First-generation student rises above the challenges to help others


Andrea Castillo, a junior nursing student, is fulfilling a dream for herself and her parents by being the first in her family to attend college. Her Cherokee Indian and Mexican heritage fuels her passion in pursuing her degree.

“When I was a kid, my parents always told me I would attend college,” she said. “I didn’t feel pressured; I just knew it was the expectation because they’ve worked so hard to get me where I am today.”

Castillo said she’s always known she wanted to work in health care.

Andrea Castillo wears a mask inside a classroom and practices looking for a heartbeat with her stethoscope on a baby manikin.

“Growing up, I saw my mom work as a CNA, so I saw it firsthand from a young age and gained interest in the medical field,” she said. “I’ve always had that desire to help people who can’t help themselves, and I’ve always wanted to study medicine.”

One of only 10 students in Lenoir-Rhyne University’s nursing cohort, Castillo said the program and faculty are helping her accomplish her goals to apply toward real-world experience.   

“In the cohort, I do my clinical hours one-on-one with a nurse, rather than being in a group setting,” she said. “That experience allows me to see a bit more and has provided a different perspective, and I realize there are so many opportunities for me in the nursing field.”

In addition to the hands-on experience, Castillo said the coursework at LR is also exceptional.

“I do a weekly skills check-off list that is helpful,” she says. “It has built confidence in myself to have the ability to do those same things on a person.”

Andrea Castillo sits at a table with her laptop indoors

Initially, Castillo majored in medical studies but altered that decision in the last year.

“I think changing my major to nursing was a blessing in disguise because it opened up my view to many other opportunities that I’d never considered before,” she said.

Every nurse has a specialty. For many of them, it’s a passion. Castillo’s passion is the neonatal intensive care unit, known as NICU.

“I’ve been a CNA for two and a half years, and a lot of my experience has been in the emergency room and oncology, so I’ve seen death and dying,” Castillo said. “I want to switch perspectives and be there at the start of life, rather than the end of life.”

After graduation, Castillo hopes to work at a hospital for a few years and eventually pursue a master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner.

In addition to her family support, Castillo said Lenoir-Rhyne supports her goal to be the first in her family to earn a college degree.

“My professors have always been supportive and willing to answer my questions, even if it’s about work or something else,” she states. “They are a listening ear for me. In addition, the nursing faculty are guiding me through the program.”

Lenoir-Rhyne University is grieving the loss of one of our student-athletes. Omari Alexander, a 19-year-old sophomore from Concord, North Carolina and member of the LR football team, was killed overnight on November 20 in an off-campus incident in Hickory.

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Lenoir-Rhyne University will receive $4.3 million as part of the North Carolina state budget that was signed into law on November 18.

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