“Just hearing the words ‘Carolina Covenant’ told me that Carolina has made a promise to students like me. Having the Carolina Covenant has empowered me to pursue all these different opportunities at UNC.”
Juan Castro ’22
When Juan Castro ’22 toured Carolina as a high school junior, he was struck by a feeling that was as powerful as it was unexpected: UNC-Chapel Hill felt like it could be home.
“Coming from an immigrant household and hoping to become a first-generation college student, I was like, ‘There’s no way that any college is going to feel like home,’” Castro said. “That changed when I came to Carolina.”
Part of his intuition came from learning about the Carolina Covenant, a financial aid program that also provides significant support to help qualifying students from low-income backgrounds thrive at Carolina and graduate debt-free. Earning the Carolina Covenant solidified Castro’s sense of belonging and empowerment: He had secured his path to success at Carolina.
The path he has taken is certainly a busy one. A double major in psychology and sociology with a minor in anthropology, Castro received a Carolina Research Scholar Grant and was named a Centers for Disease Control Undergraduate Public Health Scholar. He also earned a Renwick Scholar Academic Achievement Award. He served as president of Mi Pueblo, a Latinx-focused student organization; worked as an admissions ambassador; and held leadership positions with the North Carolina Study Center and Beta Epsilon Chi.
Castro is currently senior class president and a member of the Carolina Latinx Center. He volunteers as a patient navigator at the children’s and cancer hospitals at UNC and has been tapped into the Order of the Golden Fleece, Carolina’s oldest and highest honorary society.
“I always joke that I make sure that I’m getting my money’s worth out of the Carolina Covenant,” Castro said. “I’m very appreciative because the Covenant helped me come in and just truly enjoy Carolina without scrambling to pay for tuition or food and housing.”
Castro’s drive to immerse himself in campus life at Carolina stems from personal interests as well as an awareness that he can create opportunities for future students.
“Both as a Covenant Scholar and a minority student, my background is less represented at UNC,” Castro said. “So everything I’m involved with is a mixture of wanting to have fun and pursue things that are important to me, but also knowing that the seat I take today opens up a seat for a student who looks like me tomorrow.”
“At the Carolina Latinx Center, one of our values is ‘orgullo,’ which means ‘pride’ in Spanish. Juan embodies that. He’s proud of who he is, proud of being part of the Latinx student community and proud of being a Tar Heel.”
Assistant Director, Carolina Latinx Center
Juan Castro was among the first students Marcela Torres-Cervantes met when she began working at the Carolina Latinx Center in 2020. With Castro’s campus leadership experience and connection to students, he was able to help her publicize and strengthen Latinx Center events and programming.
“He always steps up,” Torres-Cervantes said. “When we have an event, he is one of the first to help us get the word out, and he’s the one who can get people excited. He helps us figure out what works and what we should do more of. The work that the Latinx Center does cannot happen without students like Juan.”
Launched in 2019, the Carolina Latinx Center provides students, faculty and staff the opportunity to explore Latinx cultures, histories and tradition and to use that understanding to work across racial and ethnic communities in North Carolina and the world.
“Juan holds Carolina to a high standard and is willing to be a critic, but still feels a lot of joy for his experience here, and he wants to help other students have great experiences too,” concluded Torres-Cervantes. “It’s amazing to see how he keeps everyone motivated to work toward a better Carolina.”
Torres-Cervantes also serves as a Carolina Covenant mentor, helping students navigate life at Carolina and get the most out of the college experience.
“I strongly believe in creating a community of mentors, allies, friends, and coaches to make it through life,” Torres-Cervantes said. “When I saw the opportunity to serve in that role for someone else, I was excited to offer up my time and experience to help make someone else’s journey feel less alone.”
“I aspire to achieve what Juan has achieved. It goes back to what Carolina is all about, which is creating a community and helping each other.”
Gustavo Gonzalez ’24
Covenant Scholar and Member of Mi Pueblo
Gustavo Gonzalez, also a Carolina Covenant Scholar, attended a first-year welcome event hosted by Mi Pueblo via Zoom. He and Juan Castro, who was Mi Pueblo co-president at the time, bonded over their Latinx heritage and the fact that they were both Covenant Scholars. Since then, Castro has helped Gonzalez navigate a difficult first year of remote classes and step into a leadership role within Mi Pueblo as a sophomore.
“As we’ve gotten back to being at Carolina in-person, he’s shown many of us the way – whether it’s events for our group or meeting up at Davis Library to study,” Gonzalez noted.
Mi Pueblo is a UNC-Chapel Hill student organization that builds awareness around Latinx issues, culture, and heritage at Carolina and the surrounding community.
With Castro as his mentor, Gonzalez has ascended to a leadership role within Mi Pueblo. The two share Google calendars, and Gonzalez often marvels at how busy Castro is when he tries to schedule a time for the two to meet.
“He’ll do anything for other people or for the groups he’s involved in,” Gonzalez said. “He works incredibly hard. I’ll look at his calendar and see that he is booked from 8 a.m. until nighttime. Sometimes I feel like I have to remind him that he needs to take some breaks.”
When Castro graduates in May 2022, Gonzalez will have two more years at Carolina without his friend and mentor, but hopes he can carry the torch to promote inclusion and belonging for future Carolina students like Castro did for him.
“He’s such a great leader for this community,” Gonzalez said. “It’s like this positive competition. I want to try to do the same thing for others.”