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Alejandra Castillo - April 2013 Alumnus of the Month

Hometown: Corona (Queens), New York
Current Job: National Deputy Director, Minority Business Development Agency, U.S. Department of Commerce
CHCI Program: 1992-1993
CHCI Program Placement: Office of Senator Edward Kennedy

1. What have you been doing since you finished the CHCI program(s)?

It has been quite some time since I completed my CHCI Fellowship experience, and my journey has been one of many challenges and opportunities. My professional career has been nothing short of exciting and very rewarding. To begin, soon after completing my CHCI Fellowship, I began my graduate studies at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. As a New Yorker, my time living in Texas is among my most rewarding personal and educational experiences.  Upon graduating from the LBJ School of Public Affairs, I returned to DC to work in Democratic politics during a very interesting moment in recent history.  I joined the re-election campaign of President Bill Clinton and had the great honor to work with many amazing people who sought to develop the policies and programs that would launch our Nation into the 21st Century.  It was these colleagues and mentors who were among my greatest supporters and who allowed me to become part of the Clinton White House. 

In large part, my CHCI fellowship experience, coupled with my graduate education, prepared me to serve as a Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office on Drug Control.  The opportunity to work in a high demand and high visibility environment while addressing a very complex policy issue gave me a unique opportunity to further hone my policy and political skills.  After leaving the White House, I wanted to give my career a new challenge and a different direction. It was then that I decided to attend law school—a decision that I am very happy to have made and one that has yet again opened many professional and personal opportunities.  Indeed, a legal education offered me a new platform to tackle challenges and offered new tools from which to devise answers and solutions to the most pressing problems of our times.  After law school, I clerked for a DC Superior Court Judge and went on to work at several law firms until 2009.  After President Obama’s historic election, I was once again given the opportunity return to public service as a political appointee at the U.S. Department of Commerce.   

Today, I serve as the National Deputy Director of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA).  MBDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, promotes the growth and global competitiveness of the minority business community, making them better equipped to create jobs, impact local economies and compete successfully in domestic and global marketplaces. As National Deputy Director, my priorities include serving as the principal advisor to MBDA’s National Director. In addition, I manage the day-to-day operations of the Agency and provide programmatic and policy directions to ensure we achieve our Agency’s objectives.  The management of the agency includes oversight of strategic operations and an over $30 million budget.  I also play an integral role in designing, developing and implementing MBDA’s Global Export Initiative for the minority business community in support of President Obama’s National Export Initiative.

2. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?

Thanks to my CHCI experience, I learned some of the most important professional and personal lessons early in my career.  As a Fellow, CHCI provided me with a nurturing environment that allowed me to learn the intricacies of Washington, DC, and the intersections of policy, politics and community.  It was also during my fellowship that I began to understand that in order to be a successful thought leader, I had to work diligently towards my educational goals. I was able appreciate first-hand that one’s professional development is a continuous process that must be anchored in hard work and supported by the pursuit of our community’s development and best interest.

During my professional career, I have had the privilege to work alongside outstanding mentors that have instilled in me the highest examples of professionalism and public service. I believe it is essential that young professionals understand the importance of learning from seasoned experts in their fields of interest, but more importantly to seek mentors they admire.   

3. How have you stayed engaged in community service?

Connection with family and community are key priorities in my life. On a personal level, I have a deep commitment to ensure that I contribute towards placing education within the core of our community’s DNA.  I currently serve on the board of a community-based organization in my hometown of Corona-Queens, NY and I also volunteer with many national organizations that work with children and young students.   In addition, I am an active member of The Hispanic National Bar Association, and The Hispanic Bar Association of DC, and have recently been appointed to serve as a Board of Trustee at the University of the District of Columbia.  Overall, I firmly believe we must live our values, and in order to do so we must engage with those organizations that reflect our priorities and principles.  For me, I believe that only through community service can we help improve the quality of life for all.

4. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?

My advice to CHCI participants would be a simple message: “Pursue your dreams and follow your passion with dignity, honor and purpose.”  It is also important to keep education at the core of one’s foundation for personal and professional growth.  While it may take some time to identify what stirs our passion, it is critical that as you journey through life that you also find inspiration and continue to strive towards excellence in all that you endeavor.  Finally, it is upon us to share with others the lessons learned and to keep the doors of opportunity open for all. I live through my Abuela’s refranes, “Haz bien y no mires a quien.”

5. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?

In the next decade, I see myself as the CEO or COO of a Fortune 500 company.  It is my goal to continue to think strategically and develop my business and management acumen to ensure that US companies continue to grow and prosper.  It is my professional goal to provide the leadership that will engage innovative thinkers to develop the technology, products and services of the future. 

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