By Lisa Conley-Kendzior
Former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Garza, M.A. ’22, M.B.A. ’22, has long known that his future was written in the stars…literally.
For as long as he can remember, Garza has been fascinated by outer space, but he put his celestial dreams on hold to serve his country, enlisting in the U.S. Army shortly after graduating from high school.
“I wouldn't be where I am today without my military service,” said Garza, who served for a decade and completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star Medal and Combat Action Badge. “It was a tough 10 years, but now it feels like the universe is paying me back a little bit.”
During his time in the military, Garza worked toward completing his bachelor’s degree in space studies from American Military University. He retired from active duty in 2015 and decided to continue his education at the George Washington University because of its renowned Space Policy Institute.
“If you want to be in space policy and you want to be an influence and a leading thinker, there aren’t many organizations around the world that compare to the Space Policy Institute,” he said. “It's a network of faculty and alumni who have their hands in all the space mechanisms that happen here in D.C.”
Garza was able to complete his studies with financial assistance from the Dr. Harris and Naomi Goodman Yellow Ribbon Scholarship, which Michael B. Goodman, B.B.A. ’83, established in 2011 to help military veterans achieve their education goals.
“I had previously exhausted my GI Bill benefits and other funding sources, and I was in a position where I wasn’t sure how I was going to cover my final year of study,” Garza said. “This scholarship allowed me to remain in the GW community, which has provided invaluable support for everything from veterans issues to academic resources.”
Garza was also the recipient of a Pat Tillman Foundation scholarship—an honor granted to just 60 veterans throughout the country—in 2018, which not only further improved his financial situation but also connected him with fellow student veterans and opened the door for him to continue his studies at GW.
“It was an amazing honor to be selected, but when you go to the networking events and you're surrounded by all these great people, you get imposter syndrome. You think, ‘Why am I here?’” he said. “But being surrounded by that level of excellence and service and leadership kind of motivates you to match that level.”
Garza said that being named a Tillman Scholar inspired him to remain at GW and pursue his Ph.D. in space sustainability with an emphasis on the social responsibility of non-space companies.
“The common phrase that we use within the Pat Tillman Foundation is ‘Make your mark,’” he said. “So I felt like if I just stopped at the first master’s and didn't pursue the research that I know needed to be done, then I was selling myself short of what I could be.”
Many students face a daunting financial gap that scholarship support alleviates, enabling them to undertake other endeavors. For Garza, that’s establishing a D.C. chapter of Action Tank, a Philadelphia-based, veteran-led nonprofit that focuses on addressing one major veteran community issue each year, from gun violence to homelessness.
“We’re all excited to be part of it,” said Garza, the D.C. chapter’s executive director. “We're hoping to be officially stood up and created by the end of this calendar year and start work early next year.”
Garza, who currently works at NASA as a program manager but jokes that he’s a “perpetual grad student,” said he attributes much of his success to his time at GW.
“If you want to have influence over whatever your passion is or whatever your field of study is, D.C. is one of the most powerful places to be,” he said. “It’s almost impossible for you to come to GW and not get involved in some really unique and cool things that just don’t happen other places.”
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