Karina Casillas

Paying It Forward

Karina Casillas started her undergraduate degree at USC studying international relations, but when she realized how many pressing issues confronted society closer to home, she switched to a double major of American studies and public policy. “Poverty, socioeconomic status, gender issues, disparities among so many groups—I realized how interconnected all these issues are,” Karina says.

And she knew she wanted to do something positive. “My studies at USC combine social issues and how policy can affect them,” she says.

For years, Karina has focused on ways she can help others. In her early teens, she joined the Santa Ana police department’s explorer program, where she reached the rank of sergeant, supervising the other young members. “It helped me learn responsibility,” she says.

While at USC, she volunteered with the La Curacao Academic Achievement Program, visiting high schools in underprivileged areas to motivate students to attend college. She also helped students with their application process and scholarship searches.

Karina wants to continue giving back by paying forward, helping younger students just as she was aided by the Latino Alumni Association and the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund. The latter is the only scholarship in the nation that is funded and primarily administered by students.

For Karina, the best part of USC is realizing the depth of Trojan support. “You start seeing it wherever you go. And when you begin applying for internships and jobs, you really see the impact of the Trojan Family.”

The university’s interdisciplinary nature also gave her ample opportunity to pursue her wide-ranging academic interests. She was inducted as one of the first fellows into the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study. The academy brings together faculty, postdoctoral scholars, graduate students and undergraduates to explore a variety of fields.

“The polymath academy expands your learning capacity,” she explains. “It helps you see how your field is connected to others.”

After graduation, Karina wants to teach English abroad, conduct research in her fields of interest and then go to graduate school, perhaps law school. Ultimately, her goal is to work in education consulting and policy.

“One day, I want to be the person who educational policymakers go to for advice,” she says.