Four-time Islander Alumnus Joseph Akers Announced as 2021 Dr. Hector P. Garcia Fellow

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Deemed one of the most pivotal figures in Mexican American history, Dr. Hector P. Garcia (1914-1996) continues to influence research and education through the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Fellowship. The fellowship, sponsored by the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Foundation, has been provided annually since 2019 to encourage scholarly research using the Garcia Papers, held in the Archives and Special Collections Department of the Mary and Jeff Bell Library at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

This year, Joseph Akers ’08, ’10, ’13, ’15, a social studies teacher at Beaumont United High School, was selected as the 2021 fellow. Akers, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history from TAMU-CC, also earned three master’s degrees from the Island University, including a Master of Science (MS) in Educational Administration, an MS in Education Technology, and an MS in Education, Curriculum, and Instruction. Along with his teaching duties, Akers is a living historian who teaches American life in the 1800s with the Texas Rifles organization as well as the Historian for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary Post 1806.

Akers said that his mission to be a lifelong learner stemmed from the fact that he is legally blind.

“As a blind professional, in my mind, I had to stand out and be far ahead of the average educator,” Akers said. “I wanted no question that I had the background and training to be a well-rounded teacher.”

Akers first learned about the fellowship while as a TAMU-CC undergraduate student taking history classes taught by Dr. Patrick Carroll, Professor Emeritus of History.

“I recall Dr. Pat Carroll telling us about his work with Dr. Garcia as Dr. Garcia worked on a civil rights issue involving Felix Longoria in the town of Three Rivers,” Akers said. “Dr. Garcia’s works proved that the Mexican American cultural footprint was not just alive, but alive, well, and willing and able to prosper.”

Akers says while his research surrounds the historical events that took place in Mexican American communities in Southeast Texas following World War II, his true mission is to create a new and engaging curriculum for his high school students.

“This research began with trying to figure out a way to engage my students in their local history,” Akers said. “Now, my students are beginning to see and understand that not only is history all around them, but they play a vital role in its future.”

Akers says the curriculum he creates will not only cover a broad sweep of the Civil Rights movement as it pertains to Mexican Americans, but also focus on the history of the greater Beaumont area.

“The papers left behind from Dr. Garcia speak towards the impact of Mexican Americans on the greater Beaumont area as the region’s industry changed from lumber to oil up to World War II,” Akers said. “Dr. Garcia’s work also showcased how the Civil Rights movement was brought into industrial refineries and likeminded commercial businesses.”

Akers visited the archives at the Bell Library in November 2021.

“I was blown away with how massive the collection is and how it is so well preserved,” Akers said. “I told my wife Trish that it felt as though I was going through Dr. Garcia’s safety deposit box because of how personal and sensitive the documents I was uncovering were. It’s hard to contemplate an entire life’s work because there were so many intricate details contained in the elaborate collection.”

The fellowship includes a $1,000 stipend.

Cecilia Garcia-Akers, Foundation President and daughter of the late Dr. Hector P. Garcia, says the foundation is honored to continue Dr. Garcia’s legacy and ever-growing impact. Garcia-Akers and Akers have no relation.

“The Board of Directors is pleased to continue to assist those students, researchers, and faculty members who support Dr. Garcia’s mission,” Garcia-Akers said. “Mr. Joseph Akers will be able to share knowledge of the role Dr. Garcia had in history regarding education, health care, Veterans rights, and the never-ending fight to erase discrimination.”

To learn more about the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Fellowship, click here.