Following her sophomore year at Rialto, she transferred to El Centro's Central Union High School. Her senior year there she was elected Associated Student Body president by her peers.
After high school, the teenager grew into a 20-year-old woman who excelled at Cal State San Bernardino, where she studied to become an accountant. Numbers-crunching wasn't for her, though. Something else was calling.
After dropping out of school to have a family with her husband Martín Garza, they moved back to the Imperial Valley, to Brawley. After working as a housewife and stay-at-home mom, she took a job as a teacher's assistant at El Centro's Lincoln Elementary School.
It was there, in the first-grade classroom of Susan Millan, that the formerly headstrong teen-ager was inspired.
She was amazed at the way Millan interacted with her students, using costume parties, skits and model-building exercises to bring her lessons to life.
"I never remembered doing anything like that," she said.
After seeing what a motivated and personable teacher could do, Millan's former assistant enrolled at Imperial Valley College. Graduating from IVC with an associate's degree, she enrolled at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus, where she is studying to become a teacher.
On Thursday, the mother of Yulinda and Martín will be touching down in our nation's capital as two-term Associated Student Council president of SDSU-IVC to represent her school at a "Capitol Forum" hosted by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.
Alonso-Garza said her transformation from a street punk to a leader would never have happened if a group of teachers and professors had given up on her as she had given up on herself. Often she said, the teachers, professors and administrators in her life "took me under their wing."
In the nation's capital, Alonso-Garza will attend seminars and workshops so she can learn how to help create programs at our nation's universities that encourage other professors and teachers to do the same thing.
She will meet with congressional representatives to find out how to increase funding for programs that positively affect students.
"Opportunities are open but a lot of people are not ready," she said.
Alonso-Garza wants students to know how to get ready to meet the challenges of life and how to get the most from a university.
One cornerstone of that foundation: "They have to work hard enough to get it."
>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org