“Going away to college” is a goal for some students. A few years ago, Maria Castiblanco, a Bloomington-Normal “townie,” included herself in that group. Now Castiblanco considers herself part of many other groups instead, including the Illinois State University Honors Program, University Scholars, Mennonite College of Nursing, and the St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center.
Originally from Colombia, Castiblanco came to Illinois with her family in 2000. Her parents did their master’s coursework at Illinois State and loved the University.
Castiblanco attended Epiphany Catholic School and Central Catholic High School. It was at a scholarship dinner with donors that Castiblanco first met Ed McKibbin, ISU students’ attorney. At the time, Castiblanco was unsure about her major. She knew she wanted to help people, and had considered careers in law, nursing, and theology. McKibbin gave her a tour of campus, showing her the nursing facilities and introducing her to faculty members.
Ultimately, Castiblanco felt that the Mennonite College of Nursing was the right fit for her, and the fact that she got to follow in her great-grandmother’s footsteps provided additional meaning.
“My great-grandma studied to be a nurse during World War II,” Castiblanco said. “She was studying for her master’s at Columbia University when she met my great-grandfather, a Colombian businessman.” The two corresponded for a year before getting married and moving to Colombia.
Castiblanco is proud to continue her great-grandmother’s legacy. “My grandfather told me his mother would be proud, and gave me a box of her nursing pins,” Castiblanco said.
When Castiblanco decided to attend ISU, she also decided to live at home and commute. “I’ve loved being a commuter,” Castiblanco said. “I have more flexibility in terms of volunteering at local hospitals, but I still get the university setting.”
Originally thinking she might attend a university far away from home, Castiblanco now feels relieved. “I know now I would have been homesick. Sometimes you just need to talk to your mom about life,” Castiblanco said. “I’ve been really lucky to have everything work out and find a balance between home, friends, nursing, and academics.”
Castiblanco is very involved on campus, which she said has helped her find the right balance.
“I didn’t have the dorm experience, so I was nervous about meeting people,” Castiblanco said. “But between the Honors Program, University Scholars, and Newman Center, I’ve been able to find my family and my friends here. My fears didn’t come true. I’ve found a community, and school is going really well.”
Castiblanco has greatly enjoyed her Honors experience so far. “Honors Mindset Seminar is where I met so many friends, and Dr. Rivadeneyra and my Honors Peer Mentor were fantastic,” Castiblanco said. “I really liked when we interviewed someone related to our discipline. I emailed the Dean of my college, and got to meet her and have an hour-long discussion with her. I never would have done that without that assignment.”
Castiblanco had very positive things to say about Honors Sections as well. “Our COM 110 instructor was wonderful, and some of my University Scholar friends were in that class too, which was nice. We got to pick a nonprofit and create a fundraising presentation for them.”
When not in class, at home, or volunteering, Castiblanco can often be found at the Newman Center. Last summer, Castiblanco went on a mission trip to Miami with students and staff from the Newman Center.
“It’s such a nice community,” Castiblanco said. “Every Wednesday night the sisters offer praise and worship. There’s a lot of great music. Thursdays are for dinner and a bible study, and Fridays are social with fun things like games and movies.”
Castiblanco encourages other Bloomington-Normal residents to visit Illinois State with fresh eyes and a different perspective. “I’ve still been able to get out of Bloomington-Normal in a sense by coming to college here,” she said. “It’s all worked out, and this is a great university.”