For non-traditional student Belinda Castiblanco ’19, going to college had always been a dream. However, after she moved to the United States from El Salvador when she was 18 years old, she didn’t have the means or the time to attend school, so she had to postpone that dream.
Fast forward 20 years and Belinda is a rising star in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature in the College of Arts and Sciences, and an awardee of the Alpha Sigma Lambda award granted to outstanding non-traditional students.
“Only knowledge stays with you and fulfills you”
The married mother of two never let go of her dream of becoming a college student. Her thirst for knowledge was her main motivator. “You can accomplish many things in life: money, influence, material things, but in the end, only knowledge stays with you and fulfills you,” she said.
Whenever she was able to, Belinda enrolled in free classes in community centers and other locations. She became an EMT, and with her husband, a fireman for more than 20 years, she has been teaching CPR classes in different communities around Long Island.
When she felt ready, she made the leap and enrolled as a part-time student in Suffolk County Community College. The road to obtain her associate’s degree was long and arduous as she could only take one or two classes per year due to her work and family commitments, but she persevered, and she finally earned her degree in humanities with an emphasis in English literature in 2017. She then transferred to Stony Brook and became a Seawolf in Spring 2017.
Her Stony Brook career has been filled with accolades. This spring, she won her department’s Best Undergraduate Essay Award for her essay about South American noir fiction and she was invited to join the Phi Omega chapter of the Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honor Society, chartered at Stony Brook by Commuter Student Services and Off-Campus Living. This organization recognizes non-traditional students who achieve and maintain outstanding academic excellence and leadership.
Every year, Alpha Sigma Lambda awards 12 scholarships nationally to assist non-traditional students financially while earning an undergraduate degree. Belinda was recognized with one of these scholarships and awarded $3,500 for the following academic year.
“I couldn’t be more proud that Belinda received this scholarship, which is a symbol of her engaging and impressive success story,” said Emily Snyder, Associate Director of Commuter Student Services and Off-Campus Living. “Belinda is a wonderful example of the non-traditional student experience, with a dynamic background that has brought her to his point, and the fortune of a supportive family cheering her on along the way. She takes the challenge of time management in stride, appearing to balance her wide range of responsibilities with ease.”
The Stony Brook Experience
When asked about her Stony Brook experience as a non-traditional student, Belinda says she never felt any different from the other younger students in her classes. “Even though most of the time I am the oldest student in the classes, I sometimes forget I am speaking with young people. Stony Brook students are so mature, so insightful. I love to hear about their dreams and plans for the future. They’re going places!”
Belinda attributes her academic success to her sources of motivation and support. “Stony Brook provides you with many opportunities to achieve your goals. It is possible! Especially with support from people such as Emily Snyder from Commuter Student Services and Off-Campus Living and my teachers in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature. They have inspired me to accomplish my goals, continuously improve and become a better student.”
Belinda is a innate storyteller. She defines herself as a dreamer. “My mind is always thinking, always coming up with stories. I am really fascinated by the future that I will not get to see.” As such, it is only natural that her favorite writers are Isaac Asimov, the beloved and prolific science fiction writer, and Nobel prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the father of the magic realism and an icon of Hispanic literature.
With graduation only two semesters away, Belinda is ready for her next steps of becoming a Hispanic literature teacher. “There are so many literary jewels out there that are waiting to be discovered. I would love to have the opportunity to bring them out of obscurity for the next generations to enjoy.”