From College House to State House

Monday, November 21, 2016

Nicolas Garcia

By senior year, most college students know how to arrange their schedules for maximum convenience. But Nicolas Garcia organized his classes so he could fly home to Florida on weekends to campaign for a seat in the state House of Representatives.

“I wanted to take what I learned at Penn and bring it back so I could help my community out,” he says. “I hope that is something I accomplished.”

Though he was raised in a “not very political” family, the Arab Spring in 2011 roused Garcia’s interest in politics. At Penn, he was able to take classes with former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, C’65; John DiIulio, Frederic Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society, director of the Fox Leadership Program, and the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives; and John Lapinski, associate professor of political science, director of the Penn Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies, and director of the elections unit at NBC News.

Garcia also had two Penn in Washington internships that were transformative, during which he worked in the White House. “The people were really, really passionate about doing public service,” says Garcia, “and that rubbed off on me a lot more than I was expecting.”

Out on the campaign trail, Garcia found his work as a leader of the Latino community at Penn and in the Fox Leadership Program also served him well. “You’re talking to people you represent, trying to find out what they want, advocate for them, and find ways to solve their issues.”

Though Garcia was unsuccessful in his bid for office, he says the experience provided its own rewards. “The outcome I'm proudest of is demonstrating to people anyone can make a difference if they're willing to make their voice heard,” says Garcia. “It can be nerve-wracking, but by running I believe I helped to steer the conversation on education reform in the state and energized more young people to be active and even run themselves one day.”