New Fresno State president has strong Valley roots

FRESNO, Calif.

Dr. Castro tells Action News he spent a lot of his childhood with his mom at beauty salons in Hanford, so he embraced diversity at an early age. He says that'll serve him well as he graduates from Bullpup to Bulldog and tries to improve the Valley where he grew up.

Joe Castro's drive for excellence in education started in his native Kings County. None of his immediate family members had ever gone to college, but he left Hanford High for the University of California at Berkeley. Nearly 20 years later, he'll become the eighth president at Fresno State.

"By growing up in Hanford, it provides me with a really good insight in terms of what the opportunities are throughout the Valley as well as what the challenges are," he said.

Those challenges include high poverty and unemployment, but Castro says he'll be an advocate for the Valley's economy. He's already taken that role once as part of the founding team at UC Merced. Student government leaders are encouraged by the new president's roots.

"It's definitely nice knowing that he's from the Central Valley, so he has an idea of our needs and concerns and the pivotal role Fresno State plays," said Moses Menchaca, the incoming ASI president.

Action News talked to several professors who are excited with the prospect of working with a Valley native. But faculty union leaders caution they can't judge Castro based solely on his accomplishments so far.

"I would be happier frankly, just looking at his resume, if I had seen more experience in a CSU or a CSU-like institution and more experience in the trenches -- faculty or faculty researcher," said Dr. Lisa Weston, a professor who leads the faculty union.

Dr. Castro has taught the occasional class even while serving as vice chancellor at UC San Francisco. But now he's returning home, where the woman who pushed him to further his own education, his mother, will be waiting.

"She was very emotional," he said. "She was so happy."

Another benefit to being a Valley native: Castro tells us he won't need a GPS to find towns like Tranquillity and Parlier. He says he'll be reaching out to people all over to make sure he's president for everybody.

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