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Felipe Castillo and Francisco Sarmiento Earn Degrees at a Distance

Posted by struscott | November 7, 2007

WSU Learning Center Means Degrees, Employment

For Felipe Castillo and Francisco Sarmiento, the opportunity to earn a Washington State University degree from a distance is making all the difference.

Both men have taken advantage of WSU’s North Central Washington Learning Center located on the Wenatchee Valley College campus. It is one of 10 learning centers operated by WSU Extension.

“Felipe and Francisco are perfect examples of how our distance degree and learning center programs can work,” said Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “Our partnership with WSU Extension and WVC has provided opportunity for a number of students now making great contributions to the agricultural industry.”

Francisco Sarmiento, left, Dean Daniel Bernardo,
and Felipe Castillo

Castillo, a native of Stockton, Calif., first came to Wenatchee as a child with his migrant worker parents. The family would spend summer and autumn in the Wenatchee area then return to Mexico for the rest of the year. They then moved to central Washington where Castillo graduated from high school.

He returned to the area after high school and worked in area warehouses. “After a while, I decided to go back to school,” Castillo said. “I attended Wenatchee Valley College where I earned an associate degree in technical science. I’ve also been working for almost eight years for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission while attending Washington State University.”

He is closing in on earning a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from WSU, but has never set foot on the Pullman campus. His courses have been taught at the WSU North Central Washington Learning Center.

Sarmiento came to Wenatchee from Michoacán, Mexico, in the 1980s “chasing the American dream.”

“While enrolled in the Hispanic Orchard Employee Education certificate program at WVC, I realized that education is, indeed, the key to success,” Sarmiento said. “I enjoyed school so much that I decided to pursue higher levels of education. I focused on agriculture, which is my passion, and I continued at WVC to earn my associate in technical science degree in tree fruit production.

“It all made sense, and I knew right then that WSU was my next step,” he continued. “One of the key factors to pursuing my degree from WSU was the opportunity to take the entire program at Wenatchee Valley College through the WHETS system. I immensely appreciate that opportunity, and forever will.”

Sarmiento did so well that he was selected as the WSU Department of Horticulture’s Outstanding Senior for the American Society for Horticultural Science. After graduation, he became a full-time faculty member in the WVC Latino Agriculture Education Program.

“Having a degree has allowed me to move up personally and professionally…In short, I am living my ‘American Dream,’”” said Sarmiento. His next goal? To earn his master’s degree next spring – on line.

Castillo said the hardest part of earning a degree from a distance is “trying to juggle family, school, and work all at the same time.” He has worked full-time for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission while pursuing his degree.

Castillo said having his degree will “allow me to be more valuable to my current employer, earn a higher salary, and most importantly have the opportunity to take on more tasks.”

What advice would he and Sarmiento give others thinking of earning their WSU degree from a distance?

“Earning a degree in a related field while getting real-life, hands-on experience can be a reality even if you are unable to be on the college campus,” Castillo said.

Sarmiento agreed.

“My advice is ‘Go for it!’ If you have the desire to continue your education, and you do not have the time to go to Pullman, the long distance degrees are the way to go.”