Darina Castillo

As a young woman, Darina Castillo decided that becoming an engineer would give her an opportunity to make a difference in her community and the world.

“I knew I wanted to help people and have a direct impact on people’s lives. I actually struggled between psychology and engineering. Ultimately, I decided that engineering would be the best option for me,” said Castillo, program manager of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP).

After growing up in Belize, Castillo moved to the United States in 2001 where she completed high school. She earned her Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from California State University, Sacramento, before pursuing her Master of Science and PhD in environmental engineering sciences from the University of Florida.

Castillo was hired by DOE Office of Legacy Management (LM) Presidential Management Fellows Program. She is responsible for supporting LM’s mission of protecting human health and the environment at sites that were used during the Manhattan Project and Cold War. During her day-to-day role, she uses a variety of skills in engineering, project and contract management, and public relations.

As a woman of color in a traditionally male-dominated industry, Castillo is excited to see more women, especially women of color, entering science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) career fields.

“I was looking at a picture recently of a preconstruction meeting at the Middlesex South, New Jersey Site, along with representatives of the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and I noticed that they were not only women but also women of color. And I just thought, ‘this is amazing!’ It’s not the normal story line of what you think about when it comes to this field,” Castillo said.

Castillo said she believes girls have more opportunities now to pursue STEM education than ever, and decades of STEM efforts are definitely paying off when it comes to getting more women and girls interested in STEM careers.

“There were reports that girls changed their minds about STEM fields in middle school around the early 2000s. Since then, there has been a strong focus on getting women and girls in STEM fields by closing the digital divide of that era, by providing access to internet, computers, and many other programs and resources,” she said. “All of those tools and efforts have definitely paid off by creating more opportunities for women and girls in STEM.”

Castillo is passionate about connecting learning to real-world activities and ordinary people, especially when it comes to teaching children.

“I believe the most effective way for getting kids into STEM is through early exposure,” she said. “When I taught lessons on who is a scientist in middle school, I included people I knew, not just Einstein or the traditional examples of scientist, but people that children could see as their cousin, sister, or aunt.”

And the fields with the greatest need for new young scientists? Castillo believes that civil and environmental needs will offer the best opportunities for young students getting into STEM.

“There is never going to be lack of work in those areas. There is always a great need to improve and maintain our infrastructure in the United States and globally,” she said. “And of course, there is the climate crisis,  engineers can develop solutions to reduce our footprint and impact to the environment, as well as improving the areas that have already been impacted.”

In fact, Castillo’s work at LM helps find solutions to environmental problems. She recently led the effort to prepare LM’s Colonie site in Albany, New York, for redevelopment. Under Castillo’s management, this project was successfully completed and will soon be transferred to a new owner for beneficial reuse.

“I feel a lot of pride and satisfaction knowing that this site will be sold for beneficial reuse, and I believe it will really help brighten the community significantly,” she said.

Castillo hopes her works shows other young women they can also make a difference.

“One piece of advice I would offer women and girls entering this field is don’t be afraid of voicing your female perspective, because it’s very important,” Castillo said. “We have a unique way of looking at things that adds value to any project.”

Castillo looks forward to more women joining STEM fields in the future.

“I’m always here to help support women and girls entering the STEM field of navigating STEM careers,” she said.