Meet Gabriela Castorena, a First-Generation Nursing School Student

She is passionate about public health, and dancing in New York.

Eve Glasberg
February 13, 2024

Notebook is a Columbia News series that highlights just some of the many fascinating students who study at our University. 

Gabriela Castorena has been busy since she arrived in New York to attend the Columbia School of Nursing. She is passionate about health prevention and promotion, and has conducted research in rural Thailand, as well as helped to provide medical care to a small community in Mexico as a member of Flying Samaritans. Castorena also serves on the School of Nursing's student organization, LatinX.

When are you graduating from the School of Nursing?

I will receive my Master’s in Nursing in August of 2024.

What was your path to deciding to become a nurse?

My path was lengthy and non-traditional. I graduated with a B.S. in Public Health from Cal State Fullerton in 2020. I went straight from high school to a four-year college, although it took me six years to get my degree. I identify as a first-generation Latina student, so navigating the higher education system was very challenging for me, and I did not commit to nursing until about my fourth year of university.

After graduating, I took a gap year and applied to only California schools because, initially, I wanted to stay in California. I did not get in the first time, so I applied a second time, both in state and out of state. At first, I did not even think about applying to Columbia because I did not think I was good enough, if I am being honest. I just ignored those negative thoughts, and told myself, "The worst they can say is no." But here I am!

How do you like studying in New York? What are your favorite urban activities? 

I fell in love with New York when I visited for the first time, about four months before my nursing program started. I adore city life, and how you can do anything at any time in New York. The city allows me to be comfortable in exploring different things. I enjoy taking a lot of fitness and dance classes downtown. I am going to a boxing class next week! Sometimes, if I need to get out of my apartment, I go to Columbus Circle or Hudson Yards. 

Any recommendations for things to do beyond campus?

If you enjoy dancing, try Sass Class, and if you want to take a free Bachata dance class, go to Club Cache. In the summer, it’s great to go bike riding on Roosevelt Island. If you need a spa day, the Spa Club is amazing.

What is special about being a student at Columbia?

The location, being in a big city. If you need to relax or do something fun, there is always an activity to try. I also found classmates who share a lot of the same background that I do. To be honest, I was a little afraid I was not going to find anyone here who I resonated with culturally, or with whom I shared similar values. But I have met some amazing friends, who support me and understand me, especially since nursing school can be mentally and physically challenging.

What are your plans post-graduation? What sort of care would you like to focus on, and where would you like to work?

I have no idea. I would love to stay in New York, although I can also go back to California. There are many things to consider, such as finances and how quickly I can find a job and begin working. As of now, I would love to work in the emergency department, or in aesthetics, supporting cosmetic medical procedures. Down the line, I would enjoy teaching and possibly becoming a preceptor for nursing students. There are so many things you can do with a nursing degree.