Thomas Jefferson’s college advisor will offer her expertise to a new group of students next year.
by Christina Danek
After one successful year advising TJ students on college and financial aid, Future Center Coordinator Cynthia Castillo is moving on to her next challenge, at Abraham Lincoln High School. Castillo has had a widespread impact on TJ faculty, staff and students alike, so the Thomas Jefferson Journal investigated the reasons for the change.
Thomas Jefferson Journal: After one year of working at TJ, what made you decide to move on?
Cynthia Castillo: This is a difficult question to answer…mostly because it was a difficult decision to make. I love TJ and think the world of the students and staff. The reason I am leaving is because the Denver Scholarship Foundation is growing, and me moving to Lincoln makes the most sense. It was one of those decisions where I had to take into consideration what was best for the greater community, but it was certainly not easy. I am going to continue to work with DSF. The work that I do will not change, except that I’ll be the College and Financial Aid Advisor in the Future Center at Abraham Lincoln High School next year.
TJJ: Will there be a new advisor to take your place at TJ next year?
Castillo: We are in the process of hiring the person that will take my place here at TJ next year, and we are working hard to make sure that TJ and the students will be in good hands.
TJJ: How did you first become interested in being a college advisor?
Castillo: After attending the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL, where I majored in English and minored in Secondary Education, I held a teaching job in Florida for a little while.
When I decided to leave my teaching job and South Florida, I took a job in Washington, DC where I worked at the Cultural Division of the Embassy of Kuwait as an Academic Advisor for Kuwaiti students who were studying in various colleges throughout the US. I worked at the Embassy in DC for three years, and I gained a wealth of experience with a culture completely different than my own. In the process I found my passion for higher education advising.
TJJ: As you were originally from Florida, what brought you to work in Denver schools?
Castillo: After my time in DC, I realized that what I really wanted to do was work with students in the US who deserved the same opportunities as the Kuwaiti students who were pursuing their dreams. Shortly after, I received an email from a friend of a job posting advertising a position with The Princeton Review in Colorado. I decided to take the job because it was aligned with my own vision of what I saw myself doing. And because I have an adventurous spirit, I moved west.
I’ve been here since 2004 where I worked with a high school college access program in DPS managed by The Princeton Review until I was offered a position with The Denver Scholarship Foundation as a College and Financial Aid Advisor. I truly believe that doing this work is what I was intended to do. I couldn’t imagine doing anything other than the work I’m doing in DPS.
TJJ: You obviously have a passion for the work that you do. What do you like about being a college and financial aid advisor?
Castillo: I love that I make an impact on the lives of young people. I like the sense of empowerment that students get when they realize that they are in control of their lives, especially when they don’t think they are.
TJJ: What would you say is the hardest part of your job?
Castillo: The most challenging part of my job is convincing a student who doesn’t believe that college is an option, to believe that college is an option for anyone who truly wants it, despite their fears. It is that same challenge that is the driving force behind my motivation to do my job well.
TJJ: Seeing the school year come to a close, and reflecting on everything you’ve done, what would you say was the biggest thing that you accomplished at TJ?
Castillo: Building a relationship with many of the seniors at TJ in a very short amount of time and gaining their trust in the process. Also, establishing the Future Center and making it a place where all students feel welcome.
TJJ: Through your transition to Lincoln next year, what do you think you will miss the most about TJ?
Castillo: Definitely the students! I have already built relationships with many of the juniors and will truly miss working with them next year. TJ is such a great school; I like the high energy that the students bring. There was never a dull moment in the Future Center this year. I will also miss many of the staff members with whom I’ve built relationships. Ms. Phillips played a huge role in the things I was able to accomplish, working with Ms. Adair and her College Summit class was definitely among the highlights of my year, Mr. Heaton‘s amazing letters of recommendations, Ms. Curry stealing all of my pencils, Mr. Jackson‘s funny emails, the Spartan Edition, Mr. Showers bringing visitors into the Future Center to introduce them to me, Mr. Poole‘s extra credit "visit the Future Center" assignment that certainly kept me busy for at least two weeks, Ms. Hayhurst‘s daily afternoon announcements, walking the plank for Coach Laurita and the wrestlers with Ms. Starks, Ms. Witulski and Ms. Burkle, random conversations in the hallway with Mr. Palmieri, the warm greetings I received from James and Woody every morning, and much more. I am truly grateful for the experiences I had at TJ this year!
TJJ: Considering all the work that you’ve done at TJ and all of the students whom you’ve impacted, what are you looking forward to the most about next year?
Castillo: I’m looking forward to continuing the work that I do with students because that is one of my passions. No matter where I am or what I do, I know that I will touch the lives of young people and make a difference in their lives.