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A Rising Star Shines in Upper School

Maria Morales
Damian Garcia, director of college counseling, received the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) 2020 Rising Star Award. His program was nominated for the national award after winning the same prize from his chapter, the Potomac and Chesapeake Association for College Admission Counseling (PCACAC). 

The professional associations serve college admissions counselors from high schools and colleges. The PCACAC chapter includes school counselors from Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The Rising Star Award honors individuals and programs that exemplify excellence and dedication to serving students’ needs in the transition from high school to college. While the leadership program was recognized, not Garcia, specifically its co-creator, still considers it a significant achievement. 

“The Rising Star Award is a nationally recognized award in our profession,” said Garcia. “It’s a great honor to be considered as an emerging leader.” 

The Leadership Education Webinar Series that Garcia created provides professional development for PCACAC early to mid-career members looking to advance or grow. The program brings together seasoned professionals within the membership to share best practices and practical advice. 

Garcia said the program’s goal is to empower the counselors with tools and resources to step up in their organizations.

Garcia partnered with a chapter colleague, Anthony Ambrogi from St. Catherine’s School in Richmond, Virginia, that he met at PCACAC’s 2019 conference. They struck up a conversation at the conference about leadership development. That summer, Garcia was asked to be a co-leader. 

They organized topics, secured presenters, coordinated logistics, and advertised the program. The program was up and running by mid-fall of the 2019–2020 school year. In the 2019–2020 school year, they hosted five webinars. This school year, seven webinars are planned. 

The sessions have been well attended, with 50–100 attendees per session. Members who attend five or more webinars and the chapter’s annual regional conference will earn a completion certificate.

The award has brought the national spotlight to Garcia and his program. He’s had conversations with other NACAC regions wanting to know how they executed it. 

Garcia worked 11 years as an admissions counselor on the college side. For the last two years, he’s worked at GCS, but he draws from his prior experience to benefit both his colleagues and students.

Organizing the panels with colleagues from the college side has built a network for him and GCS, Garcia said. For example, one of his panelists will be presenting to GCS juniors and their families about the college admission process, financial aid, and what the application process is like during the pandemic. 

“The support I receive at GCS allows me to continue my engagement within my profession,” said Garcia. “Staying up
on national trends is important to staying relevant so I can provide the best information to our students and parents.”
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An independent school serving students from age 2 through grade 12 in Howard County, Maryland.