Linda Garza retiring after 30 years at TWU
“In the life of any University there are certain professors who create a lasting legacy by impacting students, their colleagues, and the entire organization. Professor Linda Garza is that person at Tennessee Wesleyan.”
-Dr. Grant Willhite, VP for Academic Affairs
Linda Garza, Professor of Social Work and founder of the TWU Social Work Program, has retired from Tennessee Wesleyan University following 30 years of outstanding service to students, faculty, and staff of the University, as well as the Athens and McMinn County communities.
Prof. Garza began at TWU in 1991 as an Instructor of Human Services. Over time, she worked up to Professor ranking in Human Services, before beginning the Social Work program in 2015. She also served as Chair of the Behavioral Science Department for 10 years and completed her time at TWU as Program Director for Social Work.
"When I first started teaching at TWU, I knew this was where God wanted me to be,” said Prof. Garza. "It has been such a privilege to be a part of the TWU community and to interact with so many amazing young and not so young students. (My oldest student, Voncile Miller, graduated at the age of 72). They taught me much about resiliency, determination, and overcoming adversity to reach their goal of helping others in need reach theirs.”
It wasn’t simply teaching classes or checking boxes in her time at TWU, though. Prof. Garza’s tenure was all about connection and relationship, with her students, her colleagues, and her community.
“The great thing about Mrs. Garza, everyone feels like they’re her favorite student,” said former student Gabe Blake when presenting an award to Prof. Garza in 2021. “That’s what she does, she puts her life blood into this work and she believes that teaching is a calling from God, it’s a mission, and she does it all with grace, and love, and care.”
“For decades she advised, taught, and mentored students in human services,” added Dr. Willhite. “She built out hundreds of contacts within the McMinn County community and beyond, providing her students with guest speakers, internship opportunities, and future employers.”
In her time at TWU, Prof. Garza served numerous community positions, including:
•Secretary of the McMinn County Advisory Board to the Department of Children’s Services
•Athens City Council Advisory Board
•H.O.P.E. Center Board of Directors
•Support Counselor and Trainer for McMinn Meigs Monroe CONTACT Inc.
•Facilitator for monthly Alzheimer’s Support Group at Starr Regional Medical Center
•Sunday School Teacher, Chair of Mission Outreach & Parent's Day Out Committees at Trinity United Methodist Church
“I have truly been blessed to know so many kind-hearted, compassionate future human services and social workers,” added Prof. Garza. “When I see and hear of their work in the community and their level of dedication, I am in awe."
Prior to her time at TWU, she served as Executive Director for CONTACT, Inc. of McMinn Meigs Monroe, which provides phone support for unwed mothers, persons with depression, addictions, abused women and children, suicidal persons, widowed and divorced persons, people in poverty, and more. As Executive Director, Prof. Garza trained volunteers, shared about the organization locally, in addition to serving over 4500 hours on telephone calls.
The award presented to Prof. Garza in 2021 was a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tennessee Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). She also received numerous awards on the TWU campus and in the community, including from the Athens City Council and United Way of McMinn Meigs Counties.
“When the time was right for TWU, she masterfully transformed the human services major into a Social Work program to meet a desperate need in the region,” said Dr. Willhite of the program’s growth. “She now hands off a robust, accredited, and respected program with a very bright future.”
The TWU Social Work program, thanks to Prof. Garza’s work, is fully accredited with the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Commission on Accreditation. Graduates of the program are prepared for BSW State Licensure exams in whatever state they plan to practice, extending the ripple effect of Prof. Garza’s life of work.
“The TWU community is grateful for all that Professor Garza has done for students, the University, and the greater good,” concluded Dr. Willhite.
“Words cannot express how grateful I am for the privilege of being at TWU,” added Prof. Garza, "teaching, advising, listening. I count it all JOY.”