“I love our school spirit and wherever life takes me, I will always bleed garnet and gold.”
Florida State University senior Daniela Castro values the importance of working to create positive change. During her three years at FSU, she has nurtured those values and helped them flourish.
When Castro was in high school, she and her family were unfamiliar with the college application process and potential schools to investigate. Her mother, a single parent and immigrant from Honduras, had just recently started taking college courses.
“My mom was attending the University of Central Florida, and my sister was attending the University of Pennsylvania, so we were all new to the college scene and limited in our knowledge of which universities existed,” Castro said. “After visiting Florida State, the choice was crystal clear. I fell in love with the strong values fostered at FSU, such as inclusiveness, diversity and opportunity.”
The Miami native was accepted into the FSU Honors Program and the Honors Medical Scholars Society, which accepts 10-15 students a year to receive training for a career in medicine.
Castro has always loved numbers, science and languages. Fittingly, she chose to double major in biomathematics and French, both of which offered many opportunities to explore her academic interests. She hopes to use her medical education and language skills to work someday in a French-speaking, third-world country.
“I fell in love with French and had the wonderful opportunity to study the language in Paris on a scholarship,” Castro said. “Going there was a beautiful reminder of the world that exists beyond the STEM field. Additionally, my passion for medicine, biological systems and problem-solving made the biomathematics major an effortless choice.”
As a freshman, Castro conducted research under Susan Latturner, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Castro studied solid-state chemistry using the elements radon and tungsten in a form of crystal growth called the flux method.
The chemistry experiments inspired her to conduct more research. She worked in the lab of Monica Hurdal, professor of biomedical mathematics in the Department of Mathematics. Their research investigated the differences between healthy and unhealthy brains using a brain-mapping technique called circle packing.
Now, she’s working with doctoral student Stacey Makhanova in the psychology lab of Professor Jon Maner and examining how hormones impact close relationships.
“Research has strengthened my problem-solving skills and given me wonderful opportunities to network,” Castro said. “The tools I’ve gained through research, such as presenting at conferences and taking on challenging topics, I’ll use for the rest of my life.”
Castro is an avid volunteer. She has served at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital’s Neuro Rehab Center and helped patients get back on their feet through the program, NO-le Heart Left Behind.
In 2017, Castro traveled to Nicaragua with the FSU College of Medicine. She and other students provided medical services to residents of Los Cedros and Calle Nueva. Back in Florida, she served as a counselor at Camp Boggy Creek in Eustis, which offers sick and terminally ill children a fun camping experience.
“I adore all of the volunteer work I have done,” Castro said. “It has been humbling, given me courage and made me more grateful for all that I have. The experiences have provided much wisdom, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a variety of people through community service. I encourage students interested in volunteering to join groups that align with their passions.”
Mark Kearley, former director of FSU’s Honors Program, said Castro is a born leader with a genuine passion for helping others.
“Many students in the Honors Program volunteer their time to help others, but Daniela is truly selfless,” Kearley said. “Over the past three years, I have witnessed Daniela help on many occasions, and each time she has led the way with a smile on her face.”
Even with her hectic schedule, Castro has made time to serve FSU’s student body. She has worked with the International Justice Mission on campus and joined projects such as “Stand for Freedom,” which raises awareness about issues like modern-day slavery. She’s volunteered as a leader of FIG, Freshman Interest Groups, and provided advice to incoming freshmen.
“I believe I have directly impacted the FSU community by the work I’ve done with the International Justice Mission and my work as a FIG leader,” Castro said. “It is my pleasure to empower these freshmen to be the leaders of tomorrow by educating them today on how to be effective leaders.”
Castro will get the opportunity to develop her own leadership skills next spring when she completes her last semester in Martinique, a French-owned island in the Caribbean.
Florida State has established a new academic partnership with the Université des Antilles in Martinique, and Castro has received an award from FSU’s Winthrop-King Institute in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics to participate in the exchange program.
“I will be working on my Honors in the Major thesis in French Caribbean literature and looking at how circular migration affects identity,” Castro said. “I wanted to finish the last of my French classes in Martinique to help me investigate my thesis, as well as volunteer at a local health clinic.”
Following graduation, Castro plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health and a medical degree. After her residency, she wants to work with Doctors Without Borders to help people in West Africa and Haiti where the predominant language is French.
“My hope is to encourage other physicians to attempt to learn a second language and remove the necessity of a translator,” Castro said. “That makes the patient feel more comfortable and the physician hears firsthand about the person’s medical issues.”
Castro said she is thankful for her time at Florida State, and she appreciates her peers, professors and mentors who have helped her along the way.
“Day in and day out, I wake up thankful that I go to FSU,” Castro said. “I am so very grateful for this undergraduate experience. I love our school spirit and wherever life takes me, I will always bleed garnet and gold.”