By Derek Rich
By Derek Rich
For a man with a little more than one week on the job, Daniel Castro didn’t appear to be out of his comfort zone.
Nodding at students and faculty alike on a casual walk throughout his new campus, Castro seemed to be making the switch from downtown LA’s urban backdrops to Riverside’s sprawling great outdoors with relative ease.
“It’s been an exciting transition. People here have been very friendly; everybody is really trying to help,” said Castro, who began his duties as Riverside Community College’s new president on Aug. 15. “Plus, it’s a beautiful campus… someone told me when I told them I was coming out here, ‘You’re going to Disneyland.’ “
After an extensive nationwide search that included finalists from Louisiana, Ohio and California, the unanimous selection of Castro, who was formerly the president of Los Angeles Trade-Technical College for the past five years, was announced at a Board of Trustees meeting on June 21.
Castro, however, learned of the decision by surfing the Web during a trip to Spain.
“I knew when the meeting was going to be … so I pulled up the Web site and the announcement was there,” said Castro, who holds a doctorate in Social Politics from Union Graduate School (Ohio).
“I was excited. I had some time on vacation, so I was well relaxed and thinking, ‘Well, what’s the future? What’s going to happen?'” Castro said. “When I saw it, I knew I had to put back on my thinking cap, that I couldn’t be on vacation anymore.”
He becomes RCC’s first Latino president, as well as its first new leader since 1992 – when Salvatore Rotella, now the chancellor of the Riverside Community College District, was named to the office.
“In terms of experience, he’s had real battle experience – in the sense that he comes out of a tough system in LA,” Rotella said. “Whether we like it or not, Riverside is moving more-and-more towards an urban setting; so in essence, his preparation and experience will be helpful to us.”
Before guiding LA-Trade Tech through multiple state budget crises, Castro was the vice president of Academic Affairs at Los Angeles Mission College. There, he was noted for his efforts to increase access for non-traditional working students, establish a weekend college program and develop the TEACH program to address the state’s qualified instructor shortage.
Prior to working in higher education, Castro was president of Pasadena-based I.V. Associates, where he was responsible for planning of commercial properties and the preservation and restoration of historic buildings. He also once served as district manager for a U.S.
congressman, as well as a consultant to the California State Legislature.Castro comes to RCCD during a pivotal period in the college’s history. Last fall, county voters approved a district-wide $350-million bond measure designed to fund construction projects and development at the district’s campuses and education centers. Two of these Measure C-funded projects – the renovation of the A.G. Paul Quadrangle and the new parking facility – are already under way on the Riverside Campus.Behind the scenes, the district is continuing its progress toward reconstruction, a process that Rotella believes can only gain from Castro’s background.
“He had lived in a system of 10 campuses,” Rotella said. “So, he knows these problems. He knows the complexities of a multi-college system. We have to give the man a chance to prove himself, and I think he will.”In addition to overseeing RCC’s campus sweeping makeover, Castro pledged to give equal attention to upgrading curriculums. “I want to bring us up in terms of offering new programs for the future,” Castro said. “We’re talking about nursing, but we need to be talking nuclear medicine.”
He also emphasized the importance of tailoring these programs so that they not only maintain the campus’s academic identity, but better prepare its students for professions predominantly offered in Riverside County.
“Rather than just duplicate what other folks are doing, we’ve got to find that niche and say, ‘We’re going to be the best in this.’ Part of the president’s job is to bring in innovation.”