Education professor finds renewed challenge

Lillian Vega Castaneda remembers seeing the signs along the freeway as she drove through Ventura County. First there were the signs directing people to the California State University, Northridge, branch campus here. Then later, there were the signs directing drivers to California State University, Channel Islands.

When she found out CSUCI was hiring its first faculty, she applied, even though she was happy with her job with the education faculty at CSU, San Marcos.

“I was captivated. I felt drawn to the area,” Castaneda said. “It just seemed to call me. And I wanted the challenge again.”

The challenge for Castaneda, and the 12 other founding faculty at CSUCI, is creating a new university — from curriculum to catalog, policies to governance — for opening next fall.

It is a challenge Castaneda gladly accepted. Since August, she has been busy creating curriculum for a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a teaching credential program.

“This has just been so energizing for me,” Castaneda said. “It makes me think, ‘Gee, I still have something to give.'”

She landed her first teaching job at a small Catholic school where many of the students spoke Spanish as their native language. It was that experience that led her to specialize in bilingual education.

“I wanted all children to have an equal start and equal opportunities,” she said. “Teaching is not a job to me. It is what I’ve been called to do.”

She was good enough at her job that soon Castaneda found herself being asked to teach college students part time.

“Then I started to really consider going on (with her own education) beyond a master’s degree,” Castaneda said. “I had a taste of higher education. I liked that I was having very positive responses to my teaching.”

After earning her doctorate at Harvard, Castaneda returned to Southern California. For a while, she worked part time coordinating bilingual programs for the Los Angeles Unified SchoolDistrict. She also returned to teaching college students. Then she decided she needed to develop her research skills, so she took a job with WestEd, a regional educational research lab.

It was then that she discovered Ventura County and fell in love with it. As associate director of the desegregation assistance center, Castaneda provided technical assistance on civil rights compliance to school districts in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

By 1992, Castaneda was ready to return full time to higher education. She joined the faculty of CSU, San Marcos, in 1992. San Marcos was the newest campus in the CSU system and was just 1 year old when Castaneda started there. She led the development of the university’s credential program for teachers working with limited English-speakers.

Her experience in bilingual education and in developing teacher-education programs are an asset to CSU, Channel Islands, said Barbara Thorpe, associate academic vice president.

Thorpe is working closely with Castaneda and education professor Joan Karp on several projects, including the university’s teacher credential program; the CSUCI Professional Development Charter School and the Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Development.

“I just find them to be superb professionals,” Thorpe said of Karp and Castaneda. “The charter school in particular has really benefited from Lillian’s bilingual education expertise. It’s just great to have specialists like that.”

Castaneda and Karp also are using their expertise — Castaneda’s in bilingual education and Karp’s in special education — to build a curriculum that will train all teachers to work with a variety of student needs.

Instead of just offering one or two courses on working with bilingual children or special-needs children, as many colleges do, every education class at CSUCIwill address multiculturalism, multilingualism and the inclusion of special-needs children.

“At one point or another, all teachers are going to end up in a classroom with a student whose first language is not English,” Castaneda said. “We want our courses to help people — even if they are not bilingual teachers — understand how they can help those children.”

“What our program says is that we embrace all children and that there is a way we can help all children.”

— Michelle L. Klampe’s e-mail address is [email protected]

Lillian Vega Castaneda

Position: Education

Age: 48

Residence: Los Feliz in Los Angeles.

Personal: Single, three adult children.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in history, University of California, Irvine; master’s degree in urban education, California State University, Los Angeles; doctorate in teaching, curriculum and learning environments, Harvard University.

Hobbies: Reading, walks, drinking coffee at Starbucks, hanging out with friends.

On her night stand: “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment,” Eckhart Tolle.

In her CD player: Bruce Springsteen.

Favorite spot in Ventura County: Still looking for one.

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