At the UC Irvine School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, we are proud to recognize the achievements and contributions of our Hispanic American community to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Originally started as a heritage celebration week in 1968, the observation expanded to a whole month in 1988. The celebration begins mid-month because Sept. 15 marks the independence anniversary of five countries: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. It is followed by Mexico’s Independence Day on Sept. 16 and Chile’s on Sept. 18.
Emily Castro, a fourth-year, first-generation student in the PhD in pharmacological sciences program, continues our student highlights by sharing what motivates her educational and professional pursuits while offering advice to others forging new paths.
Castro was born and raised in Santa Ana, California. Her parents immigrated to the United States from El Salvador, and she shares that she is proud to be the first in her family to pursue higher education.
“From a very young age, I served as a translator for my family, including medical visits,” Castro said. “Translating medical and underlying biological terms piqued my interest in the sciences. I was in high school the first time I saw a doctor speak to my grandmother in Spanish. This experience inspired me to explore a career in science.”
What is your favorite Hispanic tradition, dish, or destination, and why?
Family is very important in my culture. I take pride in doing everything I can for my family. My grandmother specifically has sacrificed a lot for our family, and I do my best to make her proud. She makes pupusas and pastelitos that can fix everything after a hard day.
The Census Bureau estimates there were roughly 62.6 million Hispanics in the U.S. as of 2021, making up 19% of the nation’s population, according to the Pew Research Center. More representation in environments like healthcare and education is crucial to reflect the communities served.
“I did not meet a Latina professor or teacher until my junior year at UCI. The lack of representation of my ethnicity motivated my studies,” Castro said. “I had been pursuing a degree in psychology but started working as an undergraduate researcher in a neurodevelopmental lab lead by a Latina principal investigator.”
Castro’s growing passion for research opened a world of possibilities as a Latina in STEM. Meeting a Latina professor drives her to increase representation in her field of interest.
“You work hard to get where you want to go, so you deserve to be there,” says Castro. “Find those who understand how your background has shaped who you are and accept you for who you are.”
This year’s annual celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month marks an important milestone for UCI. As we celebrate nationally the contributions of Americans with ancestry from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, we locally recognize the engagement of all UCI members that support us as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI).
UCI received its federal HSI designation from the U.S. Department of Education in May 2017. This designation recognized that fully one-quarter of all undergraduates identified as Latino, and half of all students received financial aid. The designation has become more than a pride point on the campus as it has translated to resources and funding that supported undergraduates and graduate students during the height of COVID-19. Chicano/Latino students currently comprise 25% of all undergraduates and 12% of all graduate students enrolled at UCI.
UCI students can take advantage of resources and communities offered on campus. Some of Castro’s recommendations include Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) to connect with scientists from all fields and the DREAM center.