Adriana Castillo graduated from YES Prep Southeast in 2014 and is now a senior at Carleton College majoring in American Studies with a minor in Educational Studies. She was YES Prep Southeast’s first Posse scholar, receiving a full-tuition leadership scholarship to attend Carleton. Castillo is Carleton’s intermural sports director for basketball. She also works with the Latin American Student Organization, is a part of the entertainment committee for the international festival, serves as the Student Department Advisor for the Educational Studies department, and facilitates conversations about class, race, gender and other issues as a part of Students Engage in Essential Dialogue (SEED).
Can you tell us about your experience as a Posse scholar?
I love my Posse [group of ten selected students from Houston who attend Carleton together]. It’s such a rewarding experience. The Posse program prepares students with pre-collegiate training that starts the January of your senior year of high school. So from the very beginning of 2014, I met with my Posse every week. I feel so blessed that I came to Carleton with built-in friends– these people I already knew from home. They are the ones I went to for whatever I needed. We also have a faculty mentor on campus who is our advisor. He’s the chair of the Classics department and had been at Carleton for quite a while. He’s been our father-figure here. The first two years we were here, we had weekly meetings with him to check in. Then, once we became juniors, we were on our own, but we still see each other all the time.
Posse celebrated 15 years at Carleton this year, and the Dean of Students asked me to introduce Deborah Bial [founder and president of Posse] at the convocation celebration because I was the student in the Posse Reunion planning committee.
What obstacles did you face when you transitioned to college? How did you overcome them?
I had no idea what to expect. I’m the first one in my family to go to college and it was so far from home. I’m also the youngest. It’s hard to be at a school where you’re in the minority. I remember freshman year, there was a parents’ weekend in October and parents who had money to come were visiting. I was with someone else from my Posse and we were saying, “It must be nice to have your parents come visit.” You also don’t realize how far behind you are– just because you are from a community that is different from where the majority of your peers come from. We have to work for everything, push so hard, and be your best in everything to be on the same playing field.
I wouldn’t still be here if it weren’t for mentors– both inside and outside of Posse. I built relationships with professors and people in various offices at Carleton. I think that’s such an important lesson for YES to teach: find mentors– people who can help you and will pound the table and advocate for you. The system is so hard to dismantle. Carleton was a “reach” school for me, and I’ve succeeded beyond what was expected.
Why are you interested in American and Educational Studies?
I came to Carleton thinking that I was going to be a dentist, and I started as a biology major and then moved to chemistry. But I realized that wasn’t for me. I really liked sociology, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I took the introduction to American Studies course and completely fell in love with it. The major was interdisciplinary and had parts from history, political science, sociology, and other majors.
I took the Educational Studies introductory course and was inspired by a book we read about a counselor who realizes that students in the inner city don’t have the same opportunities that wealthy white students do. It struck a chord with me. It’s hard for students like me to be at schools like Carleton. There isn’t a lot of diversity there. I think of myself as a success story from my community, so I realized I needed to learn more about education, to understand why the system works the way it does.
Did you participate in any internships?
I interned with the Posse office in Houston the summer before my junior year. This past summer, I was a Store Operations Management Intern with HEB. I was the youngest intern and the only one who had no business background. I found out about the internship through Posse’s internship portal. I’d also met Mr. Scott McClelland [president of HEB], who sits on Posse’s board, when I was an intern for Posse. I was the first Posse scholar to get the HEB internship, and I fell in love with the business. We worked on a corporate project and had three sponsors who worked in the Houston office of HEB. I’m now writing my senior thesis and doing ethnographic research on one of their stores. The regional vice president in Houston helped me get into the store and put me in touch with someone from corporate. I’m trying to network because I’d like to be a store leader one day. They’re a great company who takes care of their people.
What lessons do you still carry with you from YES Prep?
At Southeast, we used to say the journey– not the arrival– is what matters most. College is only four years, and it will go by in a blink. What matters is the relationships you build. You’ll carry those with you forever.