Even as students flocked back to campus after a year-and-a-half of COVID-19 restrictions, many struggled with the transition – just as they struggled when they were suddenly isolated at the beginning of the pandemic, says public health major Angeline Castillo.
“Social interactions are still hard,” she says. “A lot of people who used to be really social learned to be by themselves.”
Castillo is helping other students overcome such challenges. She works in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, which strengthened its focus on student well-being during the pandemic. Because of Castillo’s public health studies and leadership skills, the staff asked her to serve in a new position: peer well-being coach.
Castillo dove into creating a resource guide for herself and other well-being coaches, drawing on offices already at the university; many of those also use peer mentors, such as the Career Peers in Career and Co-op Services, peer tutoring through the Centers for Teaching and Learning, and the peer Money Mentors trained by the Solution Center.
“If a student is having a problem and they don’t know where to go, a peer can make it easier,” Castillo says.
Castillo now reaches out to students in the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences, including through social media and setting up a table twice a week in the new Health Sciences Hub, where she can hand students a flyer she created that lists helpful resources and information.
She posts mini-polls on social media or asks students to answer a question of the week by writing on a sticky note at her table and posting it – questions like “How well do you think you cope with stress?” and “What do you do to take care of yourself?”
She’s also happy to simply chat and listen.
“I really just want to give them a few minutes to reflect on their day,” she says. “Everything in health sciences is learning to take care of others, so it’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves.”
Castillo, who grew up in Lowell and graduated from Lowell High School, originally came to UML as a nursing student. She picked up a minor in public health, and in her junior year, she decided to pursue public health as her major, with a concentration in health sciences.
She works at a day care center – “I love working with kids” – and served as president of The Filipino Club on campus for two years.
Castillo choreographs dances for Kamayan, a big performance event put on in collaboration with Filipino clubs at other colleges and universities in the Boston area. She also helps with the planning for Asian Night, a cultural celebration involving all the Asian American clubs on campus. During the pandemic, she led The Filipino Club’s efforts to keep students from feeling isolated by hosting game nights, movie nights, discussions about mental health and more.
She’s not sure where all her experiences are leading, but she’s looking for ways to combine her leadership skills and interests. She might go on for a master’s degree in public health, and she’s also looking into jobs at community and health care organizations.
“I just really want to work with the community,” she says.