Gabriel Castaño Dedicates Career to Serving First-generation and Under-Represented Students

Gabriel Castaño Dedicates Career to Serving First-generation and Under-Represented Students

November 13, 2020

Gabriel Castaño, who is pursuing an EdD Leadership for Educational Equity with a concentration in higher education in the School of Education and Human Development (SEHD), initially struggled to navigate the higher education process. The lack of proper guidance from his undergraduate institution forced this first-generation student and son of immigrant parents to withdraw and enroll at a local community college. “K-12 made sense because they just tell you what classes to take and walk you through the process,” Castaño recalled. “But when it came to my undergraduate years, my parents and I didn’t know anything about choosing the right classes or applying for financial aid. We didn’t know where to begin.”

Unfortunately, the Castaño family’s experience is not unique. According to, the overall dropout rate for undergraduate students in the United States is 40%. Most give up before entering their sophomore year. Much like Castaño’s experience, these students feel lost and overwhelmed by the entire process. Once he received the proper guidance, Castaño was able to complete an associate’s degree and return to a four-year institution.

From his start as an admissions counselor to his current role as CU Denver’s assistant vice chancellor of enrollment, Castaño has spent the last 16 years serving other first-generation and under-represented students. He realized early on that his passion, actions, and time could have an immediate impact on the lives of students and parents. In his current role, Castaño works to implement strategic enrollment management for CU Denver, aiming to increase student success and retention rates. He hopes to make education accessible in a climate that supports diversity and inclusion.

In his first year as a doctoral student, Castaño is in his element. His graduate advisor, Diane Hegeman, PhD, said, “Gabe contributes his student enrollment management background, coupled with his knowledge and passion for serving under-represented students, to help them achieve their goals and exceed their aspirations.” 

The EdD Higher Education concentration enables current education leaders to become effective and passionate about educational access, equity, and social justice. “I love that I am able to take what I learn about leadership for educational equity, access, and retention of first-generation and Latinx students and use it in my work right away,” said Castaño. 

Castaño enjoys learning alongside a diverse group of peers who share his passion for achieving the mission and goals of higher education institutions. Thanks to advice from Hegeman, he views the experience as less of a destination and more of a journey. “When I can see myself crossing that finish line of earning the doctorate, it doesn’t mean I’m done learning,” Castaño said. He gives himself room to learn, to develop critical professional skills, to evolve into a transformational CU Denver leader, and to effectively serve others.

Written by Serwaa Adu-Tutu, marketing coordinator in the School of Education and Human Development