Alumni Achievement Award

Amanda Garcia

Associate Professor of Accounting and Finances, Director of the MBA Program, Elms College

Amanda Garcia

Amanda Garcia

Amanda Garcia has some simple advice for those she counsels in the Entrepreneurship program at Elms College — and pretty much everyone else she mentors at one level or another.

“I tell them not to be afraid to fail, and that you can learn from failure,” Garcia, now a repeat finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, told BusinessWest. “A lot of times as an entrepreneur, whatever you start with is not what you end up with. So I encourage the students to understand that failure is OK — just learn from the failure and figure out what you can do better next time.”

And this is advice that extends to all those in business, she went on, not simply those who happen to own the business.

“If you’re too afraid to fail at something, you’ll never take the risk to start something new,” she explained. “A new program, a new initiative … any of that is a risk, because you’re putting your name on it, and sometimes things don’t go well.”

Suffice it to say that Garcia practices what she preaches, and that simple philosophy helps explain why she is again a finalist for the AAA award. Indeed, she has demonstrated several times that she is not afraid to fail, taking on new career challenges, new initiatives in the realm of higher education, and even her own entrepreneurial venture, an accounting firm that bears her name.

Most all of that has occurred since she was honored as a member of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2010. At that time, she was vice president of Operations for Junior Achievement of Western MA. And while she’s still heavily involved in JA, as we’ll see later, she has shifted her career path from the nonprofit realm to higher education.

“If you’re too afraid to fail at something, you’ll never take the risk to start something new. A new program, a new initiative … any of that is a risk, because you’re putting your name on it, and sometimes things don’t go well.”

At Elms College, where she started as lecturer in Accounting, she is currently an associate professor of Accounting and Finances and interim director of the MBA program, which she co-founded in 2012. Since then, she’s helped grow that program to include graduate degrees in several areas, including Accounting, Financial Planning, Healthcare Leadership, Management, and many others.

Meanwhile, Garcia helped launch the Entrepreneurship program at the school, and currently oversees that initiative and is co-director of the First-year Seminar and Innovation Challenge for students in that program.

Explaining that initiative, she said it is aptly named — students are placed into teams that are challenged with conceptualizing a product and service and pitching it in a competition that earns the winners some capital to take their venture forward.

“Students learn about design thinking, they learn how to pitch, they learn about innovation and how to tackle big problems that seem to have no answer,” she explained, adding that as an advisor and leader of the program, she also teaches them how to work in teams and be a good team member.

As for those big problems with no answers, she said that over the years, teams have addressed some of them with imagination, determination, and solutions in various phases of development.

“Last year’s winner pitched a roommate-matching app where the students would design the surveys to determine what is important to them in a roommate,” she explained, noting the importance of such a service. “A bad roommate is the number-one reason for a student leaving college or not living on campus.”

As for her own entrepreneurial venture, Amanda Garcia, LLC, launched in 2008, she has grown it from a sole proprietorship to three employees. It specializes in small business, rental properties, and tax planning for individuals with investments.

While the many aspects of her work keep her busy, she makes time for giving back to the community, especially Junior Achievement.

Indeed, she still has strong ties to the organization, serving as its accountant, co-chair of its annual golf tournament, a JA volunteer, and chair of the JA EnTEENpreneur Challenge, where, again, she is helping young people develop ideas and begin the process of transforming them into businesses.

Summing up all that she does, as a college professor, an accountant, and as a JA volunteer, Garcia said she is educating people and helping them succeed, as she has, in business and in life. It’s a role she takes very seriously, said Jennifer Connolly, president of Junior Achievement of Western MA, who nominated Garcia for the AAA award.

“Over the years, Amanda has helped dozens of area students and their families navigate applying for college, and then mentored those students through their college years,” she said. “She maintains close contact with many of her students after graduation, mentoring them as they navigate the world of work. She gives of herself, her time, and her money to support many organizations in the area.”

Overall, Garcia doesn’t have much direct experience with failure, so she can’t exactly speak from experience there. But she has considerable experience when it comes to overcoming fear of failure and accepting new challenges — on the job, with her business, and with everything that life can throw at someone.

Helping people overcome that fear and reach higher is just one of the ways she is making an impact in the region. And it’s just one of many reasons why she is a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award.


George O’Brien