She recalled driving to Columbia for her first course, then breaking down in tears in the car "because I didn't see anyone who looked like me. I wondered, 'Am I going to be able to do this?' "
She found a way, and has gone on to write books suggesting how others can do the same. In 1997, her book "Affirmative Action's Testament of Hope: Strategies for a New Era" was published. She followed in 2000 with "Succeeding in an Academic Career: A Guide for Faculty of Color."
Before coming to Dominguez Hills, she served as president of Berkeley College, a private New York City business school that attracts students who have difficulty staying in higher education because of job or family responsibilities.
At Dominguez Hills, she said her priorities include "recognizing our points of pride and sharpening our mission and image" -- starting with the "toro," or bull, mascot, which appears in myriad forms. It may seem minor, but a single image will promote a consistent "brand" for the university.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, June 19, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
Nursing programs: An article in Tuesday's California section profiling Mildred Garcia, the new president of Cal State Dominguez Hills, said the university recently launched a master's degree program in nursing. The university started a master's program for registered nurses in 1985. The new master's program is for people who are not yet registered nurses.
"We are going to have one bull, not six," Garcia said, "and it will be unveiled in January, along with our strategic plan."
But more immediate challenges abound. With the Cal State system projected to receive about $386 million less than last year, the university is reeling from budget cuts, hiring freezes and fee increases. Daily parking rates were recently raised to $4 from the $3 set years ago to accommodate the university's mostly working-class students.
Overall, faculty, students and local leaders generally praised Garcia's initial efforts to pull the campus out of its doldrums and to aggressively partner with corporate and civic leaders throughout the South Bay.
On a recent weekday she lunched with three Hermosa Beach city officials, one of whom noted that "this is the first time in 15 years that an official from our city has been in the CSU Dominguez Hills president's office."
Among them was Councilman Michael Keegan, who recalled, "It was a very fruitful lunch meeting. President Garcia took copious notes."