Rachel Meharg Castillo Alumni Profile
Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) alumna Rachel Meharg Castillo is a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) at Cook Children's Medical Center.
"My primary role is to support patients, from infancy through young adulthood, and their families in coping with hospitalization and to normalize the hospital experience through play and understanding of the patient's treatment and experiences," Rachel said. "I also supervise a group of volunteers that come in the evenings, during my work shift."
Rachel pursued child life because it was a great opportunity for her to work with children in the context of the family. Rachel loves being able to help kids understand what is happening in the hospital. Rachel said that myths and anxiety about the unknown keep children locked in fear, but by using developmentally appropriate language and play, children can develop coping skills and regain a sense of control.
To become a Child Life Specialist Rachel was required to take a Child Life specific course, and complete 480 hours of a Child Life internship in order to sit for the Child Life Specialist certification exam. Students are strongly encouraged to complete a practicum as the first step in the Child Life Specialist certification process, which Rachel completed as a degree requirement for her HDFS major.
Rachel completed her practicum at University Medical Center (UMC) in Lubbock, and her internship at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, California. Rachel chose to further her studies at UC Davis Medical Center to complete an optional Fellowship that took 6 months. It was during this time that she took the certification exam, and not long after was offered her current job at Cook Children's Medical Center.
"I chose to major in Human Development and Family Studies before I knew I wanted to be a Child Life Specialist, but it was the perfect major for the job," Rachel said."HDFS prepared me to understand and engage with parents, children, adolescents, and families as independents and interdependents."
Rachel was originally drawn to HDFS because she wanted to learn more about the growth and development of children. Through her coursework, she developed an indepth understanding of the role of caregivers. Rachel thinks that skills learned through HDFS classes can be applied to any human interaction and can enhance the ability to understand and connect with others, regardless of what career a student chooses to pursue.
"I loved Human Development and Family Studies because there were so many ways it could be sculpted to meet a specific career goal," Rachel said. "HDFS professors are not just teaching students how to be successful in a job, but enriching them as individuals."
Rachel said that HDFS taught her what to expect as healthy and normal for child and
adolescent development, and equipped her with the tools to help children grow regardless of their developmental level. In Rachel's view, HDFS gave her the vital skills to she needs to communicate with children and families.
"HDFS guided me in how to connect with people in ways that recognize and validate their value and worth."
Recently Rachel was selected as Volunteer Supervisor of the Year at Cook Children's
"I have worked very hard to continually refine my process for training and retaining volunteers," Rachel said. "This recognition encourages me to continue cultivating the volunteer program."
Rachel was nominated by one of the volunteers under her supervision, and then chosen by a panel of Cook Children's employees. Rachel said that it was incredibly humbling to be honored for her hard work. Rachel and the volunteers visit a large population of patients in the evening, so she holds volunteers to a high standard of independence and problem-solving skills.
"Whatever you do, make sure you find personal value in the work," Rachel said. "It may not look glamorous on the outside, but if it's interesting and you love it, the hard work is worthwhile."