'Nobody Left Behind'
Graduate Victor Castillo dedicates life to helping working Bay Area residents earn degrees
After more than 20 years of social service, public health, correctional and law enforcement experience, Cal State East Baygraduate student and West Valley College Administration of Justice Professor Victor Castillo has learned how difficult it can be for many Bay Area working families to have the capability to receive higher education. Many adults who wish they could attend school have to prioritize their full-time job and family, leaving little to no time for commuting and attending classes on campus.
But with the help of Cal State East Bay’s Online Master of Science in eLearning, which empowers educators to design and implement online courses and modules and use various technology, tools and systems for the virtual learning environment, Castillo will finally get the chance to reach those families and help them achieve their education goals. After graduating from the eLearning program this week, Castillo will begin creating a fully online pathway to a career in criminal justice for WVC students. He aims to have it launched by fall 2022.
“Nobody should be left behind because they have to work nine to five,” said Castillo. “Everybody should have an opportunity to learn and explore their career paths and passion, and we can do that in the online environment because it provides accessibility and flexibility.”
Schools in California are currently held online due to COVID-19 and many are expected to return to on-campus learning in the months ahead, including Cal State East Bay and thus Castillo’s classes. However, Castillo plans on keeping the classes he is developing online even after California classrooms reopen. He’s already brainstorming on ways to restructure his courses and create new ones that will be transferable to a four-year college. These will serve as a stepping stone for students who wish to obtain their Associate of Science or Bachelor of Science degrees in criminal justice.
“All of this is just a matter of structuring the courses and making sure the resources are there to make it happen,” said Castillo. “I know there are Bay Area families who work hard and are trying to make a living, so my end goal is equity and accessibility.”
Castillo knows what it’s like to be in one of those Bay Area working families. Growing up in under-resourced Gilroy and San Jose neighborhoods, Castillo watched his parents leave in the early morning to work from sunrise to sunset every day in the farms of the Salinas Valley. The importance of education was never impressed on him. By middle school, Castillo fell into gang culture and dropped out of high school in ninth grade. He spent his days on the street for several years, and nobody guided him or offered to help him during this difficult time in his life. One month after his 17th birthday, Castillo became a father, with no clear vision of where his life was headed.
“There were a lot of times when I felt like giving up, and there wasn’t really anybody there to say, ‘I got you,’” Castillo said. “I never had professors reach out and ask me about my family and how I was doing, and I said to myself, I’m going to do that. I want to become one of those professors who gives students hope.”
With a family of his own, Castillo realized education was the only chance out of his tough situation. He earned his GED when he was 18 and soon after became the first in his family to enroll in college. He attended Gavilan College in Gilroy, and Evergreen Valley College and San Jose City College in San Jose.
“The decision to go to college was all mine and I knew I was going to have to do it all on my own,” said Castillo. “Education is the pathway to a better life and going to college was something I knew I had to do no matter what.”
Castillo pushed forward and earned a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice from San Jose State University and a master’s degree in criminal justice from Boston University.
During this time, he spent the first eight years of his career with a nonprofit, mentoring at-risk youth, previously incarcerated youth and the homeless community. The experience helped him transition into becoming a deputy probation officer, assisting juveniles and adults. He eventually accepted a full-time faculty position at West Valley College in Saratoga, where he’s been teaching mostly on-campus courses, as well as a few online courses, for the past four years. His on-campus courses have temporarily moved fully online due to COVID restrictions.
A significant reason he wants to continue teaching adult learners online after COVID restrictions end is due to the Online MS in eLearning and its professors, according to Castillo. He emphasizes everything he’s learned in the program has been beneficial for his teaching aspirations, and he’s already begun implementing some of those theories in his own courses.
“Before the program, I knew how to present information, but I didn’t know how to maximize teaching,” said Castillo. “I didn’t know all these teaching and online concepts, and I’ve become much better at my craft. The real expertise will begin when I’m done with the program and put all the things I learned into practice.”
In addition to grading papers and handing out assignments to his 150 students, Castillo focuses his attention on social justice. He holds online forums where he and his students discuss a range of topics, including historical injustices and how different communities deal with police. In addition, Castillo mentors community college students through Puente, a program aimed at assisting students' transition to a four-year college. He’s also a member of West Valley College’s President’s Commission of Diversity and Equity, where he helps raise awareness of race-related college issues.
“People throw around that term [social justice] all the time, but what is it?,” Castillo said. “Just the act of having conversations about social justice and what it means for people who want to be criminal justice practitioners and advocates, social workers, judges and lawyers is important. Not only talking about it but also figuring out ways of action. How can we take that first step? That’s the kind of dialogue I want to bring into the classroom.”
According to Castillo, his passion for what he does comes from reflecting on personal challenges and social barriers he’s faced throughout his life. The milestone that encouraged him to pursue two master’s degrees was hearing his name called when he walked the commencement stage for his bachelor’s degree and seeing his family proud of him.
Today, the 43-year-old father of two lives in Hayward with his two German shepherds. His now 26-year-old daughter lives on her own, and Castillo looks forward to graduating from CSUEB in May at the same time his 17-year-old son graduates high school.
“I chose to set the bar high for myself,” said Castillo. “I want to set a good example in what I do, and now I hope to see my son get his degree one day.”