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Defying expectations and discovering purpose: Meet advisor, alum Maria Garcia De la Cruz

Maria Garcia De la Cruz donned her cap and gown to accept her Master of Education degree on May 4, 2024. But before she ever dreamed of walking across that stage, before she became an academic advisor for Boise State’s RN-BS Online Completion program, she wanted to be a nurse.

“I thought I was going to go help save lives, or help people at their last stages of life or beginning stages,” she said.

But rarely does life go according to plan.

‘Not that statistic’

Headshot of Maria Garcia De la Cruz in her Boise State regalia, leaning on a brick wall.
Maria Garcia De la Cruz earned her Master of Education in Educational Leadership degree this spring from Boise State.

Garcia De la Cruz grew up adoring school.

“It felt very empowering,” she said. “What I loved about it is that I had the freedom or right to express myself in different ways.”

Her father encouraged her to pursue education since it is a powerful tool “no one can take away from you,” she said. But coming from a rural town and a limited income background, many people told Garcia De la Cruz that college wasn’t a realistic option for her. She disagreed.

“I wanted to be like, ‘I’m not that statistic,’” she said. “I wanted to challenge myself.”

The sacrifices her parents made to ensure she had an education also spurred her on, as did the encouragement of her high school guidance counselor. “Him believing in me made me believe in myself and know that I could go and help others,” she said. “It was an accomplishment not just for me but for my family.”

She is now a first-generation college graduate.

Pivoting from nursing

Garcia De la Cruz knows that becoming a nurse isn’t for the faint of heart; her journey equipped her with unique empathy for the students she advises. When they talk about the academic challenges they’re facing, Garcia De la Cruz often shares her difficulties through pre-nursing studies and the rigorous application process.

“I try to be relatable that way,” she said. “They can see that I’m a human too, and I know some of their experiences. I don’t know exactly their feelings, but I can relate to some.”

Maria Garcia De la Cruz stands with her parents by Idaho State University's sign.
Garcia De la Cruz’s parents were inspirational in her academic journey, reminding her that education is a powerful tool no one can take away.

Garcia De la Cruz applied multiple times to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Idaho State University, her alma mater. But she ultimately decided not to pursue the nursing program, taking her third try as a sign to reevaluate her goals and purpose.

“That’s when I reflected and I kept saying, ‘Is this something I truly want?’” she said. “I thought I would regret that, but I think it was the best decision. I didn’t feel like that was for me anymore. I could tell it wasn’t my passion.”

Now she laughs at the irony of advising students who are pursuing the degree she used to want.

“That wasn’t my ultimate goal, but the path I took led me here,” she said. “Now I see my purpose in helping people was to create opportunities and to bring connections to others.”

Discovering her purpose

Garcia De la Cruz’s first experience as an advisor was with TRIO Upward Bound during the summers of her undergraduate education. She built connections through academic mentoring and discovered she enjoyed working with students, especially those from similar backgrounds as hers.

Although she had many educational opportunities, she often had to find them on her own. As an advisor, she wants to alleviate this struggle for her advisees.

Maria Garcia De la Cruz sits at her desk talking to a student through a video call on her computer.
Garcia De la Cruz prioritizes making meaningful connections with the students she advises.

“I always advocate for students, especially for those students that I feel like aren’t being heard or are first generation and have been told multiple times that ‘you can’t make it through,’” she said. “I’m here to be a bridge to help them get where they need to get.”

Inspired by the connections made by full-time advisors, Garcia De la Cruz took a full-time position with TRIO working in Magic Valley after graduation. Three years later she transitioned to her current role at the School of Nursing, looking forward to giving back in an area in which she had invested so much of her own time: nursing education.

“My biggest motivation was to be someone who is there to listen,” she said. “When you build those meaningful connections, you’re helping [students] have a better experience.”

Boise State’s statewide advising summit in 2023 allowed her to share this knowledge with other advisors. She presented on how to build meaningful connections with students using virtual resources. Many attendees gave her positive feedback, thanking her for sharing tips and ideas they never thought of before.

“It was a great learning experience, and it was nice to have other advisors say, ‘I’m gonna use this’ or reach out,” Garcia De la Cruz said. “I like learning and that’s why I enjoy this advising position. I feel like I’m learning something new every day.”

Education for future impact

Maria Garcia De la Cruz leans on the doorframe by her office sign labeled with her name and "Academic Advisor".
Garcia De la Cruz’s own educational journey inspires her to aim high and help students succeed any way she can.

As much as she loves her job, Garcia De la Cruz doesn’t envision herself as an advisor forever. Last fall, she took the plunge back to school and began Boise State’s Master of Education in Educational Leadership program.

“I feel like I could have a more powerful voice if I was advocating in higher positions,” she said. “I do, one day, want to be in a leadership position and be there for students in a different way.”

Graduating this spring, Garcia De la Cruz is grateful for where her far-from-straightforward academic and career journey has taken her.

“I always wanted to be involved in some way with education or health,” she said. “Now I’m not a healthcare worker, but I’m still learning the educational side of health as I help students reach their goals. And I think that’s what my purpose was throughout this process: to help others.”