HARLINGEN — For Dr. Brenda de la Garza, 37, pursuing a career in education used to be something she never imagined herself doing.

She had seen how much her dad enjoyed his career as an educator, however, becoming one herself was never part of her plan.

That all changed when she decided to give teaching a try and immediately fell in love with the profession.

After working as a special education teacher and educational diagnostician for a few years in Harlingen, de la Garza is now a special education coordinator for the Region One Education Service Center.

While juggling her full-time job and role as a wife and mother, de la Garza recently achieved a goal of hers that she’s had for many years.

This May, de la Garza, along with other graduates from the UTRGV Class of 2020, was able to walk the stage with regalia and receive a diploma for earning a Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction.

“It was one of those things that I wanted to do. I wanted to have a doctorate,” de la Garza said. “It was a goal that I’ve had probably since I was little.”

Due to the pandemic, de la Garza and other graduates in her class held their commencement virtually last year.

For de la Garza, her most-recent ceremony was special because her family was able to see her graduate in person.

“I can say that getting the degree was all of our accomplishment because I could not have done it without my family’s support, especially my husband and mom,” de la Garza said. “It wasn’t easy. It was a lot of work and sacrifice of time with my husband, kids and family.”

She said it was important for her to have her daughters see their mom walk across the stage.

“I have three girls and I wanted them to see that if you want something, you have to work for it,” de la Garza said. “I really wanted to get it and have my girls see that you have to work for what you want — that you’re able to finish it and follow through with your dream or goal that you’ve set.”

For de la Garza, being part of the less than one percent statistics for Hispanic women to achieve a doctoral degree was also very important to her.

“There’s very few women, and on top of that, very few Hispanic women that have a doctoral degree that aren’t in that category,” she said. “Historically, people of color don’t go as high as this and then you add being a woman so it’s a big accomplishment.”

For de la Garza, it was her passion for bilingual education and special education that inspired her dissertation.

“I did my dissertation focusing on both and how to evaluate our bilingual students for whenever they may need special education services and how to better evaluate them,” de la Garza said.

She added that there’s very little research in that area.

“It was very interesting. I completed the research with student evaluators from the Valley so Region One was my focus,” she explained. “I’ve been able to present the research at the state and national level and I’m collaborating with some other service centers.”

De la Garza said overall earning her doctoral degree required a lot of planning, sacrifice and determination, but it’s a nice sense of accomplishment.

“It takes a village,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s doable and there’s a lot of support out there.”