Joseph​ I. ​Castro​

Chancell​or, California State Universi​ty
B.A. Political Science
M.A. Public Policy
Ph.D. Higher Education Policy and Leadership

Why was earning a degree important to you?
My great grandfather came to the United States from Mexico almost a century ago to help bu​ild California’s railroad. He and his family lived in tents as they traveled up and down the state. My grandfather remembered that experience vividly and frequently told me stories of those times when I was a boy.

My family eventually settled in Hanford, a small agricultural town in the San Joaquin Valley. I was raised by my grandparents, who were farmworkers, and my single mother, who was a beautician. They worked hard, dreaming of a bright future for their son and grandson. Certainly, they had the intelligence and drive to succeed in college, but they never had the opportunity.

But because of their hard work and resolve, I did. I attended the University of California, Berkeley, thanks to a program that provided educational opportunities to students from the valley…and from modest financial means.

What was the most challenging aspect?
There were times that I struggled with imposter syndrome and felt like I didn’t belong. I remember one of my earliest experiences as a freshman on the Berkeley campus: I was the only Latino in the classroom. When the syllabus came out with a list of required reading, I could hear my classmates excitedly saying to each other, ‘Oh, I’ve already read that book. That one, too.’ I, on the other hand, didn’t recognize a single title on the list, partly because I came from a high school that had very few AP courses. It was clear to me from day one that I had ground to make up.

How have you used your experience to become a leader and to assist first-gen students?
At UC Berkeley—as I began to see my own life transformed through my college experience—I discovered a passion for educational leadership. Throughout my career, and especially during my time at the CSU—first as president of Fresno State and now as the first native Californian to serve as chancellor—I’ve seen higher education transform the lives of thousands of talented and diverse students, many of whom grew up in circumstances similar to my own. Nearly half of all CSU undergraduates receive Pell Grants, and nearly one-third are the first in their family to pursue a bachelor's degree.

This is why I am so humbled and inspired to serve as the chancellor of the CSU. It provides me with the opportunity to positively impact lives at a scale this university alone can provide. I consider it my life’s highest professional honor and responsibility.