Why Student Organizations Matter
Kimberly Castillo Makes the Case for Signing Up
By Laura Wagner
“Life changing” is the way Kimberly Castillo (BBA, ’22) describes her experience as a member of UHD’s student chapter of ALPFA, the Association of Latino Professionals for America. Now a graduate student in the Marilyn Davies College of Business (MDCOB) and Vice President of the UHD chapter of ALPFA, she’s committed to helping other students reap the benefits ALPFA has brought her—especially her conference experiences.
“I didn’t know what I didn’t know before I went to my first ALPFA conference in 2022,” said Castillo (behind the L in photo above). “I learned there are several important career benefits to attending. First, I learned how to look professional and speak professionally and with confidence—how to represent myself and my value as an employee. Second, I learned the power of networking. I met representatives of companies from places I’ve never been, like New York and Chicago, companies that didn’t necessarily recruit at UHD.”
Although ALPFA was launched in 2016 by UHD alum Zackery Miller-Perez (’18), COVID took its toll on membership. Castillo and ALPFA President Gabriela Perez (BBA, ’21), also an MBA candidate at MDCOB, were determined to bring it back to life and “pay forward” their positive experiences to other students, as Miller-Perez and others had done.
“Our undergraduate students can be shy because they’re first generation or they have an accent. And I understand because I’ve been there!" said Castillo. "But at these conferences, students have a chance to see that all of these professionals were once in their shoes, and they can build confidence. And our ALPFAmilia, as we call it, is not just a safety net to catch them if they fall, we also spend a lot of time preparing them to represent themselves at the job fair portion of the conferences.”
Last July, Castillo and Perez traveled with a dozen UHD students to the Florida conference for seven days. They worked closely with the students on résumés, LinkedIn profiles, elevator pitches, and interviewing skills before the conference, and pointed the students toward the MDCOB Career Center as well as the UHD Main Career Center for help. “We drilled them on the questions we knew they’d be asked over and over by companies at the job fair: Who are you? Tell me about yourself. What makes you stand out? What have you achieved? The students have to learn to take experiences in their lives and put them together in interesting and relevant ways.”
Witnessing the transformation of UHD students over the course of the seven days was gratifying, Castillo remembers. “Our goal is always for the students to get comfortable representing themselves to companies. We ask them: why do you stand out from the competition?” she said. “The answer we want from them is that UHD students are special because of who we are: we are working persons, we go to school, we hold down two jobs. That’s impressive! Many universities don’t have students like us, hard workers who not only have the knowledge to do the job but who can show up every day and get the job done. I saw the confidence grow in our students as they repeated their stories, and it was very rewarding.”
Castillo and Perez also took two dozen fellow MDCOB students to the regional ALPFA conference in Dallas in September. They arranged the entire trip, coordinating carpools and lodging to ensure students who were new to the event bunked with someone who had previously attended the conference. “The professional world is very different from what they’re used to, in most cases, and interacting with the company representatives can be intimidating. No one wants to appear dumb, so we emphasize to our students: there are no dumb questions. Ask!”
Network for Success
When it comes to the importance of networking, Castillo points to her own experience meeting national representatives of Grant Thornton, an accounting, auditing, and business advisory services firm. Through those connections, she had the opportunity to interview for a risk-advisory internship in Houston with the local Grant Thornton office.
“Talking to the representatives helps you learn whether you can see yourself working at a firm, but it also helps you learn about different jobs you may not have known about. I learned that I wanted to steer my career toward the risk-advisory sector,” she said. “That kind of networking is obviously valuable in the short-term, but these events are where you make connections that can have a long-term impact on your career.”
She also points out opportunities like having large companies provide feedback on your résumé in real time. “Bank of America critiqued my résumé, and I was able to revise it before the career fair portion of the conference. I was so grateful to get an inside view of what companies are looking for in a résumé.”
She notes that some of the students who attended the conferences got internships as a result, while others got full-time employment offers from prestigious accounting and finance firms.
These and other experiences in ALPFA made her a firm believer that all students should join a student organization. “Everyone is busy, but the benefits to your future career of being part of a group like ALPFA far outweigh any time commitment,” Castillo said. “As I tell every member who joins us: Don’t be shy. Show up, and you will benefit!”
Hard Work Gets Noticed
The UHD ALPFA chapter was recently recognized by the ALPFA Houston chapter at a Women of ALPFA event for its strong involvement. Castillo was individually recognized as Student Member of the Month for being very involved and ensuring UHD students get the resources they need to become career-ready, build their networks, and develop professionally.
In a LinkedIn post responding to the award, Castillo shared that ALPFA has been her guide throughout her college career. “As an immigrant and first-generation student, I welcomed the new world of possibilities ALPFA opened up for me. It helped me learn more about myself, learn new soft skills and leadership skills, and gave me networking opportunities … the time you are sacrificing into this organization, it's worth the benefits you'll receive.”
For more information about joining UHD’s ALPFA chapter, contact Castillo. For information on joining other UHD student organizations, check with the individual colleges.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.