Andrea Cruz Castillo was in high school, figuring out what career to pursue, when the recession hit in 2008. With her mother struggling and people all around her getting their hours cut, she knew practical concerns would likely have to be balanced with doing what she loved.
Three devoted high school teachers helped Castillo discover a love of mathematics and science that brought her to the computer science program at the University of California, Riverside.
Castillo started studying computer science at Chaffee College in Rancho Cucamonga and finished her associate degree at Pike’s Peak Community College in Colorado, where her husband was eventually stationed. However, her marriage ended soon after. Castillo returned to Fontana with two small children, ready to pursue her bachelor’s degree at UC Riverside.
Juggling a heavy academic workload with caring for a baby and a toddler as a single mom required careful scheduling, long hours, and plenty of support from her family. Castillo said there were many moments when she feared computer science might not be for her. Nevertheless, she kept pushing to prove she could do it.
“I often found myself with other students in engineering classes, mostly males, and when I asked why they didn’t do computer science it was because everybody’s afraid of calculus,” she said. “Why are you afraid? It’s not that bad! One of my motivations was, I don’t know what these boys are scared of but I’m doing it.”
Castillo also had to shoulder the burden of maternal guilt, which caused her to feel as though she wasn’t prioritizing her children. She found relief in R’Kids, a community for student parents run by the Women’s Resource Center.
“I was kind of shocked to see I’m not the only one going through it,” she said. “It’s not just me that feels bad going in to school on a weekend, or two or three consecutive weekends during exams or when projects are due; who would come on campus and wonder what the kids are doing right now. It’s hard to deal with the feeling of guilt when you have to put something besides your family first.”
Castillo has accepted a position as an engineer at Naval Sea Systems Command in Corona, which she’ll start after graduation. Although this involves a whole new set of school and daycare logistics for her children, now aged 7 and 3, she looks forward to the future.
“Right now is a really happy moment,” Castillo said. “It’s putting an end to a chapter, but also starting a real exciting one. I want to come back in a couple of years for a master’s degree. Hopefully when my kids are bigger.”