Community service spirit leads Georgia Gwinnett College student to chiropractic career

Melissa Castaneda stands by Grizzly statue

Melissa Castaneda

By Justin Madden
    
Even before going to college, Melissa Castaneda of Grayson always had dreams of helping her community. 

She became interested in sports medicine during high school, and learned that the field offered many options, including physical therapy, athletic training or her ultimate choice – chiropractic care. 

“Before I started college, I knew there was a good possibility that I would want to attend graduate school, and I knew there’s a big cost with that,” said Castaneda, a first-generation college student. “When looking at undergraduate programs, I wanted to stay away from taking out loans but still get a good education, and Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) felt like the right place.”

However, Castaneda found herself unprepared for the hustle and bustle of college life, combined with the time management struggles associated with having two jobs. She lost her HOPE Scholarship at the end of her first semester due to declining grades. 

“That was definitely a rough patch – trying to balance two jobs with school,” Castaneda said. “College is a different experience a lot of us aren’t prepared for. We don’t know how to use our resources. GGC thankfully offers us a lot of resources we need to be successful, but when you’re in a new environment, sometimes you don’t use such resources to the best of your ability.” 

Despite this setback, Castaneda never gave up on her education. After learning better study habits and time management skills, she was able to re-earn her HOPE Scholarship. She also learned to take better advantage of GGC’s resources for students.
    
Throughout her college experience at GGC, Castaneda said she benefited from the help of several professors. She recalled how Dr. Jeff Pasley, associate professor of exercise science, took 10 minutes out of every class to give a short motivational speech.

“Every day he said something different that, in one way or another, helped a person,” Castaneda said. 

Castaneda also cited Dr. Pamela Anderson, associate professor of exercise science, as especially important to her. She said Anderson took a special interest in her students’ futures after graduation, whether they were bound for graduate school or heading into the job market.

“She always helped us find what we were really passionate about, even if it took more effort.” Castaneda said. 
    
As she progressed through her studies, Castaneda remained a member of the work force, and found that GGC’s support for working students allowed her to secure a financial future while still excelling in her studies. 

“It really taught me the value of hard work,” said Castaneda, who worked as a parking lot attendant and a food server. 

It was through Castaneda’s food service job that she had a chance meeting with Dr. Caz Goodman, a Lawrenceville chiropractor. Trading her parking attendant job for assisting in his practice, Castaneda obtained valuable experience for her future career. 

With better time-management skills, Castaneda participated in several extra-curricular activities at GGC, including the B.E.A.R.S (Bridging Exercise and Real Science) club for exercise science students. The club was involved in community service and helping its members find careers after college. She also participated with GGC’s intramural soccer team.

Castaneda will join more than 800 graduates at GGC’s virtual commencement, scheduled for 10 a.m., Aug. 8. The ceremony can be viewed at www.ggc.edu/commencement.

After graduation, Castaneda plans to enroll in the doctor of chiropractic program in Marietta. After completing her doctorate degree, she plans to work as an associate chiropractor for Goodman. 

Castaneda said she hopes to eventually open her own practice and give back to the community in which she grew up.  
    
“It felt right to stay in Georgia and explore the possibilities here,” she said. 

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