To help address CU Denver’s revenue shortfall, Gabriel Castaño joins the university as the new assistant vice chancellor for Enrollment Management. Castaño has 15 years of experience working in admissions and enrollment management with a variety of student populations. In his most recent role as director of admissions at Johnson & Wales University, Castaño launched initiatives and programs to increase support for first-generation students and Latinx communities in Colorado.
In his new role, Castaño will lead the charge in developing a strategic enrollment management plan that will serve as the university’s roadmap for increasing enrollment and retention rates. If you haven’t already, you’ll likely see him around campus as he gets acquainted with CU Denver’s schools and colleges, departments, and students.
Tell us about your background.
I was born and raised in New Jersey. I’m a first-generation college student and the son of immigrant parents. We didn’t know anything about the college enrollment process, so that’s why I’m so passionate about working on the front end of higher education. I really want to help students navigate the complex higher education system that we have here in the U.S. and to help students find their “right fit” institution where they can truly thrive.
I received my B.S. in Communications from William Paterson University in New Jersey, then moved to Colorado after undergrad to begin my career and complete a master’s program. I then moved back East, and after spending 5 years living in New York City I’ve returned and called Denver home for the last 4 years.I’m really excited to work at an urban institution because of the diverse population we serve, and the connection to the city of Denver. At CU Denver, we have a collective brainpower that is unsurpassed in this city.
How have your former roles prepared you for your new role as assistant vice chancellor for Enrollment Management?
I’ve worked with very diverse student populations, including traditional students, residential students, first-year students, transfer students, international students, graduate students. I’ve worked with students who are seeking degrees as well as in career and technical education (CTE). I have a good understanding of the importance of access and financial aid—and of helping students navigate the process.
I’m currently enrolled in the Doctor of Education in Leadership for Educational Equity program at CU Denver, so that’s another interesting lens I bring to the position. Before I even thought of working here, I saw it from a student lens. I aspired to come to school at CU Denver. I really felt that emotion—and I was really excited about it. After researching other programs, very few spoke to equity the way that this program does. I think we are leaders in the important work we are doing in education.
CU Denver’s budget has been described as being on a razor’s edge in part because of lower-than-projected enrollment numbers. How do you feel about tackling this challenge?
I think budget challenges are not unique to CU Denver. There are a lot of factors that impact it—for one state funding changes every year. Enrollment is a big piece, but student success is perhaps the bigger part of it. It’s really important for us as an institution to make sure we are supporting our students and helping them be successful, so they go out to be our greatest cheerleaders in the community by sharing their experiences.
We have a really passionate group of folks here on campus and everyone seems to be really excited about helping out with the enrollment work that needs to be done.
What are your top three priorities coming into this role and how do you plan on achieving them?
First, I really want to get to know our students better. My plan is to first meet with the Student Government Association. I want to know more about how they heard about CU Denver, why they chose CU Denver, and their perceptions of the university. Second, I want to make sure that all decisions keep diversity and inclusion in mind. I want students to know that this is a safe, inclusive space, and that they are understood. Third, I’m the project manager for a strategic enrollment plan we are working on. We are a complex, large organization, so we must make sure we are getting input from all departments, all colleges and schools, as well as the students, to ensure that this plan is a roadmap for all of us. Failure to plan is planning to fail. We are aiming to have an implementation strategy by this spring.
What are you most looking forward to about your new role?
I’m most excited about the work we do. I love the idea that we serve students and that we have an opportunity to really leave our fingerprint on the way that this city grows and evolves. I want people to think of CU Denver when they think of the city itself.
Outside of work, what do you like to do for fun?
I came to Colorado, as so many do, because I love to be outdoors. In the winter, I’m snowboarding most of the time, and in the summer, I’m camping, hiking 14ers, running, catching shows at Red Rocks. But, given that I am a doctorate student, my free time is pretty limited.