Monique Garcia has 25 years of experience in federal and local government service as well as non-profit and corporate/strategic communications experience.
A Wichita native, Garcia, c’96, has returned to her hometown, where she directs community relations for the Kansas Health Foundation, and has vowed to “pay it forward” by helping other Jayhawks—from future and current students to recent graduates just starting their careers. She participates in the Helpful Alumni Working for KU (HAWK) Mentor Program, a University initiative developed in 2016 by the Office of Admissions to help minority and first-generation students make a smooth transition from high school to college.
Who are your mentors?
Before going into ‘who’ a mentor is for me, I want to first share about the vast range folks who can serve as mentors for college students and young professionals.
One of my fondest memories at KU was having plenty of opportunities to meet and engage with faculty members, academic advisers, KU student/campus services staff, coaches, clergy and many others who are all part of your educational experience.
In my first year at KU, I was fortunate to be a member of the KU women’s rowing team, and one of the coaches served as a mentor to me. Father Vince Krische of St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center also served as a mentor. Intentionally seeking a range of folks who can share their time with you can provide helpful and diverse perspectives and end up having a really profound influence on you.
I have been blessed to have a handful of mentors throughout my professional career. Just remember that it’s okay to cultivate more than one mentor in your academic, professional and even personal journeys! If I may strongly suggest to Jayhawks, it’s best to consider finding as many mentors as you can along your career journey. As we know, each career opportunity along our journey can bring along new opportunities to engage with and identify other mentors.
Most importantly, I urge folks to pay it forward and consider serving as a mentor to a Jayhawk or other young professional – that’s the best way to bring it full circle.
How have your mentors helped you?
There are so many ways in “how my mentors have helped me” along the way and continue to help me! Some mentors have helped me by encouraging me to go to graduate school after 10 years of being in the workforce. Other mentors supported me to pursue extremely helpful professional development opportunities and active membership to professional associations. Other mentors effectively advised me on interview and salary negotiation skills. And yet other mentors have instilled the strong sense of service to my community focusing on servant heart leadership. ‘Paying it forward’ is my motto!
My first mentor is Janet Murguia. Janet currently serves as president and CEO of Unidos US in Washington, D.C. Janet is also a Jayhawk whose exceptional career in public service has taken her to Washington, D.C., to Lawrence (where she served as KU’s Executive Vice Chancellor for University Relations) and then back to the nation’s capital where she currently leads the oldest Latino civil rights organization in the country.
I’ll always be grateful to Janet because upon moving to Washington, D.C. in 1996 with a degree in political science from KU, I was very fortunate to land a role working for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) on Capitol Hill. At the time, Janet was serving as deputy director of legislative affairs for the Clinton Administration.
What’s even more exciting, is that I met Janet at a KU Alumni Association event in Washington, D.C.! I cannot emphasize enough how awesome KUAA is in living out its mission of building lifelong relationships that strengthen KU anywhere in the world. And the shared KUAA values of pride, tradition, connection and legacy aren’t just hollow words. These shared values are lived out in action among KU alumni. KUAA is such a strong alumni network of folks who truly care about supporting KU and fellow Jayhawks.
Janet is a mentor to me because she took me under her wing and recommended that I take the next step in public service by working in the executive branch of government. She served as my sponsor to receive a political appointment with the Clinton Administration. My first role in the Clinton White House was in the Office of National Drug Control Policy – Public Affairs office under the then-Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey.
And it was specifically because of Janet that I was fortunate to have the unique opportunity to work in both the Clinton AND Bush administrations. As we know, this is extremely rare since political appointees come and go with each new administration. Since my role in the Clinton Administration was more apolitical than a typical appointee role, I was very fortunate to stay and work for the Bush White House, serving in the Public Affairs/Press Office of the National Security Council of then National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice.
I’ll always be most grateful to Janet for the incredible and exceptional opportunities of working for two vastly different presidential administrations. Janet shared with me that hard work yields remarkable opportunities, but that it’s incumbent upon us to pay it forward. Janet also instilled the importance of sharing knowledge and helping pave the way for others who may not have the contacts and resources that we’re blessed to have.
Janet’s example has indeed accompanied me along my career and personal journeys… and it’s made me very deliberate in helping others and serving as a mentor to other Jayhawks. My mentee through the KU Hawk Program is Ismari Martinez from Wichita. Thanks to Kim Beeler, who at the time was coordinator of the KU Hawk Program several years ago, I was matched up with Ismari and we’ve been so blessed to stay connected beyond the KU Hawk Program! What is the common denominator in all of this? I am so proud and excited to share that the common denominator in all of this is …the University of Kansas!
Another mentor for me is Kristi Zukovich. Kristi currently serves as vice president of Policy and Communication for the Kansas Health Foundation (KHF). Prior to coming to KHF, Kristi served over 29 years in public service in working for Sedgwick County as communications director and policy director. I first met Kristi in 2003, upon my return back to Wichita from Washington, D.C. In late 2002, my mom became gravely ill, so I moved back to Wichita to help my mom recover from her illness. It was important to help my mom and sisters manage the family-owned restaurant, so once my mom made a full recovery from her illness, it was time to try and put my Washington, D.C. experience to use in local government.
