Student Spotlight: Zavier Garcia, Full-Time Student, Full-Time Employee, Full-Time Husband and Father of Twins, Sergeant in the Florida National Guard
By Keith Morelli
TAMPA (August 14, 2018) -- When Zavier Garcia gets a little time off, he plays Mario Bros. video games with his 5-year old son, Isaiah, or is a guest of honor at a tea party thrown by Isaiah's twin sister, Hannah. Garcia, 38, who cherishes the time he has with his children, is sort of like most other USF students in that he is stretched pretty thin. But unlike many other undergrads, the single-minded vision for his future is clear.
He works full time for Progressive Insurance, occasionally helps his brothers in their business and goes to school full time as well. He is a sergeant in the Florida National Guard, at which he spends three to four days a month on duty. He is the father of 5-year-old twins and his wife, Monisha, is pursuing a master's degree in social work – full time as well – at USF.
Remarkably, he has managed to work out a schedule to accommodate all of these things and hopes to graduate next spring. For Garcia, all this sacrifice will accomplish the goal he has set for his life: provide for his family, make a career out of the military – rising in rank because of a college degree – and protect this nation.
Getting there is an ongoing challenge.
"Sometimes it feels like I'm going through walls," he says. "I keep on going and going. I'm going through so many walls I'm wondering if there will ever be an end."
But these obstacles sharpen his resolve to better himself and his family, his community and his country. He plans to put in 30 years in the military. There, as in civilian life, he likes to think he leads by example and getting an education is a big part of what he preaches.
"Education is so important," he tells the younger troops serving under him at the Florida National Guard. He has helped fellow soldiers obtain GI Bill information, financial aid and benefits and stresses the positive changes a good education can bring to one's life. His advice to his young subordinates: Start your college education while you're young.
It took a while for him to see that light, but he now practices what he is teaches.
"I just love learning new things," he says.
After graduating high school in New Jersey, he worked at Home Depot for a while and then embarked on an entrepreneurial journey by starting an auto detailing business. He came to the Tampa Bay area seven years ago to work with a growing trucking company begun by his brothers. The family business had him working 12 to 16 hours a day. So, he took a job with Progressive to make more time for his family and to devote the rest of his energies toward getting a bachelor's degree in management.
His work week is made up of four 10-hour days at the insurance company, squeezing classes in during off times. His National Guard duties crop up once a month, unless there is a disaster somewhere, then he could be gone for a month or two at a time. He did that last year when Hurricane Irma hit Florida and a few years ago when Hurricane Irene struck the East Coast and again in the northeast when Hurricane Sandy battered New Jersey and New York.
But the discipline of military life lifts him up and gives him purpose, says Garcia, the eldest of seven siblings, and he plans to stay with it.
"At first, I just wanted to see if I could do it," he says, "going through basic training." He was 28 at the time, a good decade older than many of the recruits. "I'm telling you, I love it. I'm going to make a career out of this."
But the military pays only a portion of his education and there is a struggle to pay the rest.
He applied for and received a scholarship from USAA, which gives scholarships to members of the military, retired military or dependents.
"It's been very hard, especially with my wife going to school as well," he says. "I want to be able to finish this, but (without the scholarship), I just wouldn't be able to do it."
Getting this degree, he says, is perhaps the most important thing in his life right now.
"I believe in what I'm doing here," he says, "and I'm putting all my eggs in this one basket. Everything is planned out."