Meet Our Leaders - Dr. Dahlia Castillo - Director, OT Program
In this series, the College of Health Sciences shares the personal stories of the leadership of our academic departments and programs, including their transition into higher education and lessons learned along their educational pathway.
Dr. Dahlia Castillo is clinical assistant professor and director of the Occupational Therapy Program in the College of Health Sciences. Dr. Castillo completed her PhD in Occupational Therapy at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Are you a first-generation college graduate?
No, my father was an accountant and completed a business degree when I was in kindergarten from Pan American University in Edinburg, Texas, now known at UT Rio Grande Valley.
Did your parents/family discuss higher education within your home? If not, please share how you were inspired to pursue a college degree and go on to graduate school.
Growing up, we discussed college all the time. My father was the biggest inspiration, and it was more of an expectation from a very young age. I was inspired to start and finish my master’s degree by two faculty mentors who assisted me throughout the process. I was inspired to begin a clinical doctorate in occupational therapy by my husband, who really believed in me, especially during times of self-doubt. I was inspired to finish the doctoral degree by a faculty mentor who really pushed me. At the end of the first semester, I seriously considered dropping out completely. She assigned an incomplete course grade and gave me the opportunity to catch up during the Christmas break.
Did you receive financial aid and/or scholarships to assist with tuition expenses?
For my undergraduate degree, I received grants, scholarships, and student loans, and I worked part time. I had a part-time paid job for my master’s degree and worked full time during the clinical doctorate. I paid out of pocket for the master’s degree, and my employer paid for the doctorate.
What do you recall about your first day in college?
On the first day of college, the first class I attended was chemistry. On that day, the professor taught us the first semester of high school chemistry – in one hour!
Please share one of the greatest challenges you experienced while in school and what you did to overcome it.
My greatest challenge was writing the master’s thesis. I overcame it by studying the APA book and having a great mentor who taught me how to write in APA format through the editing process.
What is your favorite memory of your time in college?
My favorite memories are playing co-ed intramural softball and flag football with my brother as the coach. The rules were to have males and females split roles, and my brother was the star pitcher, running back, and receiver who scored all the touchdowns. I was the catcher and the quarterback. My brother told everyone that he taught me everything I knew about catching and throwing a ball. I only ever played on one team that he did not coach. That team was a group of health sciences students. During a playoff game, I was flattened by a runner while I was standing on home plate. I got the out, we won that game, and I wasn’t seriously hurt. Players on my team went after the guy that ran me over, and it caused a huge fight on the field that I have no memory of because I was completely knocked out. When I came to, I had all the players from the other team standing over me to help me. All my teammates were trying to get one player off the guy who ran over me. I only played softball in the outfield on women’s teams after that day.
If you could go back in time to deliver a message to your younger self, what would you say?
You will learn more from mistakes and failures than any successes or sure wins in life. When you make a mistake, don’t fail to understand the lesson.
Please share something interesting or funny about yourself that you would like students to know.
We are big Star Wars fans in my family, and I was a young mother when I started a master’s program at UTEP in the fall of 1998. Both of my sons would hear me talk about getting a master’s degree all the time. When I finished in 2002, Nicholas was four and Nathan was seven, and they told everyone that Mom was a Jedi Master.
For more information about the Occupational Therapy Program, visit: www.utep.edu/ot/.