Maija Garcia

Maija Garcia, BA '03

Director, Organic Magnetics
Bachelor's Completion Program

What were you doing before you started the Bachelor's Completion (BAC) Program at CIIS, and what led you to apply at that point in your life?

When I found CIIS, I was leading cultural arts programs for youth, dancing professionally in Oakland and San Francisco, and finishing my fourth year of full time study at San Francisco State University. My alternative approach to education at SFSU had taken root, but not beared fruit; I chose to design a 'Special Major' in Sustainable Development- a fairly new concept in 1999- integrating Urban Studies, Ethnic Studies, Environmental Studies, and Global Peace Studies. Though I had some great teachers I did not receive the mentorship I needed to see graduation on the horizon at SFSU. At CIIS I found a community that validated my course of study and allowed me to complete my BA in one year.

What was unique for you about the BAC program that might have differed from previous experiences you'd had in education?

The BAC program was not like any other experience I've had- it was a transformative, experiential education. The format was inclusive: we sat in a circle where everyone could see and be seen. The demographics were diverse in age, focus of study, and learning style. Although I wished there were more people of color, we did address racial and economic privilege by questioning assumptions without inhibiting our progress as a cohort, paying close attention to the development of praxis (theory + practice).

I studied Buddhism with an inspired master who led me deeper inward through meditation. Compiling my travel research on Women and Sustainability in Latin America allowed me to integrate an important life experience. Everything I received, remembered and recorded was valid; I learned to honor the body of knowledge I hold and to incorporate life lessons into curriculum for college credit. This active process of integration serves me well in my work as a director, choreographer and educator. I strive to maintain consciousness of the multiple modes of learning, comprehension and expression- a kind of diversity that's present in any group of people.

When did you graduate, and what have you been up to since then? Or, what are your plans for the future?

I graduated in 2003 and moved back to New York City - Harlem- where I have lived for 10 years. I joined the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in 2004 and travelled the globe for five years. Then I began working as Associate Choreographer on the Broadway musical FELA!, which won three Tony Awards, including Best Choreography in 2009. I became the Creative Director of the international touring companies, staging FELA! in London, Amsterdam and Nigeria. As founder of Organic Magnetics, a theater arts organization that creates live installations through cross cultural collaboration, I write, produce, direct and choreograph original works. I teach movement for actors, modern and contemporary dance at CUNY City College and Steps on Broadway. I also direct a theater arts and college prep program at a high school in Harlem. Currently I am working on curriculum design, applying theater arts as transformative education. What's next? Anything is possible.

What did you learn in the BAC program that has helped you professionally and/or personally since graduating?

CIIS affirmed what I have always believed- that one can acquire an education inside or outside of an academic environment. It is the integration of the experience that matters. In the BAC program I realized that my interest in the performing arts, in education, and sustainable development were not battling forces but congruent chords that composed the soundtrack of my life. I began to integrate all that I am, and all that I believed I could do by bridging disciplines and constructing an authentic life path.