Her energy, passion, resilience and self-proclaimed rebellious spirit are palpable even through the Zoom screen. Fanny Castro, who just finished her Junior year in the undergraduate program at Milgard majoring in General Business, describes herself as shy and thought she was “going to fly under the radar” at Milgard.
Yet, her contagious smile, her personal story, and her experiences at Milgard portray a strong woman who has been coming out of her shell and is ready to shape the world for the better.
As a proud mother of two sons, her journey has not been easy; full of twists and turns and doubts. But nothing is stopping her now, and her story is an inspiration to all of us. Fanny’s journey began in El Paso, Texas where she was raised in a traditional Hispanic household. Her Dad believed that the man should work while the woman should stay home, but her Mom had more progressive views. She left Fanny’s Dad, and later, when Fanny was 14 years old, moved Fanny and herself to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Life had to start all over as Fanny’s Mom was shunned by the rest of the family, but Fanny was inspired by the new experiences that opened for her Mom in their new life.
In New Mexico, Fanny met a man, got married when she was 15 years old and had her two sons when she was 16 and 18. She dropped out of high school in 9th grade to take care of her sons and the family’s household. But she was always inspired by her Mom’s defiant actions to pursue new opportunities and fought hard for her desire to go back to school. Despite her husband’s lack of support, Fanny took her “first step into the real world” by attending Pima Medical Institute to get her Medical Assistant Certificate at age 21. Her husband left her as a result of her pursuits.
While working in the medical field, many colleagues encouraged her to take the high school equivalency exam to open herself up for more opportunities. All of her life, people close to Fanny told her she “can’t live this way”, she “shouldn’t be doing this” and it is not right for her to pursue her independence. Yet, she ultimately found the strength to do so but realized that pursuing her dreams of going to college may require an entirely new environment. She moved to Washington State with a friend, at which time her then ex-husband claimed custody of their two children. She lived without them for two long years, unable to afford a lawyer to meet her husband and his lawyer in court. Despite the overwhelming feeling of wanting to give up, Fanny enrolled at Olympic College where she ultimately earned her Associates Degree in Business Administration and graduated with honors.
At Olympic College, Fanny took a calculus class from a teacher who opened up to Fanny about her early struggles with math. The teacher had failed her first calculus class in college but decided to not give up and take the class again. She ultimately fell in love with math and ended up teaching the same material she first failed at. This story resonated with Fanny and encouraged her to also not give up. “Her saying that just kind of empowered me”, Fanny shared with deep gratitude for the teacher who inspired her to pick up the fight for her children in court. So, she made a plan, relying on her experience with the field of law gathered while watching many episodes of “Law & Order” as a child. Inspired by her math teacher and equipped with a plan, she met her husband in court; he could afford a lawyer, she could not. She was prepared, they were not. She ended up winning her children back without any legal help, all on her own. It was the first time she thought to herself, “I can do it!”, and her dream of becoming a lawyer that ignited during childhood became sharper in focus. Listening to Fanny share her story, it is clear that this pivotal moment empowered her to relentlessly pursue both her personal and professional dreams. She had never thought before that she had the opportunity to pursue her career dream; “I never thought I was smart enough to accomplish that.”
Once reunited with her sons, she applied at the University of Washington Tacoma despite people telling her that she was going to be denied and personally convinced that rejection was the predetermined outcome. When she got accepted, she felt “like it was a dream come true.”
Since joining UW Tacoma in September 2019, Fanny has not missed out on opportunity to learn, to expand her network, to tap into the resources UW Tacoma has to offer and to volunteer for initiatives she deeply cares about. When asked about the most impactful experiences she has had at UW Tacoma, she quickly recites the Milgard School of Business Case Competition on Social Responsibility and her volunteering at the 2nd Annual Immigration Clinic on the UW Tacoma campus. Fanny described both events as “exhilarating” experiences that reflected her personal values and reassured her that she was “on the right track.” Beyond that, Fanny is greatly involved on campus. She just completed her Milgard GOLD certification and is eager to move on to the Platinum certification by mentoring incoming students. She is actively engaged in UWT’s pre-law society and leaves no resource untapped on campus, including the Teaching and Learning Center, library, the Milgard advising team, and the many job fairs.
When asked what advice she would give to someone starting new in the Milgard undergraduate program, she offered without hesitation “to get involved.” She shared that she had always been someone to stay away from extracurricular activities, but that the “Milgard GOLD program was one of the things that really encouraged me to participate […] and I am honestly so grateful for the program as it has opened so many doors for me.” She has personally experienced the benefits of opening up to others and seeking connections. “The more people know about you, I feel like, the more they are so trying to help you get to where you need to be.” She encourages students to build connections with faculty and staff who have all been so supportive over the past year and want everyone to succeed. During this past quarter, which turned all of our lives upside down as we moved into a fully remote learning environment, Fanny found comfort in her existing strong connections within the school community.
After graduating in Spring 2021, Fanny hopes to go to law school. Her dream is to get accepted into the UW law school program and she is ready to embrace the path to get there. Just recently, she was accepted into the fellowship program at the Davis Wright Tremaine LLP law firm in Seattle as one of only five participants. The fellowship program was recently launched to draw undergraduate students from diverse or underrepresented backgrounds into the legal profession. As part of the fellowship program, attorneys and staff at Davis Wright Tremaine will provide instrumental support to prepare students for their law careers including funding LSAT course preparation, providing long-term mentoring and career resources, and offering exposure to the law school admissions process. She might just be one step closer to fulfilling her dream of becoming an attorney and coming back to the UWT campus to guide other students, especially those from underrepresented communities, that “it is ok to like to go to school. It’s ok to better yourself.” And she’s planning on returning to the immigration clinic, giving back to the community that opened up so many doors for her.
When asked about her proudest moments, Fanny quickly pivots away from our conversations about school and career goals to speak about her two sons, Edgar and Juan. Inspired by their moms’ determination and grit, they are growing up as “strong Hispanic boys’, free thinking and kind spirits who are pushing through this difficult time away from schools and friends; just like their Mom pushed through for all of her life, no matter what roadblocks were in her way. “You need to just kind of keep pushing.” And we know she can do it!
-Written by Marion Eberly, Associate Professor and Director, Undergraduate Program