This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
About a month ago, I was appointed as the eighth president of California State University, Fresno (Fresno State). I am honored, humbled and thrilled to begin my duties on August 1. I will be the first Californian, first Central Valley native and first Latino to serve as President of Fresno State. My road to this new leadership position began as a first-generation college student less than 40 miles from Fresno State in a small town called Hanford.
I am the grandson of farmworkers from Mexico and the son of a single mother who worked as a beautician to support my younger sister, April, and me. My grandparents and mother set high expectations for my sister and me early in our lives: we were to attend college. They saw in us the character and ability needed to succeed, and they instilled in me values of integrity and discipline, as well as the importance of getting along well with everyone.
In 1984, I enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley after being recruited by a program designed to add geographic diversity to the campus. This was the first transformational moment of my life. I received a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public policy from Berkeley, and later, a doctorate in higher education leadership and policy from Stanford University.
My sister attended the College of Sequoias and later transferred to Fresno State, where she completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She is now a professional speech therapist who works with K-12 school students in Hanford and other parts of Kings County.
Throughout my 23-year career, I have encouraged all students, especially first-generation college students, to set high goals for themselves. I believe that true happiness results from a strong focus on excellence that comes naturally from one’s strengths and that is coupled with a strong sense of personal meaning that occurs when one shares his or her gifts with others. Sharing your gifts can involve a wide range of things, including sharing your beautiful singing voice in church or tapping your organizational skills to raise money to help first-generation college students to attend college.
I have been very fortunate to choose professional positions that have provided deep personal meaning for me, whether as Assistant Dean of the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy, a founding member of the leadership of UC Merced (the first university to open in the 21st Century) or as Vice Chancellor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), the world’s top health sciences university. The next opportunity that awaits me as President of Fresno State will be the biggest professional challenge of my career thus far, and the gratification I will receive from being able to make a difference in my home region will be immense.
Outside of my work, I enjoy spending time with my family and close friends. I especially enjoy being with my three children, including a 2 1/2-year-old boy named after the grandfather who helped to raise me. Whenever possible, I hike in the mountains or swim in the ocean to refresh and recharge my body. I am also a huge Los Angeles Dodgers fan!
I stand on the shoulders of my grandparents, parents, family members, friends and an untold number of people who worked so hard to create opportunities for my generation. I will continue to dedicate my professional efforts to supporting the next generation of leaders from all backgrounds.
Joseph I. Castro, PhD MPP
President-Designate, California State University, Fresno
Vice Chancellor – Student Academic Affairs, University of California, San Francisco