Beating the Odds

Rinaldys Castillo '17

Rinaldys Javier Castillo ‘17

At 13, Rinaldys Castillo ’17 moved to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic and took on the challenge of completing middle school while simultaneously learning English. He ended up delivering his class' valedictory address, in both Spanish and English, and he continues to challenge himself as a biochemistry & molecular biology major, Posse Foundation scholar, research and teaching assistant and tutor with passions for biomedicine and dance.


Biochemistry & molecular biology.

Clubs and organizations:

First-Year Seminar program (learning coordinator), Department of Biology (teaching assistant, research assistant), Order of Scroll & Key, Norman M. Eberly Multilingual Writing Center (tutor) and Dance Theatre Group.


Posse Foundation Leadership Scholarship, Albert Shanker College Scholarship Fund of the United Federation of Teachers and National Science Foundation STEM Talent Expansion Program.

Favorite book:

Night by Elie Wiesel. I read this book in English shortly after immigrating to the United States from the Dominican Republic. It was not until I finished reading it that I realized the power of the new language I was learning and how it can perfectly portray poignant events like the Holocaust. The last two lines still give me chills: “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me.”

Favorite movie:

Still Alice (2014).

Favorite place on campus:

Hands down, the Rector Science Complex alcoves!

Favorite Dining Hall food:

The chicken shwarma from the KOVE.

On choosing Dickinson:

I was nominated for the Posse Scholarship toward the end of my junior year in high school. I was given a select number of schools to research at the very beginning of my college search. Dickinson rose up to the top of my list because of the meaningful experiences Judith Rudge ’05—the assistant director at my high school’s college access center—shared with me. Dickinson also offered me the distinct opportunity to explore both my passion for the biomedical field and my interest in dancing without compromising one or the other.

Favorite class so far:

I feel like taking genetics with Assistant Professor of Biology Dana Wohlbach during my sophomore year was as close to an epiphany as I will ever get. All of a sudden, there was this new subject in my schedule full of knowledge and techniques that perfectly joined research and medical practice to form a holistic and scientific understanding of health. It was the most pivotal learning experience I've had.

On studying abroad:

I studied abroad at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, during my third year at Dickinson. Aside from the extracurricular traveling and interpersonal connections I got to make with local students, the highlight of my experience would have to be the connection I got to establish with my on-site program director, Associate Professor of Biology David Kushner. I worked in Professor Kushner’s laboratory after my first year at Dickinson, and having him in my support system while I was exploring a new country and culture was extremely beneficial.

Proudest accomplishment:

I moved to the United States when I was 13 years old, from the Dominican Republic, with my mom and my little sister. I arrived in December, so the academic year was already halfway done. Although I was in eighth grade, a representative from the Education Department suggested I should be placed in seventh grade, given that the odds of me passing all the state requirements for middle-school graduation in just a semester while learning a new language were piled up against me. My mom vouched for me at this moment and asked that I be given an opportunity to prove that I could do it. Six months later, I graduated valedictorian of my class and gave a speech—in both Spanish and English—that moved my mom to tears of joy. That moment right there is my proudest accomplishment and one of the reasons I smile every day.

Favorite professor so far:

In addition to Professor Wohlbach and Professor Kushner, Associate Professor of Biology Kirsten Guss is one of my favorite professors at Dickinson. I had the luck to be in her First-Year Seminar, The Red Ribbon, and from that moment on, Professor Guss has shown me nothing but respect and kindness. Her office has become one of my safest spaces on campus, and her advice has helped me get through everyday college life. The material and skills I learned in her seminar, which dealt with the sociopolitical implications of the 1980s AIDS epidemic, have helped me realize that science does not occur in a vacuum, and that sociohistorical context is just as important as the science itself.

If I could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, it would be… mom’s maternal grandfather. From what I can gather from my grandma and my mom, my great-grandfather was a man ahead of his time. Although not highly educated, his take on life was well beyond [that of] the mid-1900s Dominican common man. My grandma quotes him speaking on the detrimental effects everyday rural tasks must have on the environment and on the double-edged characteristic of the rapidly growing technology of his time. In addition to his insightful mind, I would have dinner with my great-grandfather because every time he is brought up in a conversation, my grandma’s and mom’s eyes light up with happiness and joy. Long after I have left this earth, I hope I have impacted someone as much as he impacted my family so they can remember me with such fondness. To me, that is the meaning of immortality.

Learn more

Published April 18, 2017