Being a ‘college first responder’
For Irene Castillon, MA ’10, becoming the first in her family to graduate from high school and college wasn’t easy. She had to borrow a teacher’s credit card to pay her college application fees, and she felt so out of place at Brown University that she considered dropping out as she continued to experience institutional barriers, such as financial challenges and racial and ethnic disparities.
She’s since dedicated her career to guiding Latinx students through the process of getting into—and through—college. “My work is about preparing students not just academically, but also socially and emotionally,” says Castillon, the assistant principal at Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School in San Jose, Calif. In her previous role as founding academic dean of a nearby charter school where the students are predominantly Latinx, Castillon doubled as a “college first responder.” This meant devising quick action plans for problems with student IRS verifications or financial aid applications.
But Castillon’s devotion to her “babies” outlives their high school graduation. She sends surprise care packages to former students ahead of their college finals—and once covered hotel expenses for a former student whose family traveled to see her become their first to graduate college. “Overcoming and disrupting educational inequities is about making sure that students no longer have to encounter the same obstacles I did,” says Castillon, who will receive the 2019 Alumni Excellence in Education Award on Friday, October 25. “It’s about motivating students to create social change. It’s about students creating multigenerational impact in their families and in their communities.”