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Spotlight on Justice Castañeda, Marshall College

Urban Studies and Planning '10

What are you currently doing?

I recently earned my master’s degree from Stanford University’s School of Education in policy, organization and leadership studies, with a focus in higher education.  I am currently studying at MIT where I am a Master of City Planning (MCP) candidate.  I plan to complete my PhD, eventually working in applied research and practice around the areas of urban education and community-centered economic development strategies. I believe education is as much about the external environment as it is the institutional mechanics of schools.

What was your experience as part of the Urban Studies and Planning Program?

I had just completed 10 years of work experience (2 years construction, 8 years in the Marine Corps) when I arrived at UCSD, and therefore was looking for much of the theoretic background behind many questions I had pertaining to my life experiences.  When I was looking for programs I was very interested in finding a program that had a multidisciplinary approach to applied research with a focus on practical application while maintaining a strong foundation in social theory.   

Upon leaving the military I knew that I wanted to continue working in the public sector, with an interest in community-based education strategies.  Through UCSD’s Education Studies program I was introduced to educators at a continuation high school in San Diego, where I remained for the duration of my time at UCSD, and where I did my internship for the USP senior sequence

The faculty and staff in the USP program were extremely open and allowed me to use the spaces provided by the lectures and seminars as a way to explore many of the larger geopolitical and historic constructs affecting the operations of the school where I was working. This provided a unique opportunity to gain valuable work experience under the guidance of master-teachers and administrators while learning how to utilize the tools of scholarship to create a focused research design for the senior sequence and subsequent honors thesis.

Having been in two research-heavy environments since leaving UCSD, I realize how fortunate we were to have access to faculty as an undergraduate.  Over time I was able to develop professional relationships with faculty from multiple departments, who were extraordinarily helpful and also were demanding of me as a scholar.  I was constantly being asked to rethink and question assumptions and constructs that I often overlooked.  Although guidance and support are what folks might look for in a program, as a scholar and an educator who is rooted in good practice, the critique and at times the necessary criticism were vital to my growth and may be the most important residual effect from my time at UCSD.

How has your experience at USP impacted the work you do today?

My experiences with the high school and the questions raised during my research for the senior sequence shaped my interests going forward into graduate school.  To date I still work with the high school, and many of the underlying issues I began to explore through the spaces of USP courses have led to expanded research.  Furthermore, using many of the lessons learned I continue to work in the public sector, focusing on the operations and design of education programs tailored for youth who have either rejected or been rejected by many of the contradictions and hypocrisies of traditional schooling.

What is your favorite UCSD memory?

As an older, more non-traditional student who had been working for the better part of a decade before arriving, UCSD provided a top-notch research environment that is as rigorous and rewarding as any.  I cannot over-emphasize how valuable it was to have the support and resources of both the Academic Internship Program and the public service minor offered by Marshall College, which augmented the major requirements for the USP program and afforded me the flexibility to shape my academic experience in a way that would prepare me for future research and practice.

What advice do you have for students to get the most out of their UCSD experience?

Be wrong.  The words of a mentor and advisor, we need folks who are willing to accept that much of what we do is based on incomplete information and therefore it remains inevitable that we most likely are going to be wrong about many of the solutions we come up with.  This is fine, so long as we don’t do more than we have the capacity to undo when we find out that it is wrong.  Some folks see this as being constrictive or inhibiting action; I see it as the opposite.  Many folks in research and academia seem to be bound in a quest to be right, or to ensure all points are covered, controlled and accounted for.  Sometimes we have to go with what we have right now, and be comfortable with being wrong should it be the case.  I think we should and eventually will do—it is inevitable.  What is important is that we do not become so attached to our ideas that we so insulated, so obstinate that we are no longer willing to admit that much of what we do will not be the best approach upon reflection.  If we truly care about future generations, we shouldn’t make them beholden to decisions we made with incomplete information. 

Follow your passion; if you are not doing that, you most likely are wasting your time and money—there are far more lucrative / rational ways to spend your time than college if it is not what you absolutely love to do.

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