Jazmin Castillo turned barriers into building blocks in her time at the University of New Mexico.

Castillo is a first-generation graduate from UNM with a double major in psychology and sociology. 

Castillo said she plans to stay at UNM for her master of arts in counselor education and eventually become an elementary or middle school counselor in New Mexico.

“I would love to stay in New Mexico. I just feel like I can help the population here more than I could elsewhere because I’ve grown up here and have been surrounded by the diversity that surrounds our state,” Castillo said.

Recently announced as the Accessibility Resource Center (ARC) Student of the Year, Castillo is a student that loves helping others.

“I could not have gotten through without the community that I have built. They have been my support system, they have been my rock,” Castillo said.

Castillo is currently the president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness at UNM.

Castillo has also been a peer educator for the UNM Body Project (an organization that promotes body positivity), a peer mentor for women entering into college through the Women’s Resource Center, a peer mentor through the College Enrichment Program and a previous New Student Orientation leader.

“I was able to balance my school load with all of the activities that I was involved in and I loved every moment of it,” Castillo said. “I loved being busy. I loved helping my community, helping our community that we’re all a part of.”

Castillo said the sudden transfer to an online University due to the coronavirus pandemic was upsetting because she had many foreign friends that she will most likely never see again.

“It has been a roller coaster,” Castillo said. “My high school graduation was not the best experience and I was really looking forward to a college graduation because I am a first-generation college student.”

Castillo also faced a unique challenge throughout college that impacted her studies.

“One of the biggest challenges I faced would have to be my disability, that being that I am legally blind. But also it has been my biggest success,” Castillo said. “Every time I complete a class or semester, so on and so forth, I feel a bit more accomplished.”

This challenge was particularly relevant in a class Castillo took this semester, sociological data analysis, which is a heavily visual class. Nonetheless, Castillo passed.

Past roommate Josephine Pett recalled the comical start to their friendship when they first became roommates.

“It was really funny,” Pett said. “I got to the room. I was moving my stuff in. My roommate wasn’t there but I saw that she had had her stuff and I wrote her a note saying ‘hi, this is my name, this is my number’ and all these things, and here comes in my blind roommate and I secretly just kind of crumple up the note there.”

Pett said many people mistakenly think being blind is the biggest aspect of Castillo’s personality. In contrast, Pett said she is a hard-working and funny individual with the ability to achieve anything she sets her mind to.

“What distinguishes her is that she pushes through everything that’s thrown at her, not just the one thing that everyone defines her as: just blind,” Pett said.

She said the duck pond, a place of reflection for Castillo, will be different without her. 

“She has this very beautiful way of immersing herself in the elements that surround her. She would feel the water, she would… try and catch the birds,” Pett said, pausing to laugh and admit her reluctance to Castillo catching birds.

Castillo said counseling courses seem to be very hands-on and is slightly worried that the pandemic will impact the efficacy of some of the courses if they have to be online.

“I’m hoping that the pandemic will subside by the time I finish my master’s in three years,” Castillo said.

Castillo mentioned a rocky family relationship but Pett suggested that family issues may have made Castillo the selfless person that she is today.

“If you go into psychology, something drove you to it,” Pett said.

No matter her past trials, Castillo is setting off for a future of helping everyone around her.

“She’s going to explode the world,” Pett said.

Megan Gleason is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @fabflutist2716