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Engineering student overcomes obstacles to education

May 04, 2010

College students typically cope with transitions in their lives during the years it takes to earn a degree, but engineering major Helme Castro faced changes that nearly derailed his ambitions.

When he began his studies at Arizona State University, Castro’s mother was teaching social sciences and languages at the university. In 2007, however, the academic department she worked in was closed. Without her teaching position, she had to return to Ecuador, the family’s native country.

Castro was confronted with the possibility of having to drop out of school and leave the United States. His mother’s departure meant he would have to pay out-of-state tuition and seek a difficult and time-consuming change in his visa status. He took weekend jobs while continuing to take a full schedule of classes, hoping to keep his college education on track.

"He was an exemplary student who we did not want to lose," said Mia Kroeger, an academic adviser to ASU engineering students. "His grade point average was nearly a perfect 4.0 at the time, he was taking full advantage of our research opportunities and contributing much of his time to school functions, and helping us recruit and retain engineering students."

Eventually, his dedication to his studies and community service, plus growing skills in conducting research, gave Castro a chance to stay.

He won merit-based scholarships funded by private donations and earned a student worker position on the staff of a university materials and energy technology group directed by associate engineering professor Cody Friesen.

His undergraduate resume also includes assisting in fuel cell research in the Center for Applied NanoBioscience at ASU’s Biodesign Institute, and an internship with the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute.

His public-service work included contributing to a project for the ASU chapter of the Engineers Without Borders organization, in which he helped develop a water and sanitation program for communities in Ecuador.

Castro will receive a bachelor’s degree in materials engineering this spring, and in the fall begin studies in ASU’s materials engineering Ph.D. program, continuing his work in Friesen’s lab.

His ultimate goal, he says, is to help achieve advances in renewable energy sources, and bring them to Central and South America, Africa and other parts of the world with an urgent need for the benefits of modern technology.

Written by Jessica Graham