By Sergio A. Lagunas @SALagunas
Stephanie Castellanos is a social entrepreneur, education consultant and community activist from Inglewood, California. Her passion also extends from her experiences as the first in her family to attend college and as a daughter of Mexican immigrants. Six months ago, Stephanie took the leap into full-time entrepreneur after feeling a profound pull to grow the work she had been committing to as a side-hustle. Stephanie asked herself everyday, “I’ve been working 70+ hour weeks to make someone else’s dreams happen, when will I commit to building my own?” — a question entrepreneurs often grapple with.
Stephanie is the Co-Founder of the Coalition for Diverse Educators, a grassroots movement and organization that focuses on increasing the diversity of our teacher workforce in urban public schools across the country. Her work provides support systems and training for recruiters and talent leaders from traditional school districts, charter networks and nonprofit organizations, as well as train and connect students of color with opportunities to pipeline programs in over 20 regions. As a result, Stephanie has also launched a professional development and equity-centered training series, “WOKEshops”, which reached over 20,000 youth, college students, young professionals and community leaders.
While at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), she began as a Pre-Med, Biology Major in 2005. Her plans were to attend medical school and become a Forensic Psychiatrist. Like many other first-generation college students, Stephanie struggled in her math and science courses, often feeling defeated and unprepared for the rigor of the course. After taking an introductory Sociology course while attending UCLA, Stephanie started to unpack systems of oppression, privilege, power and began to understand her educational experiences and struggles more deeply. She started to engage with her favorite Professors during office hours, intern with community-based organizations and Senator Barbara Boxer, and in turn, began to cultivate her growing passion for educational equity. Finally, feeling a sense of belonging, Stephanie became more engaged with other first-generation women of color and Founded a chapter of the first latina sorority in the country, Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. UCLA began to feel like home.
Stephanie owes her growth to a community of mentors, teachers, family and friends who have affirmed repeatedly, that she did not get here alone – it took a village. From her 7th grade teacher, Ms. Robinson, who allowed her to discover a love for writing, Mr. Flaherty who instilled a level of commitment and discipline as a member of the colorguard team, to Mrs. Dreher, who planted a seed in 10th grade that she, too, could go to college. Teachers have continuously changed her life. This value drives her work, “What if every teacher was a great teacher? What if inner-city kids had teachers who mirrored their experiences and looked like them? We have a teacher-shortage crisis, and underserved communities are hit the hardest, this MUST change if we want to close the opportunity gap for black and brown youth”. The Coalition for Diverse Educators is committed to doing just that.
Stephanie currently has a #thepeoplesteacher media campaign that highlights our educators’ of color feelings kicking-off the school year. She hopes to inspire other aspiring teachers and current teachers to remember why we are all committed to the tough work by capturing the stories of our own teachers. She will be launching recruitment events, social-justice career fairs and professional development trainings for students of color across 20 universities this Fall.
Stephanie holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a Minor in Urban Planning & Regional Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. In recognition of her commitment to social change, Stephanie was awarded the “Emerging Latina – Rising Star of the Year” Award by the National Latina Business Women Association.