When Joseph White, social sciences professor emeritus, first met Jeanett Castellanos ’94, she was just a teenager from a poor neighborhood in Southeast Los Angeles. Yet even then, White recognized his student’s potential: “She had raw brilliance,” he recalls. White became Castellanos’ mentor, encouraging her to go to graduate school. Now, she not only teaches at UCI, she helps students from the same working-class background fulfill their dreams, too.

“My life here at UCI is about mentoring,” Castellanos says. “That’s the foundation of all I do.”

Castellanos was recently named recipient of the Samuel M. Turner MENTOR Award by the American Psychological Association. MENTOR stands for Minority Education, Nurturing, Training, Organizational advocacy and Research. The award honors a psychology faculty member who has demonstrated a commitment to teaching and training clinical psychologists to work more effectively with ethnic minority clinical populations.

She credits mentors like Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies Caesar Sereseres with inspiring her own academic success. After receiving her bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology from UCI, she attended Washington State University, receiving her master’s in counseling psychology in 1997 and doctorate in higher education in 1998.

Today, she’s a lecturer in Social Sciences and Chicano/Latino Studies, and director of the Social Sciences Academic Resource Center. The center helps students get into graduate school, offering information on programs, internships, research opportunities and scholarships. Castellanos also started the Latino/a Student Psychological Association at UCI to assist minority students aspiring to enter the mental health field.

She has co-authored two books to help minority students succeed in academia, including The Latina/o Pathway to Graduate School, which she edited with her longtime mentor and collaborator, Alberta M. Gloria, professor of counseling psychology at the University of Wisconsin. Castellanos and White visit universities nationwide giving presentations on mentoring and increasing diversity among students and faculty.

“Jeanett saw the value of guidance and mentoring, and how talented young people can be guided to the next level,” White says. “Now her students have gone on to get doctorates and become teachers themselves. Most are minority, first-generation college students who don’t know anything about graduate school. Jeanett helps them get into first-rate universities. She expands their horizons and guides them to something that fascinates them.”

Castellanos proudly counts 20 former students pursuing doctorates, and many more getting their master’s. It’s the one-on-one interaction with “Dr. C” – as her students affectionately call her – that motivates them.

“I try to create a personal connection with students, to instill hope,” she says.