Just as she’s always dreamed, Andrea Castillo is studying elementary education at Washington State University Vancouver. The aspiration began when she was six, living in Ajijic, Jalisco, a town on the north shore of Lake Chapala in Mexico. Andrea was a grade ahead of most students her age. “My teachers were strict,” she said. “They pushed me to work hard and help others do well. And they expected me to have superb handwriting.”
Andrea’s father had tried in vain to secure a job in Mexico that paid enough to support his family. So, he moved the family to the Unites States for better opportunities. Once in America, Andrea learned her classes from Mexico did not transfer. She had to start from ground zero in the Evergreen School District in Vancouver, Wash., and attend two years of summer school.
To complicate matters, Andrea hadn’t yet learned English, so she was often frustrated with her inability to communicate effectively with her teachers. Despite those challenges, she looks back fondly on those early years. “My teachers believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself,” she said. “I’m so grateful.”
Andrea receives the Harold F. and Beatrice A. Boutwell Endowed Scholarship Fund, established by Harold’s son Bill, who never attended college but wanted young people to reap the benefits of higher education. She also receives the Henry George Scholarship and East Vancouver Business Association Scholarship. “The support I receive enables me to focus on school, and pay for textbooks and fees for the Education Program. With this support, I can be more involved on campus and help my community. I have always had the passion to help others, and I hope one day to become a donor.”
Andrea had always wanted to attend college but assumed it was out of reach. “If I hadn’t received assistance from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and scholarships,” she said, “I would’ve had to pay tuition as an international student, which was far too expensive for my parents. At WSU, I receive much needed financial support.”
WSU Vancouver was the right choice for Andrea several reasons: it has a small school feel with large school resources; she could create her own legacy and inspire others to do the same; and perhaps, most significantly, she said she was able to open up about her DACA status, because WSU Vancouver offered her a safe place in which to do so.
Andrea said, “WSU Vancouver was a place where I saw people who looked like me,” she said, “something I strongly considered when choosing a college. I wanted to make sure there would be people I could talk to, relate to, and who understood what I was going through, so we could help each other.”
As a student ambassador, Andrea visits high schools and helps students complete their applications to WSU Vancouver and for scholarship support. She’s also on the ASWSUV Election Board, an Intern for Admissions/Financial Aid, and a member of the Latino/a Student Association. Andrea is part of the Crimson Group, a small organization for DACA and undocumented students, and Allies.
If all of that is not enough, Andrea also teaches first graders at her local church. “When I work with children,” she said, “I am enthused by their energy and joy. Kids are smart, amazing, and kind. Even when times are rough, I can count on them to cheer me up.”
Her greatest learning experience at WSUV has been discovering that although people want to know about student-life, they also want to know what WSU can offer them as a person. For example, “Many people in the community suffer from poverty,” Andrea said, “and I happily tell them about the food pantry on campus.”
Andrea sees WSU Vancouver as her second home. “What I love most,” she said, “is the familial atmosphere.” She appreciates April Tovar, Assistant Director of Student Financial Services. “She always has my back,” Andrea said. She also said her professors have done their best to help her succeed. “I love my student life. Although WSUV is a small campus, I have formed many connections and friendships.”
The next step in Andrea’s academic career is to gain acceptance into the WSUV Education Program. Once she earns her degree, she plans to start work right away. Her ultimate goal is to teach in the Evergreen School District, her first alma mater in the US. “I had amazing teachers who worked hard and had engaging personalities,” she said. “They inspired me and motivated me. I want to be like them.”
Someday, Andrea would like to return to Mexico and offer free night classes in English. “I know getting a good job in Mexico can be difficult if you don’t speak English,” she said, “so I want to help close that gap.” She warmly recalls her teachers from Mexico, where her own call to teaching began. “They were amazing,” she said. “And thanks to them, I still have very nice handwriting.”