My Team of Six

Katie Castillo, Data Analyst VISTA at MENTOR Memphis Grizzlies
March 11th, 2020
Posted In: Campaigns, Mentoring Stories

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I am the AmeriCorps VISTA serving as the Data Analyst at MENTOR Memphis Grizzles (MMG). Since those are a lot of words that don’t really say anything about my story of how I got here, let me start from the beginning.

I was raised by women. That is not to say that my father wasn’t present, but when I think of my childhood the four people that stand out to me are my Mama, Nana (grandmother), Tia (great-aunt), and Abuela (great-grandmother). They taught me independence, strength, and to never accept “good enough.” They taught me that with all they were able to do without advanced education- coming to Oregon from Honduras, learning English on their own, learning how to navigate American life (buying a house, finding a job, raising a family), etc.- to understand the privilege I had to achieve all that and more with an education.

Their push towards higher education led me to meeting the next woman who helped raise me, my mentor, Dr. Alyson Burns-Glover at Pacific University in Oregon. It was while I was Research Assistant for Dr. Burns-Glover that I was able to see the possibilities for supporting the work in education with data. By giving me the platform to be a research grant recipient and teaching me how to collect data, run analyses, and present a program evaluation, Dr. Burns-Glover taught me how to pursue opportunities to round out my institutional education.

After earning my BA in Psychology, I served two terms as a College and Career Coordinator at Glencoe High School through AmeriCorps Oregon State Service Corps (OSSC). In this program, I performed 3400 hours of direct service to youth and their families.

As my first professional experience post-undergrad, AmeriCorps OSSC was a whole new ball game. Here is where my next mentor, Nicole Isaakson, stepped in to coach me on advocating for myself in a professional setting. My position description was to help students create and execute their post-secondary plans. To do this, I matched 843 students with job shadows, career days, and info sessions; planned 115 college presentations at the school; and helped students fill out scholarship applications.

What the position description did not mention, and what Nicole helped me navigate, was speaking to managers about my performance, searching for professional development opportunities, and to strategically look ahead toward my future goals. I knew AmeriCorps OSSC would give me experience in education and working directly with students without being a teacher. I knew that having this background would be crucial when looking for future jobs in education research. But what Nicole firmly planted in my mind was to always look ahead to the next step.

After AmeriCorps OSSC, I was a Data Specialist at the Salem Keizer Education Foundation (SKEF). At SKEF I realized there was so much more I could do with data. Sure, I was tracking numbers and producing reports for stakeholders, but I wasn’t doing anything with it, just reporting out totals. Thinking back to what Mama, Nana, Tia, and Abuela taught me about not accepting “good enough,” I knew this position was not propelling me forward toward my goals. Reflecting on what Dr. Burns-Glover taught me about seeking opportunities, I decided to apply for a Master’s program that would teach me how to use data to create lasting change. Gleaning from what Nicole taught me about looking forward, I outlined the classes I would need to take, the clubs/internships/jobs I could pursue in school, and how to round out my experiences and education to get me to a job I wanted.

After graduating my Master’s program, I faced that all-to-familiar problem of having the education but lacking in experience. I had the voices of six women in my ear telling me not to give up and to make sure I looked at every single avenue forward. This is when I thought to look at positions within AmeriCorps that would align with my experience but also use my education. AmeriCorps OSSC provided me the foundational experience I needed to get this far, perhaps utilizing it again could give me the job experience my resume lacked to get even further.

That is how I landed here, where I work to build MMG’s capacities to collect and analyze network level data, support youth mentoring programs in implementing the Elements of Effective Practice (EEPs), and incorporate data into organizational decision making.

Being an AmeriCorps VISTA has given me a unique seat at the table: I have been able create interview protocols, data collection blueprints, and have been a stakeholder in meetings deciding how to grow MMG’s data and knowledge management. This job has done exactly what I hoped it would do: allowed me to use the tools I have learned throughout my education and experiences to make real, lasting changes. And my team and I are not done yet.


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