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Non-traditional student defies obstacles in quest for master's degree

May 05, 2010

What many would lament as overwhelming obstacles to graduation, Andrea Garfinkel-Castro describes as a path that took her “home” to where she truly belongs.

Thirty years after she was compelled to drop out of high school, Garfinkel-Castro walked through the doors of a community college, a single mother of three school-aged children, uncertain but determined to create a future for herself and her family.

On May 12, she will accept a master’s degree in Urban and Environmental Planning from Arizona State University.

“This master’s degree is but one in a series of remarkable transformations I have undergone since returning to school,” she says.

Garfinkel-Castro’s road to success is paved with hard work and academic achievement and continues with her commitment to urban, environmental and social issues. In community college, she began actively participating in student issues. She was also diagnosed with cancer. Despite surgery and radiation treatment, she maintained a full course load, graduating with two associate’s degrees in 2006.

After transferring to ASU, Garfinkel-Castro continued her involvement in social and environmental justice issues. At Barrett Honors College, she helped establish a non-traditional support group, BHCANS (Barrett Honors College Association for Non-traditional Students). She received the nationally competitive Udall Scholarship, the Margaret Trussell Scholarship from the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, and several program-oriented scholarships.

As co-founder and lead organizer of Dialogo Latino Arizona, she developed a planning forum on the challenges faced by Latino communities in Arizona. She presented her paper Culturally Relevant Smart Growth in the U.S.-Mexico Border Region to several regional and state organizations. She’s worked as a research assistant for ASU Stardust Center for Affordable Homes and the Family and as a teaching assistant for the Tribal Planning Workshop II.

In the fall, she will begin her pursuit of a doctorate in Environmental Social Science at ASU.

“Despite a recurrence last year of cancer and another round of surgery and radiation I remain optimistic,” she says. "I have found the place where I belong, where I can flourish and yet remain true to myself. Despite all the hardships, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Written by Michele St George
Publications, Graduate College