As a high schooler, the only assignment that Carlos Mejia Castillo bombed was the college application and financial aid process.
As an auditory learner school generally came easy to him. He was in the top 15 percent of his class and recognized by his teachers for his academic achievements. Yet, he was told he wasn’t eligible for scholarships.
“I had a complicated time in high school when it came to whether or not I was going to go to college,” said Castillo. “It was unfortunate, I was blindsided by people who told me that because of my (immigration) status there were too many barriers in my way and college wasn’t an option. I took their word for it, I didn’t do my homework.”
Castillo was born in Puebla, Mexico and moved with his parents to Las Vegas when he was 2 to be closer to extended family. Now he’s a first-generation college graduate (’20 BA Economics) and “a dreamer in every sense of the word.”
He was one of the first to receive the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status in Nevada. DACA allows people who were brought to the United States illegally as children the opportunity to work and live without fear of deportation. The program was created in 2012 under the Obama administration and now includes about 13,000 Nevadans.
In addition to the complications he experienced because of his immigration status, being a first-generation college student left him without a foundation of support. Though he was discouraged by what he was told, it didn’t stop him from applying to UNLV.
“Once I got to UNLV I realized that though my status was a hurdle, I could get through it. If I would have done research or told someone, I maybe wouldn’t have had to take a loan out for my first year at UNLV,” he said. “After the first year, I was able to get my permanent residency. That’s when this door opened, and I received so much funding through scholarships for school. I realized after talking to financial aid and the admissions team that it was a backlog of what I could have received if I could have just talked to someone.”
Castillo soon realized that if he was going to be successful in college he had to use the resources available to him like meeting with his professors during office hours and asking a lot of questions. One question that continued to pop up was why his parents, and so many families like theirs chose to move to the United States. Part of his journey to answering this question was choosing to major in economics.
“Before I entered a classroom I thought I knew what economics was, but I didn’t. In my first economics class the professor said economics was the study of why people make the decisions that they do. This was great because I knew that was going to help me answer some of my questions.”
Castillo’s desire to better understand his own family history began evolving into an eagerness to help others. As a student, he worked as an international recruiter for undergraduate admissions helping students with F1 student visas work through the application process. Then he interned at the Nevada Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at UNLV. The SBDC is located at Blackfire Innovation – a public-private collaboration with UNLV and Caesars Entertainment – and offers free and confidential services to people that want to expand or start a new business in Nevada.
“I help clients who may not have an immigration status or maybe they have a mixed-status and what does that look like,” Castillo said. “My focus has been on immigration or helping people who have been marginalized or disadvantaged.”
Since graduating in May, Castillo joined the SBDC full-time as a business development advisor and is able to assist clients in writing business plans, strategizing, price setting, and developing marketing plans. Additionally, the center hosts workshops for small business owners focusing on topics of common pitfalls of business startups.
So, what’s next for Castillo?
“My heart is in economics. I feel like economics is a long-term goal. I am a very analytical person and I have a lot of questions I want to answer. My long-term goal is to earn my PhD in economics. In the meantime right now, I think an MBA with a finance concentration would be the most ideal for me.”