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Latino Studies faculty spotlight: Marinelly Castillo-Zuniga

Illinois State University’s Latin American and Latino/a Studies program is spotlighting faculty member Marinelly Castillo.

Castillo’s life story reads like a Spanish telenovela (soap opera). She was a very successful businesswoman working for a prestigious corporation in Venezuela when she came to the United States to visit some friends on vacation. She recalls that “during my week long stay in Boca Raton, Florida, I felt disconnected from the outside world because I did not speak English.”

Marinelly Castillo with her students.

Illinois State’s Marinelly Castillo with her students.

That’s when she made the decision to leave her comfortable life in Venezuela and come to the U.S. to learn English. She came to Illinois State’s English Language Institute to learn English as a second language in 1998. She has lived in the United States since then. She not only completed her language training, but went on to pursue a master’s degree in Spanish from Illinois State’s Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.

Castillo has been a Spanish instructional assistant professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures since 2006. She teaches different levels of Spanish and also advises the Spanish Club. One of her many contributions to the program is her study abroad trips that she has organized to different countries in Central America and the Caribbean. In 2018 she plans to take students during spring break to Panama City, Panama.

“My passion is to help students learn Spanish as a second language and to expose them to Hispanic cultures.”

“My passion is to help students learn Spanish as a second language and to expose them to Hispanic cultures,” Castillo said.

Her pedagogy is based on her conviction that language must be learned in the context of real life communication and culture.

“I encourage my students to speak and communicate their own meanings, with the certainty that they can count on me if they struggle with anything they feel can limit their performance inside or out of class,” she said.

She also makes participating in extracurricular activities an important part of her pedagogy. For example, she encourages her students to get involved in the local Latino community. She provides a lot of opportunities for student members of the Spanish club to practice Spanish and practice their civic engagement skills.

Castillo has written about her experiences as a Latina immigrant in the book, Déjame que te cuente (2012), edited by Ana Maria Gonzalez. In that essay she writes: “I don’t think it ever crossed the minds of those who knew me as a successful accountant [in a] multinational corporation [that I] could leave it all for a classroom.”

In 2014, Castillo received the Outstanding Faculty Member Award from Diversity Advocacy in the Dean of Students Office at Illinois State University.

Castillo loves to dance, cook, and spend time with her husband, Alex, and their three dogs, Buster, Sasha, and Maya.

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