindset helped me at Georgia Tech and it definitely helps me in flight school.
What advice would you give to current FCS students on faith and pursuing their dreams?
I would say to never give up on what you want. When I got to Georgia Tech, I gave up on my dream of being a pilot for awhile. I didn’t think I would be able to accomplish it and so I decided to not even try for fear of failing. Then, after my second year at school there, I decided that I didn’t care how hard it was supposed to be or how much work it would take because I knew that I would always regret it if I didn’t go for it. So I prayed and studied hard, aced the pilot aptitude test and after three years in ROTC at Georgia Tech, I got selected for the aviation program. It was the best decision I could have made, and now I get to live out my dream every single day. So if you have a dream, go for it. If you want it badly enough and are willing to put in the time and effort, then you can make just about anything happen.