When Rod Garcia visited Cambridge in the summer of 1988 to interview for an admissions coordinator position at MIT Sloan, the lights of Fenway Park immediately caught his attention.
“I had never seen that before,” he said. “At the time I was living on the north side of Chicago near Wrigley Field, which did not have lights until August 1988, so I wasn’t used to seeing night games. But I definitely remember seeing Fenway’s light from my hotel room in Cambridge.”
Thirty-three years later, Garcia will retire from his role as Assistant Dean of Admissions at the end of the month, just before the first class he admitted to MIT Sloan celebrates its 30th Reunion year at the 2021 MIT Sloan Virtual Reunion.
“We hear from alumni all around the world about how impactful Rod has been on their lives. He has played an integral role for so many in the MIT Sloan community,” said Kathryn Hawkes (Associate Dean, External Relations and Global Programs). “Although we will miss his presence on campus, we are grateful for his leadership and years of service to generations of MIT Sloan students.”
Innovation from Day One
When Garcia returned to Cambridge for his first day on the job in the fall of 1988, it just so happened to be registration day.
“I remember my first day being very busy,” he recalled. “No one was really able to pay attention to me because there was so much to do. Harriet Barnett, who retired a few years ago, introduced me to a few people and showed me to my office amid the craziness of that day.”
After briefly meeting with a few faculty and staff members, Garcia immediately got to work helping students prepare for the semester ahead. Once things died down, though, he quickly got to know the admissions team and the rest of the faculty. He also set about tackling his first big project: digitizing the application process.
“I inherited all of these files from my predecessor—the late Miriam Sherburne, who retired from MIT Sloan after 51 years—including stacks of paper GMAT scores and index cards I didn’t really know what to do with,” said Garcia. “And that’s when it struck me that MIT was this mythical place that’s all about innovative technologies, but here I am going into my office and seeing all of these GMATs dating back five years.”
14,000 students admitted during Rod Garcia's tenure.
Garcia worked to reduce paper whenever and wherever he could. Candidates who did not want to submit paper applications were even permitted to mail them in on a floppy disk. But it was not until the mid-1990s, when several student participants in what was then the MIT $10K Entrepreneurial Competition approached the admissions office with their idea for an online application, that Garcia was able to fully realize his dream of going digital.
“The first year we made online applications an option, we only had one or two applicants who took it,” he recalled. “But in 1997 we decided to require all candidates to submit their applications online. It was a bold decision, it was untested, but we had faith in the technology. Sure, there were problems—the server crashed over the weekend and no one was monitoring it—but we learned from those mistakes and we adapted. We innovated.”
Building Relationships to Last a Lifetime
Aside from shifting to online applications, Garcia also oversaw the development of recruiting events to identify and cultivate prospective candidates from across the globe. He excelled in his position and so did the rest of his team, but many of the alumni whose student experiences were shepherded by Garcia fondly remember a fun-loving and relaxed spirit whose professionalism and empathy made their time at MIT Sloan unique.
“I think that’s really due to the culture of MIT Sloan. It’s one of the first things I noticed when I came here from another institution,” said Garcia. “That’s one of the biggest advantages of being a small school. Whether you are a student or an administrator, you have the chance to really get to know everyone. You can build these relationships that will last long after graduation.”
Garcia also credits his predecessor and the admissions office for developing such an empowering environment for the candidates and students they work with. “When I mention Miriam to Sloanies who graduated before 1988, their faces light up. She was often the first person they interacted with and their love for her persists to this day. If I could do half of what she accomplished during her time here, I would be happy.”
Based on what his admissions colleagues have had to say about his tenure at MIT Sloan, it seems Garcia has accomplished a great deal.
“Rod has built deep friendships with many in the alumni community and I know those will continue even after his retirement,” said Jake Cohen (Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate and Master's Programs). “Like so many in our community, I have experienced Rod as a devoted colleague, thoughtful contributor, and loyal friend, and I look forward to maintaining that friendship for many years to come.”
Did Rod Garcia make a lasting impression on your life? Share a memory or your best wishes with Rod and make a gift to the Fellowships for Inclusion Annual Fund Impact Area to honor his legacy.