The University of New Mexico Honors College is proud to announce the recipient of the UNM Honors College Distinguished Alumni Award – an honor that salutes the remarkable achievements of alumni who have contributed immensely to the college’s reputation through their research, professional accomplishments, leadership, and community service. 

This years Distinguished Alumni Award Winner is Matthew Garcia. He is currently serving as the United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico. 

Garcia's investiture for US District Court Judge

Born and raised in New Mexico, Garcia earned his bachelor’s degree from The University of New Mexico (1999). Following his undergraduate studies, Garcia was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and studied at the Helsinki School of Economics in Finland. He then attended Harvard University completing his M.P.P. at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Garcia returned home to New Mexico in 2003 to attend law school. He received his J.D. from the University of New Mexico School of Law (2005).

He began his law career as an associate attorney at Freedman Boyd Daniels Hollander Goldberg & Ives. Wanting to build a practice that emphasized individual claims, Garcia started his own litigation firm in 2008 representing New Mexicans on claims for civil rights violations, tort matters, unlawful discrimination, and wage theft. 

In 2018, he decided to pursue his interest in public service and applied to serve in Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration. He was subsequently appointed as General Counsel to the Office of the Governor where he advised the Governor and office staff on various legal issues ranging from state constitutional questions to statutory interpretation. He also represented the Governor’s office on matters of significant public concern, and he appeared frequently in the New Mexico Supreme Court and Federal Court. Garcia served in this capacity until he was promoted to the Governor’s Chief of Staff in 2021. As Chief of Staff he spearheaded a number of significant policy initiatives including the Opportunity Scholarship, which provides New Mexico residents with no-cost college and post-secondary education.

At the suggestion of Chief Judge William Johnson, Garcia applied to serve as United States District Court Judge. After several interviews with White House Counsel and a probing FBI background investigation, President Biden nominated Garcia for the position in July 2022. He was confirmed by the Senate this past Valentine’s Day. He is the 26th federal judge confirmed for the District of New Mexico since statehood.

In a recent interaction, Garcia fondly remembered his time at UNM and shared the following insights:

What was your favorite Honors College course?  
"'A Tour of the Calculus' where I immersed myself in math proofs and explored the history of calculus. Another beloved course was Professor Fred Warner's Civil War literature class. Professor Warner, with his unique blend of grumpiness, wit, and intelligence, made me a Civil War enthusiast."

Who was your most impactful Honors instructor?  
"Professor Holden-Rhodes. He played a significant role, especially when it came to supporting my application for the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship."

What project are you most proud of?
"Rather than a specific project, I cherished the broad spectrum of subjects and interests I got to delved into my years at UNM."

Why join Honors College? 
"The best reason to join the Honors Program is the other students. They broadened my horizons and introduced me to possibilities I hadn't considered before."

Arya Lamb who nominated Garcia stated, "Matthew Garcia stands as a testament to academic and professional excellence in New Mexico. Post his honorable graduation from UNM, he expanded his horizons in Finland at the Helsinki School of Economics, courtesy of a Fulbright scholarship. This was followed by earning a Master of Public Policy at the eminent Harvard University. Garcia’s dedication led him back home, where he graduated from UNMSOL in 2005.

After spearheading a thriving law practice in Albuquerque, his journey in public service saw him don the roles of general counsel and chief of staff for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. His unwavering dedication to UNM is evident as he imparted knowledge as an adjunct professor at the NMSOL in 2013, 2018, and 2019. Further elevating his already illustrious career, Garcia was recently nominated by the Biden administration to serve as the US district court judge for the state."

The University of New Mexico Honors College expresses its utmost pride in its alumni like Matthew Garcia, who continually elevate the name and prestige of the institution.

The UNM Honors College is dedicated to delivering a rigorous, enriched, and nurturing education experience. Through its diverse programs, the college aims to foster critical thinking, creativity, and effective communication among its students, preparing them for dynamic careers and active roles in the community.