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Community colleges give a leg up for non-traditional students

November 11, 2018

I come from a large Hispanic family, the second-oldest of seven siblings and the first, at age 27, to attend college.

I did not finish high school and became pregnant when I was 17 with my son, Nathaniel Castillo-Rodriguez. In spite of these challenges, I wanted a better life for myself and my son. I took my first step toward this by enrolling in a program at a local university to earn my high school diploma.

This gave me enough confidence to take the next big step and enroll at Northwest Vista College, where I earned a certificate in community health and two associate degrees. Having accomplished so much, with the help of my professors and the staff at Northwest Vista, I was able to transfer to Texas A&M University-San Antonio and earn my bachelor’s degree.

I decided to attend one of the Alamo Colleges because of the straightforward, welcoming attitude that I was shown as a nontraditional student. I didn’t know what college was about or understand registration or financial aid, but I was able to get answers to all my questions.

I met a lovely woman, Shirley Pena, at the Westside Education and Training Center, who helped me register for classes. Little did I know that I was about to start working toward my first educational goal of earning a certificate at Northwest Vista.

While there, I met my No. 1 inspiring professor, Dr. Fernando Martinez, who shared with his students the story of how he had overcome obstacles to follow his career choice. This inspired me to dream bigger and gave me the hope that I could do it too. Dr. Martinez did not just inspire me to finish my certificate, but also advised me on how to get an associate degree. My education allowed me to get a good job at SAMMinistries, after which I was hired as a perishables representative at H-E-B.

My success in college also led to success for my son. I had planned for Nathaniel to attend a university outside of Texas, because he was not a high school dropout like me. Nathaniel was the valedictorian of his high school and ranked high in the nation with his SAT scores. He first set foot on a college campus when he enrolled in the robotics summer program at Northwest Vista while I was taking classes there. He attended the summer program for three years, and this led to him enrolling in the Prefreshman Engineering Program (PREP) and now enrolling at Northwest Vista.

I am so thankful for all that the Alamo Colleges has given Nathaniel and me. We both know so many Alamo Colleges graduates who, like me, would never have attended college and created a better future for ourselves and our children without the help and support we received. That’s one reason that when we measure success, we must keep in mind the benefits that can’t be counted, charted or shown on a graph — each student’s personal triumph.

A better way of life is in reach for all of us, and I encourage all of those who are in college or thinking about going to college not to give up when faced with difficulties. I made it. My son is well on his way, and you can make it, too.

Janice Castillo is a Northwest Vista College graduate.

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