Massage Student with Gift for Healing Receives 2020-2021 Vanguard Award

Published: April 01, 2021

While the effects of Covid have contributed to social and economic insecurity, Steve Castillo’s ambition and passion for massage therapy has not wavered. His tenacity, skill and academic excellence has earned him the 2020-2021 Vanguard Award. The award recognizes outstanding post-secondary-level students enrolled in CTE programs that prepare them for careers that are not traditional for their gender.

Raised in Jamaica, Queens, Castillo attended Benjamin Cardoza High School, where he developed an interest physical fitness and weightlifting. It is here that he first learned about the importance of proper body mechanics in the prevention of injuries. This important lesson became paramount to his Massage Therapy training.

“I heard of a book called, Becoming a Supple Leopard [by Dr. Kelly Starrett, a mobility expert]. It was a new approach to the maintenance and mobility of the human body. It was a turning point for me.”

Castillo went on to obtain a Physical Training Certificate from the International Sports Science Association (ISSA).

He then began looking at Massage Therapy Programs and learned from an acquaintance that Queensborough offered a strong Massage Therapy Program with a solid curriculum. Not long after Castillo enrolled at the College where his talent and passion for Massage Therapy was recognized by the faculty as he steadily advanced in his didactic and practical training.

“Trust and communication between the therapist and the client are essential before the body can relax. It is important to actively listen and hear what the client/patient is saying to you. The evaluation process begins from the moment the client enters the room. The way they ambulate, negotiate sitting and standing. I use both my Eastern and Western training. Palpation allows me to identify tender points, pain, and injury. The shape, temperature, consistency, and texture of the tissues offer important information. I use gentle introductory strokes, called Effleurage and Petrissage which are used to deliver the massage lotion, to evaluate the soft tissue that is being worked on and to open and warm up the body before deep and sustained pressure work and deep tissue release.”

Castillo provided massage therapy to a classmate who has a physically demanding job. He noted rounded shoulders from the strain of lifting heavy items, discomfort and that she suffered from chronic calf pain.

“I evaluated the skin, fascia, muscles, by using my fingers and hands performing light and deep palpation along the body,” said Castillo, 26, explaining the evaluation that students perform during massage on each other as part of their in-class practical learning.

Covid-19 changed everything. “First, I lost my job. I had been happily working in the restaurant industry for five years. Then the College changed to fully remote learning a year ago. Suddenly everything was done online. I am a kinesthetic learner; I do not enjoy sitting at computer all day because I know it is unhealthy and have found it difficult to stay focused. I’m a people person and have been cut off from friends and family I can share energy with and positive vibes.”

Castillo -- grateful to the faculty for sharing innovative strategies on using Zoom, Blackboard and Google Meet – extends credit for his success to “my supportive wife and professors.”

“Being back on campus makes a huge difference to me, too. Our Massage Practicum class is led by Professor Susan Gelbman who incorporates physical warm-ups outside so that mind and body synchronize before starting massage, which fits into my own practice.”

Castillo is among the few Queensborough students taking classes on campus this spring due to COVID-19 restrictions. He commutes from Staten Island to Queensborough twice a week for two classes, Hospital Massage and Massage Practicum.

Adhering to protocol, he enters the campus through the Administration building where he receives a temperature check and completes a wellness check on the Everbridge app before he is cleared to proceed to the Student Union Building where massage classes are held. Upon entering the student union building, the professor checks temperature, Everbridge App, students answer specific questions related to Covid safety. A log is maintained for tracing purposes. Students change out of their street clothes into their uniforms. All Massage Therapy students practice safety precautions and proper donning and doffing of PPE.

Still, Castillo is grateful to have some normalcy back in his life.

He is already reflecting on the impact the College has had on his life. “Before Queensborough I never had mentors. Here the teachers go out of their way to help. They really care.”

“Professor Lizzul has been a wonderful mentor. She has done everything possible to help us be on campus,” said Castillo, who will graduate from Queensborough in May with an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in Massage Therapy.

“Steve is an amazing person and an excellent Massage Therapy Student. I am sure we will see great things from him in the future,” said Dr. Isabella Lizzul, LMT, ATC, DPT l Director, Massage Therapy Healing Arts Program, who nominated him for the award.


Contact information:

Alice Doyle

Michael T. Donahue



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