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Gates Scholar returns to RPS 205 to pay back

A defining principle of the Gates Millennium Scholar program is giving back. Gerardo Castillo doesn’t need to be reminded.

Castillo—Harvard University Class of 2018 and Jefferson High School Class of 2014–is a Gates scholar. He’s headed back to Boston this week to begin a summer research job in his field of study, cellular and molecular biology. Last summer, he did research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

Castillo expected Harvard to be challenging, but he didn’t expect the level of support he’s received from groups like the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, a partner organization of the Gates program. “I really believe in the power of mentoring,” Castillo said.

He learned from his teacher-mentors in the Rockford Public Schools. One teacher at Jefferson bought him a laptop. Another allowed him to use her credit card to sign up for the SAT because his family didn’t use credit cards.

Even though Castillo has had lots of opportunities in medical research, his dream is to be a doctor in emergency medicine. To do so, he would have to pass up a huge benefit of the Gates scholarship—help with graduate school funding. As a Millennium scholar, Castillo receives financial aid to fill all of his unmet need at college. Although the program pays for graduate school in certain fields, the scholarship doesn’t cover professional schools like medicine, law and dentistry, he said.

Far into the future, he could see himself starting a nonprofit focused on education and mentoring. He loves his volunteer work with Earthen Vessels, an organization that pairs students from top universities with high school students from the Boston area.

Castillo is still the soft-spoken, humble young man I met when he was a high school senior, after he just received the Gates scholarship. This week he tolerated my cluelessness when he tried to explain, in several different ways, the research he is doing at Harvard on exosomes and intercellular signaling. The work could have applications in treating autoimmune disorders and heart and vascular conditions.

It’s heady stuff, but Castillo still comes back to Jefferson to say thank you and to talk with students.  “Sometimes you need to think about what is beyond—what is your potential, what do you want to do with your life, and how far can you go?” Because Gerardo Castillo knows a little about that.

Mary Kaull is communications coordinator for the Rockford Public Schools. Click here to subscribe to this blog. Also, please like RPS 205 on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

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