It was her dream of coming to America that brought Pilar Garcia to Iowa State in 1950. The second of ten children, Garcia grew up in the Philippines and spoke Tagalog, a native Philippine language. Garcia always wanted to come to America and knew she would find a way, as long as “I didn’t get married.”
Although her father was a famous professor of international and political law and her mother was a high school biology teacher, Garcia originally had no interest in being an educator herself. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy in 1948. After graduating, Garcia realized her dream to come to the United States thanks to a Botany Scholarship at the University of Michigan.
Two years later, Garcia came to Ames to study food product development, but changed her mind after working in the “rat lab.”
“Those albino creatures of all ages petrified me but my coping mechanism came to my rescue and I lived to complete graduate work,” she said. Her Iowa State thesis was on fat absorption and serum cholesterol, but her dissertation was on the relationship between proteins and calories in adult female rats.
Garcia graduated from Iowa State in 1955. When she was invited to join the faculty that same year, she finally considered a career in teaching. Most of her work was with the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, studying the nutrition of school children, pregnant teens, and older women. Perhaps not surprisingly, she said, “The most challenging and demanding research assignment was the initiation of controlled feeding studies of young college women.” By 1970 Garcia had become an expert in human metabolic studies.
She also became an excellent professor. Her philosophy was to make students love the subject by “making it beautiful and interesting.” She also became known for the Chinese dinners with grated coconut that she would make for her students. In 1974 Garcia was promoted to professor, and in 1986, she was one of four Iowa State professors to receive the Amoco Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award.
Garcia said that her success in the classroom came from her ability to identify with the students’ experiences. “I can share with the students the discipline and the rigor required to find answers to some burning questions, the frustrations when things do not work, and the joy when they do,” she said.
Garcia retired in 1992, after forty years of service to the school.
“A quick readiness to help others, an optimistic approach to life, and an alert and searching mind, characterize her personality, her work and contributions to the University.” ISU Alumni Association June 1970