MATC President’s Award Winner Has Unique View of the World

Television and Video Production graduate has navigated high school, college and life as undocumented immigrant

Mark Feldmann,

December 08, 2023

Leslie Garcia

The past two years at MATC have been great. They have amazing resources, and the instructors have really helped me. They have been understanding, and I guess that’s what I needed most.

Leslie Garcia Ramirez Television and Video Production graduate and Fall 2023 President Award winner

Leslie Garcia Ramirez sees the world differently.

As a student in Milwaukee Area Technical College’s well-respected Television and Video Production program, she has developed and directed stories spotlighting the city’s diversity, including the Hmong community, LGBTQ+ issues and immigrant rights.

As an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the United States from Mexico when she was 3 years old, Garcia has had to navigate a world without official documents, without financial aid and, perhaps worst of all, without a clear future.

“There are times when I have asked myself, ‘If I’m not here legally, why bother? Why bother going to college when I might not be able to even get a job?’” Garcia said. “The question of what’s next for me is always lingering there.”

Despite an uncertain future, Garcia has moved forward and excelled. This fall, she served as student executive producer for the “MATC Now!” series shown on the Milwaukee PBS’ YouTube channel. She earned several scholarships and will receive her associate degree this month.

Also, to honor her classroom accomplishments, community involvement, dedication to her craft and determination to succeed, Garcia won the President’s Award, a districtwide recognition for graduating students.

“Leslie’s passion for her field and her eagerness to learn and grow make her a standout candidate for this award,” said Kevin F. Pulz, department chair of the Television and Video Production and eProduction programs and executive producer for student production and programming at Milwaukee PBS. “Her dedication to both her education and her contributions to our community exemplifies the qualities this prestigious award aims to honor.”

Garcia received the award at MATC’s Academic Honors ceremony on Thursday, November 30, at the college’s Downtown Milwaukee Campus.

See photos from the Academic Honors ceremony

"She faced plenty of obstacles, but she never allowed those obstacles to stop her,” said Phillip King, Ed.D., MATC’s executive vice president of student success, at the ceremony. “She aspires to make a positive change in television. To make it more inclusive, especially for women, people of color and immigrants.”

Coming to America

Garcia was born in Hidalgo, Mexico. She moved to Louisiana when she was 3 years old. Her parents worked in the recovery efforts of Hurricane Katrina, which caused nearly 2,000 fatalities and $100 billion in damage in August 2005. The family then moved to Milwaukee in 2015.

“When I first got here, I felt a bit out of place,” Garcia said. “There wasn’t as much diversity as there was in New Orleans.”

At Oak Creek High School, Garcia tapped into her Mexican upbringing and excelled at drawing, painting and graphic design. “Mexican culture is a very artistic culture,” she said. “I have always felt creative.”

Being undocumented, she was hesitant about going to college after graduating from Oak Creek in 2021. But her high school teachers and counselor encouraged her to attend. Neither of her parents went to college, and they urged her to be the family’s first graduate. 

Succeeding at MATC

“For me, MATC was the most affordable option,” Garcia said. “As an undocumented immigrant, I’m not really under any protection. I can’t get a driver’s license. But at MATC, I found that there are people who really wanted to help me.”

To channel her creativity, Garcia enrolled in the Television and Video Production program. She learned to produce, develop, direct and shoot compelling stories. At the Milwaukee PBS facility at MATC, she learned how to operate television cameras, control lights and use editing equipment.

“At PBS, there’s really only one real classroom,” she said. “The rest of the time you are learning in an actual studio.”

Her first video project was called “Rising Star,” which she admitted didn’t have a great story and was plagued with challenges. “It was a struggle. I watch it now and can’t believe I made it,” she said. “But that’s why I go back and watch — so I can learn from it.”

Her favorite piece was “Dreams of the Monarch Butterfly,” which was about how local immigration laws affect the Hispanic/Latino/a community. She spent two months creating it. “I wanted to make something informative and perhaps increase my understanding of my own situation,” she said. 

Wanting more experience, she became student executive producer for the college’s “MATC Now!” livestream series on Milwaukee PBS's YouTube channel. She ran the show, performing all the duties a professional would tackle, Pulz said.

“She’s a mentor, sounding board and steadying presence, leading the 20 or so students who present the series on a near-weekly basis,” Pulz said. “Leslie is a wonderful person and hard-working individual who puts in more hours than required. She is ever-present, always available and the first to step in and step up. A real pleasure to have on our team and, honestly, in our lives.”

Garcia will continue as student executive producer in the spring. Then comes the rest of her life. She aspires to be a set designer — she designed the sets for Milwaukee PBS’s “Letters to Santa: Claus’ Candy Shop” special in 2022. She might work with someone as a freelancer, being paid separately. 

Whatever she does next, Garcia is happy that MATC allowed her to do so much already. “The past two years at MATC have been great. They have amazing resources, and the instructors have really helped me. They have been understanding, and I guess that’s what I needed most,” she said. “I’ve done so much in my two years. I have done things I never thought I would get to do.”

See MATC student productions on Milwaukee PBS YouTube channel

About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 30,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 180 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.