Bachelor's in social work
Isabel Castro sat in her car in Kodiak two years ago, interviewing over her cell phone for a job with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“My phone was about to die, and I have to take my brother to the pool, and I’m stressed,” she remembered.
It turned out that stress is something she can handle. She got the job in the UAF Academic Advising Center. She also has immersed herself in the campus, her church and her field of study — social work.
Castro grew up in an extended family of 21, most of whom arrived in Kodiak from Zacatecas, Mexico, in 1999, when she was 3 years old. The owner of a Kodiak fish processing plant had sponsored them all after being impressed with the work ethic of her uncle and grandfather. She seems to have adopted the same ethic for herself.
“I’m very much a planner, very meticulous. I have a set schedule and I stick to it,” she said.
That ability has served her in some difficult circumstances. After graduating from high school in Kodiak, Castro planned to attend college but found other challenges needed attention.
“I decided to stay home for a year, not only to save money but also my mom was pregnant,” she said. “So I helped her.”
Castro worked several jobs, took classes at Kodiak College and helped care for her new baby sister and younger brother.
During that year, Castro also mapped out her future. The map, with several modifications, eventually led her to UAF.
Castro initially hoped to earn a degree as a dental hygienist, then pondered a pre-med track. But she wasn’t sure.
“I’m a Christian and I really believe in the power of prayer and really seeking guidance from God,” she said. In the midst of those prayers, she found herself writing a final project for a communications class.
“So the communications assignment would be ‘How would you write a grant for this specific job?’” she recalled. Her mom had been studying for a degree in social work and encouraging Castro to do so as well, “so I thought, ‘Well, I can just write about social work.’”
“And then as I’m writing, I thought ‘Why am I not doing this?’” she said. “So that very next day I went to the Admissions Office, asked for a change of major form, got it signed and started on my career path.”
The choice fit her beliefs. “I really do believe in serving others and putting others above yourself,” she said.
Castro expects to finish her classes in the 2018-2019 academic year and then tackle a required 400-hour practicum, gaining real-world experience. She hopes to then go to work for the state of Alaska’s Office of Children’s Services or use her degree for ministry.
Castro also is earning a minor in Spanish language. She’s fluent already, given her Mexican heritage. She fondly recalls traveling to Zacatecas as a child for Christmas, and she talks regularly with relatives there — though they say she now has an American accent.
Castro also enjoys speaking with other Hispanic people at her church, True North, where she leads a youth group for high school girls.
On campus, she leads small group meetings through Chi Alpha, a nationwide Christian organization for college students. The meetings are more social than religious because, she said, her faith emphasizes developing relationships rather than pushing rules or organizations.
“If someone has had a rough day and needs to take a nap at your house, then go ahead,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to get off campus for a few hours and have a home-cooked meal?”
Castro hopes her example might encourage other students to attend UAF.
“I transferred up here not knowing anyone,” she said. “It was really pushing myself out of my comfort zone to go somewhere I’ve never been to study something that I wasn’t sure of, and to keep going.”
“Yeah, it gets cold. Yeah, it gets dark,” she said. “But the experience coming to UAF overall is worthwhile. I just want students to know that. There’s so much to do when it comes to just reaching out and growing in the community.”