by Bruce Tomaso
It took a quarter-century for Yolette Garcia’s bond with SMU to come full circle.
Garcia, an assistant dean in the Simmons School of Education & Human Development, earned her M.A. in art history from Meadows in 1983 after graduating with a B.A. in art history from Wellesley College. At Meadows, she specialized in classical art, specifically Greek vase painting, and was a teaching assistant for esteemed faculty member Karl Kilinski.
But, though she loved the field, another passion was even stronger.
“I wanted to be a journalist,” she says. “When I left Meadows, I got a job at KERA – as a secretary. I think I might have been the worst secretary ever. But it was a way to get my foot in the door.”
What followed was a stellar 25-year career in public broadcasting. At KERA, Garcia worked in both radio and television, on the air and off, as a producer and in a variety of managerial roles. (“Too many positions to mention,” her LinkedIn profile says.)
“I was so fortunate,” she says. “I had the best jobs one could imagine, working with amazing colleagues at an institution I loved.”
Along the way she earned a host of accolades. She was co-recipient of a 1994 national Emmy Award for the KERA documentary After Goodbye: An AIDS Story, for which she was executive producer. She also received a 2006 Lone Star Emmy as a host and co-producer for KERA’s In the American West: The Photographs of Richard Avedon, a Twentieth Anniversary Special. In 2017 she was honored by the Press Club of Dallas with the North Texas Legend Award, given for a lifetime of career excellence in journalism.
Her art history training, she says, proved very useful in her career. “Art history teaches critical thinking and sharpens your writing,” she says. “You have to observe details, from the minutest of lines to color and space. Then you have to describe what it all means, and place it into the culture of the times. Those qualities also describe good journalism, and I believe the faculty at Meadows trained me to be more rigorous in how to view what’s in front of me, and turn it into scholarship. I loved every minute of it – I still do!”
In 2008, Garcia “came home,” as she puts it, to SMU. She was recruited to be the Simmons School’s first assistant dean for external affairs and outreach, overseeing communications and promotion as well as other initiatives. She’s also taught in Simmons’ Master of Liberal Studies program and been a guest lecturer in Meadows’ Journalism Division.
“I tell journalism students that to succeed in the field, they need to develop critical thinking skills. They have to be fair and accurate. And, of course, they have to be able to write well,” she says.
“But beyond that, I encourage them to be endlessly curious about the world. Be open to new experiences. Yes, academic coursework is important, but don’t focus narrowly on it. Find other subjects that interest you, and learn about them. And always have compassion for the people whose stories you’re telling.”
Garcia got a priceless lesson in compassion 15 years ago, when she found out she needed a kidney transplant. Born with under-sized kidneys, she’d dealt with the resulting chronic disease her whole life.
When the Wellesley alumnae magazine ran a brief item about her condition, a fellow graduate, Elizabeth Barbieri Hopkinson, offered to be a kidney donor. The transplant surgery was successfully performed at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas on June 24, 2004.
“Liz was a year behind me, and we lived in the same dorm,” Garcia says. “But we weren’t close friends, by any means. Yet, she stepped forward – unhesitatingly. She saved my life.
“Her remarkable spirit of sacrifice and generosity is a gift I carry always. In the small ways I can, I try to pass that gift along to others.”