Meet Dr. Martha Garcia

As students return to the campus, the Desert Community College District Board of Trustees proudly welcomes Dr. Martha Garcia as the new Superintendent and President of College of the Desert.

Dr. Garcia’s primary goal for College of the Desert is to provide access to education for students across the valley – and especially to address and serve areas and populations demonstrating the greatest need. The importance of her role, she has said, is connected to the school’s responsibility to provide “a great local opportunity. This is how we will contribute to the social and economic development of this community.” It was Garcia’s fresh perspective for the new COD Palm Springs campus, set to open in 2025, that genuinely excited the search committee.

“We will be California’s first community college to have a learning hotel,” reveals Garcia. The learning hotel and restaurants will give students a hands-on opportunity to learn front- and heart-of-the-house operations and service standards that will prove pivotal to Coachella Valley’s tourism industry.

With fall classes underway and thousands of students back on campus, Dr. Garcia joins them ready to meet them where they are. She is familiar with the area, the students and the unique needs of both. From growing up with a mother who worked in the farm fields of Coachella to fulfilling her own early dreams of higher education, Dr. Garcia has said she identifies with much of the student body at COD, where a majority of enrollees are Latino, first-generation college students. Many of them are the sons and daughters of immigrants. One of her life’s purposes now lies in helping others overcome obstacles similar to those she once faced in obtaining her degrees and establishing a career while supporting her family.

Dr. Garcia brings vast experience in higher education to the college along with her close ties to our valley. For the majority of her career, she has been a highly respected leader at neighboring valley colleges. She earned a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from San Diego State University, a master’s degree in Educational Counseling from National University, a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration from San Diego State University and an Associate Degree from Imperial Valley College. She has been employed in the California community college system since 1999.

Dr. Garcia is dedicated to making a difference for students and the community she serves. She was honored as a 56th California Assembly District “2018 Woman of the Year” and received the Outstanding President/Chancellor Award from California Community College Council for Staff Development in March 2020. Dr. Garcia is commended for her commitment, tenacity and leadership to improve her community through continuous leadership efforts.

As former Superintendent/President of Imperial Valley College in Imperial, Calif., she funded and developed programs focused on serving underrepresented students. Her successful grant writing secured more than $20 million to support the formation of pioneering programs and services.

One of her most compelling initiatives was the building of a tiny home village in El Centro for students requiring housing, an initiative that could be reproduced at COD. “We were able to develop a community that the Imperial Valley was proud of,” says Garcia. Completing construction of the tiny homes, she adds, “was a testament of our commitment to do the best for our most vulnerable students.”

In speaking to a reporter for The Desert Sun, Garcia shared, “I know what it’s like to be on the other side… I was afforded an opportunity that really changed my life and where I fell in love with education,” adding that she hopes to do the same for COD students. “I am so honored to be here. I am grateful for the tremendous work that has been done, and I look forward to our great community successes together for the future.”

To support COD’s most deserving students, please contact Matt Durkan, Director of Development at 760.773.2561 or by e-mail at

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