Fashioning the Future With: Valerie Castillo
Robotics teams across the globe know her, and myths that need busting fear her—she's none other than the brilliant Valerie Castillo! This fifteen-year-old STEM sensation led her school's robotics team to win the VEX State Championship in 2017, a victory that surprised the competitive robotics community and sent the team to Worlds. Very soon you'll see her on Science Channels' MythBusters Jr. alongside host Adam Savage and fellow female MythBusters Allie Weber and Rachel Pizzolato.
In addition to blowing things up on MythBusters Jr., Valerie is making a name for herself off-camera, too—just check out this piece in HuffPo which predates her MythBusting fame and highlights her importance as a leader in her community. Valerie excels as a role model for fellow Latinas who want to pursue STEM, and you'll want to read Valerie's advice to girls who come from similar backgrounds. Valerie's wisdom will take her far, and we know that she will motivate many other young women to overcome any challenge that the world dares to put in their way.
Check out our Q&A with Valerie to find out where she was when she heard she was a MythBuster, what draws her to robotics competitions, and her unexpected—yet deliciously genius—thoughts on how she would use Iron Man's suit.
When did you first know that you were a scientist?
The first time I knew I was a scientist is hard to say, but it was probably in 6th grade. I was involved in a STEM school, and I had developed a new love for learning about the world around me from a scientific standpoint. In other words, you can say that I really liked science class.
How did you get into robotics?
In 7th grade, I tried out for the school’s robotics team. I got in, and in 8th grade I became a team captain. My team won at the VEX State Championship in Bakersfield, California and we moved onto the VEX World Championship in Louisville, Kentucky! It was such an amazing experience with over 100 teams from across the world. I’m in 10th grade now, and I still have the same passion for robotics!
What do you enjoy most about competing in robotics competitions?
What I enjoy most about competitions is meeting other teams and discussing how they designed their robot. We are all assigned the same task that our robot needs to be able to accomplish, but it’s the team's decision on how they want to design it. A task could be as simple as picking up an object. There are thousands of ways to design a robot for any kind of task. I love discussing about what they tried out in the beginning, because usually the ideas you begin with are completely different than what the final results are, but that’s robotics and you got to love it!
What do you tinker and make outside of school competitions?
I can’t say I tinker a lot outside of school competitions. Mostly, I come up with different designs to improve the robot my team and I will be working on at the time. But, I want to start working on some of my own projects.
What are some of your hobbies?
Some of my hobbies include playing the piano, relaxing at home, or watching movies with my family. I also enjoy reading about the latest breakthroughs in STEM—could be in medicine or in technology.
Where do you want to attend college and what degree do you think you will pursue?
I would want to attend Caltech or MIT. I want to pursue an engineering degree in either chemical or mechanical engineering. My ideal scenario would be where I earn a scholarship to any of the two schools and earn my PhD. Dr. Castillo doesn’t sound too bad.
What is your ideal career path?
For my ideal career path, I was thinking about working in aerospace companies like Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, or Scaled Composites. But anywhere I can design, build, and test is an ideal career path. Being a MythBuster was right on target!
What do your parents think of your accomplishments?
My parents are really proud. Both my parents are immigrants from Mexico. They literally came from almost nothing and now for them to see everything I’ve accomplished so far makes them extremely proud. I’m a robotics champion, builder, and I’m working on my associate's degree while in high school.
What was your reaction when you found out you were going to be a MythBuster?
I was already sleeping; it was maybe 11:00 at night when my mom saw the email and ran over to my room and turned on the lights to wake me up. I was really confused, and a little annoyed, but once my mom explained that I got the job, I STILL couldn’t process what had just happened. I finally got the full gist of it the next morning. I couldn’t believe that I was chosen to become a MythBuster. I was honored and humbled by the amazing opportunity at hand.
What is your favorite thing about being a MythBuster on MythBusters Jr.?
Besides being able to blow things up and destroy things on a daily basis, I love working with Adam Savage and grasping every bit of knowledge and skills I can from him. The staff and crew are amazing individuals. They gave me tips on how to act on camera, but they said that the most important thing was to be myself. I love working with my co-stars too! Each of us have such a different background in STEM, but all of our different skillsets come beautifully together when we test a myth.
What does it mean for you to be a young Latina role model in STEM, and what advice can you give to others pursuing the field?
It means the world to me that I could possibly be a role model for other Latinas in STEM. I just hope other young Latinas see me and realize that we can do amazing things in this country regardless of our gender, race, or culture. Determination, motivation, work ethic, faith, and being respectful is what has brought me this far. To all my Latinas and Latinos in STEM, Cesar Chavez once said, “Si se puede,” which translates to, “Yes we can.”
Do you have any favorite scientist characters in books/movies/other art forms?
One of my favorite scientists is Shuri from Black Panther. I love that she’s a princess but also a genius engineer who’s always got her brother’s back. I enjoy seeing the fictional technology she designs, but what I love the most is that she’s representing women of color in STEM on the big screen and she's helping other girls get involved with STEM outside of her character.
If you were a superhero, what would your go-to wearable tech device be?
My go-to wearable tech device would be Iron Man’s suit. I find it to be such an amazing piece of fictional technology. I say that technology is the closest we can get to becoming real superheroes. I don’t think I can fight crime, but if I could ask JARVIS to order a pizza and send the suit to pick it up, that’s pretty much a dream come true.