Fulbright Scholar, Poverty Fighter

Juan Castro, Ph.D.

Written by Janet Ragland
Photographed by Randy Mallory

Finance professor Dr. Juan Castro, 48, emigrated from his native Honduras to the United States at the age of 24 without knowing how to speak a word of English. Today, he is a pastor, professor and a Fulbright Scholar, having attained one of the highest academic recognitions in the United States for scholarship and leadership in a program designed to exchange ideas across borders and find solutions to international concerns.

As a Fulbright Scholar, Castro will teach graduate-level students in El Salvador, from July through November 2010, about financial strategy and risk as he researches how poor countries can eradicate poverty. El Salvador, Panama and Ecuador use the U.S. dollar as the medium of exchange. Castro will visit all three countries to research the practice as a means to help poor economies develop monetary stability, by eliminating inflation and exchange rate fluctuations. Castro has co-written two books in Spanish, one about Ecuador and the other on the dollarization of Honduras.

Poverty is personal to Castro. He grew up the sixth of seven children in his family in the central, mountainous region of Honduras, in the garden city of Siguatepeque. His father left when he was three, and his mother supported her seven children by working as a telegraph operator. "We were very poor," he said. Castro began working at the age of 12 doing odd jobs like selling papers or shining shoes to pay for junior high school classes at night. While his mother only made it through the fourth grade, she instilled in her children the value of an education.

Upon arriving in the United States, Castro attended English as a Second Language classes at a community college before attending the University of New Orleans where he earned his bachelor's degree in computer science (1993), his master's degree in economics (1996) and his doctorate in finance and economics (1999). He taught at his alma mater for two years, worked as a bank vice president of risk management, then accepted a teaching position at East Texas Baptist University, where he also served as dean of the business school. In 2001, Castro joined the faculty at LETU.

At the invitation of the United Nations Development Program, Castro presented an economics seminar in Honduras last October on how to conduct macroeconomic research using Honduran data. The UN program seeks solutions to eradicate world poverty through professional development. During his summers, he has presented research papers or taught in other countries as well including Ecuador, Honduras, Scotland, England, Spain, Austria, and Netherlands. In summer 2008, he was invited by Oxford University in Great Britain to be part of their distinguished Oxford Round Table conference.

Castro wants LETU students to be international and understand poverty. During spring break trips in 2007, 2008 and 2009 to Castro's native country, students lived with Honduran families and visited small businesses like a shoe store, a market and some maquilas (factories) that export T-shirts. The international experience can be found in East Texas as well, when students visit Viva Abundante, the largest Hispanic Baptist church in East Texas, where as pastor Castro ministers to about 200 people from 15 countries. His family founded the church five years ago with LETU international students. Castro joined his first evangelical church after he accepted Christ at the age of 14 and later married his Southern Baptist pastor's daughter, Lizete. Today they have three children, two of whom are LETU alumni.

"For me, I studied financial economics because I wanted to help poor countries," Castro said. "I'm going to El Salvador to study how a poor country can overcome poverty. The economics textbooks today are based on a United States economy, not an El Salvador economy. How do we know if the models in the textbooks can be applied to a poor country? What are the factors that make a country poor? Is it human resources, economic resources, production resources? I hope to discover a model for poor countries to develop economically."

NOW Summer 2010