One remarkable trait in public service is that regardless of political party, there are so many fulfilling opportunities in helping others. Public service is truly a noble profession and it was something that I was eager to do upon my return to Kansas. In 2003, I was very fortunate to begin working for Sedgwick County at the health department, and then later, in the County Manager’s (for then County Manager Bill Buchanan) office – working with Kristi’s team. What has made Kristi such an important mentor in my professional journey is that she has always demonstrated a ‘multiplier effect’ in an organization. There’s a leadership quality of what is described in the book “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter.”
Kristi has always been deliberate of being a ‘multiplier’, a person who attracts talent, encourages staff to step out of their comfort zones, make bold decisions and invest in people. For me, it certainly was a big shift to make the transition of working in the executive branch of government in Washington, to return back home and work in local government. Why I consider Kristi such an important mentor in my career journey is that she has and continues to urge me to leverage my experience and utilize it in my current role serving as Community Relations Director for the Kansas Health Foundation in Wichita.
What advice do you have for current college students or young alumni?
Try to take advantage of as many opportunities to get involved with campus organizations, clubs and activities that are geared toward your major(s) – or even different from your major(s)! Another opportunity that has always been fulfilling is to volunteer for local nonprofits that need help, depending on your interests.
Of course, living through a pandemic doesn’t necessarily provide lots of in-person opportunities right now, (i.e. internships, service projects, campus activities). But as we’ve learned to adjust in nearly a year, many of these activities can be done through virtual platforms of engaging with folks. Of course, it’s not an ideal situation, but establish the relationships now… so that once we’re able to connect in person, you can continue to grow the relationships and benefit from the mentoring opportunities.
Another piece of advice for current KU students or young alumni – in less than a dozen words: “Become a member of the KU Student Alumni Network – it’s free!” Yes, it’s free! Thanks to the generous support of KU Endowment, this amazing gem of a membership to the Student Alumni Network (SAN) is free. In just a few clicks, you can download the KU Alumni Mobile app and register by using your KU student ID number.
Now is the time to start building and growing your personal/professional networks with the Jayhawk Career Network. I am speaking from direct experience that internships and remarkable job opportunities are within reach! Please know that Jayhawks like to hire other Jayhawks, and that they’re willing to help you out. It’s an instant network of fellow Jayhawks who love KU and want to support fellow Jayhawks, no matter where you live!
Because of a fellow KU alum, I was so grateful to work in the West Wing of two presidential administrations. Often times, I would feel like pinching myself when taking a press call from Tom Brokaw, or zipping through the West Wing for a media availability of a senior administration official, or grabbing lunch from the White House Navy Mess area before taking the food back to my desk. And it’s only because a KU alum took me under her wing and vouched for me.
Feel free to contact me if you’d like! I am fortunate to serve as a mentor to a current KU student, thanks to the KU Hawk Program. And for over 13 years, I am also a proud mentor to elementary students in Wichita. It’s never too early to share your time with someone… so when it’s your turn to pay it forward, consider serving as a mentor to a child or young person. I promise it’ll be the most fulfilling feeling ever – to try and make positive impacts on a child’s life!
What is your favorite KU memory?
There are several favorite KU memories that I’ll always love and look back on that make me instantly smile! Traditions Night was always such a blast! What better way to learn how to ‘Wave the Wheat,’ learn the words of our beloved Alma Mater song, and of course, crush the clap pattern correctly for the Rock Chalk chant, than with your closest of fellow Jayhawk friends?!
I am a huge college hoops fan. As we know, Allen Field House (AFH) is known as among the cathedrals of college basketball! So many fun KU memories involved partnering with fellow KU classmates/friends to stand in line outside of AFH for a spot in the student section. Of course, when it came time to attending classes while in line, we formed a system where there was always someone to hold our space, because come tip-off time, the best seats in the house were in the KU student section. I was fortunate to attend a game last month at AFH and definitely surreal due to the pandemic, but still lots of fun – and the magic of AFH hasn’t changed!
And by far, one of my fondest KU memories is having been a small part of bringing Latino civil rights leader and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree Cesar Chávez to KU. As a member of the KU Hispanic American Leadership Organization (HALO), we had the unique opportunity to bring Cesar Chávez to campus to speak about his civil rights and labor organizing efforts. KU HALO worked collaboratively with KU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Chancellor’s office to make the visit possible.
I remember that some of the KU HALO members picked up Cesar Chavez from the airport in Kansas City and then we all met for dinner in downtown Lawrence. I’ll always remember the profound humility and kindness of Cesar Chávez when we broke bread with him. I’ll remember his words to us of always seeking to bring equality and equity – not just for labor issues, but in health, human rights and so much more.
As we stand at the crossroads of today, working to move beyond the pandemic, Cesar Chávez’s words on equity that he shared with KU students, faulty and staff years ago – are as important as ever. And to know that Cesar imparted his wisdom on us in Lawrence is a memory that I’ll never forget – thanks to KU!
Need a mentor? Want to serve as a mentor? KU Mentoring is open to students, alumni, faculty and staff, and friends of the University of Kansas. Professionals who are looking for opportunities to connect with KU and provide assistance to Jayhawks are also welcome. Learn more about KU Mentoring.