Featured Alumnae

Leslie Cardozo Stafford

Castilleja Alumna 
Class of 1993

When Leslie Cardozo Stafford '93 was presented with the Distinguished Alumna Award at her Castilleja 25th Reunion last fall, there was much to celebrate about how this "professional volunteer" embodies the 5Cs in her community. Leslie is President of the Special Education PTA of Redwood City and a tireless advocate for parents of children with special needs. She volunteers with several other educational organizations and joined the Superintendent's Advisory Council last year. Next month, Leslie will become Chair of the Parent Advisory Board to the Stanford Autism Center, where she has facilitated a monthly parent support group and serves as a parent advisor for a program supporting parents of newly diagnosed autistic children. To date, the Early Support Program has provided help with resource coordination and parent education to over 2,000 families!

Read Leslie's Full Interview

Leslie says she discovered the many challenges families face as she "started to navigate the world of special education and raising a special needs child." She spent years learning about student rights, evaluation timelines, and how to qualify for special education services. Now, Leslie takes all the knowledge she gained and uses it to support other parents. "I felt that I couldn't take all that information and store it away while I knew so many other families could find it helpful." She forges relationships with school district administrators to bring greater transparency to families and advocates for best practices for students. Leslie's passion is evident: "I can't stop trying to help families."

Leslie's community leadership is inspired by her son, Peyton, who recently turned 10 years old. "I am so proud to see how far my son has come since he was first diagnosed with a speech delay which later became a full autism diagnosis. He lost all of his language, his social awareness, and much of his motor skills." Leslie left work to focus on Peyton, and through years of therapy, inclusive school programs, and activities to help with his motor development, her son is thriving at the public school he attends. Leslie says "he is extremely social, active, and will talk your ear off if you ask about sports, history or Fortnite," and she is also proud of the deep empathy he has for students with needs and all his friends as a result of his educational journey.

As an advocate for improving educational opportunities for others, Leslie is grateful for the strong foundation she gained at Castilleja from so many teachers: "Judy Johnson worked with me to find a writing style; Robert GliddenHA solidified my love of math; Judith RinoHA, Elyce MelmonHA, and Susan BarkanHA taught me to appreciate classical literature. Carolyn BishopHA taught me to push through the books with weak female characters (I'm looking at you Daisy Miller and Tess of the D'Urbervilles) and to write all the things I would change about their stories. Doris MouradHA made me want to major in Chemisty in college. Eryl BarkerHA was the first to have us dissect frogs, pigs, cow eyes and create Hydrogen Sulfide by putting sulfur in water. Nancy Hoffman '76 knew what it was like to be a Castilleja student and was always so kind to me with her open-door policy. MJ BlockHA in the office was such an important person in my life, giving me time to come in and sit with if ever I needed a break, and she had the best butterscotch candies. Sherry Rusher and Mercedes McCafferyHAwere such strong Spanish teachers." Leslie shares Peggy McKeeHA was an especially influential teacher, with "her funny phrases to remember historical facts (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived!) and I haven't met a Castilleja graduate yet who can't still name every river in Europe! […] Her tips got me through college and her perseverance has helped me to find my drive to help others."

Leslie and her husband James recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. They live in Redwood City with their son Peyton and Leslie's mom.

Suelyn Yu

Castilleja Alumna 
Class of 2006

Suelyn creates paintings that advance her passion for combating climate change. In her series "Still Burning," she captures the moments before, during and after the California wildfires. She portrays billowing flames over open highways and the remnants of towns ravaged by fires. Another series called "Natural Change" was inspired by NASA satellite imagery. Suelyn found the satellite images to be beautiful source material, providing a "macro view of what's going on" and "perspective we don't have on a day-to-day basis." Suelyn's art will be featured in the Anita Seipp Gallery at Castilleja in April.

Read Suelyn's Full Interview

Suelyn fondly reminisces upon her time on the Circle, where she developed her interests in art and the environment. She enjoyed her art classes, citing Deborah TrillingHA as a formative influence. She was "moved" when Al Gore spoke at Castilleja shortly after the publication of An Inconvenient Truth. Suelyn also excelled in math, gaining the confidence to pursue engineering and design. Castilleja teachers made math "fun", Suelyn states. "I remember learning how to calculate Pi by walking around the Castilleja Circle's perimeter."

Suelyn followed her interest in math to Northwestern University, where she graduated with degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Design. She enjoyed her engineering coursework and immersed herself in the creative process of design. This combination of studies taught Suelyn that "you can have both an artistic background and an engineering background." She appreciated pursuing both avenues and immersing herself in different aspects of academic life. While at Northwestern, Suelyn was a celebrated student leader. She earned the McCormick Alumni Leadership and Service Award in recognition of her leadership excellence and contributions to the community.

After Suelyn graduated, she spent several years working in design at startups in Palo Alto, Amsterdam, and San Francisco. She was a senior design manager at Opower and lead product designer for Hillary for America. She also taught interaction design at California College of the Arts for two years. In September Suelyn decided to become self-employed to focus on her art. Suelyn characterizes her choice as scary but gratifying. "I felt like I jumped off the corporate ladder," she explained. "I found my own way in terms of what makes me happy and what I find meaningful."

Suelyn continues to work as a product design consultant, finding time for her painting. She works in series, beginning by creating sketches and compiling source material. Grouping her paintings by topic, Suelyn engages with relevant documentaries, photographs and literature. She begins with small paintings, working bigger as her ideas solidify.

Dividing her time between art and design, Suelyn notes some comparisons between the two. She discusses how art is individualistic where design is collaborative. Design is a way to solve user problems while art is a form of personal expression. "I think of art and design as pretty different," she concludes. But her passion for the environment unifies her interests in art and design as she builds "a network and a community of people who care about climate change."

Suelyn describes the importance of the Castilleja community as she moves from one phase of life to the next. Many of her best friends went to Castilleja, supporting her as she transitions into a new chapter. Reflecting upon Castilleja, Suelyn references Michelle Obama's new book Becoming. In it, Obama writes about how great friends are the "secret sauce" for success. This idea resonates with Suelyn. "I met so many smart, confident, ambitious women at Castilleja," Suelyn recalls. "We really learned to support each other and love each other."

Suelyn's "Natural Change" show will be on exhibit in the Anita Seipp Gallery at Castilleja School from April 11–May 2. Join us for a Gallery Opening with the artist on Tuesday, April 30, 5–7pm. 

Dr. Shira Lipton

Castilleja Alumna 
Class of 1997
Board Certified Dermatologist

Shira developed a fascination with skin when she was a little girl, and by the age of 10, already knew she wanted to pursue a career in dermatology. She credits Castilleja with instilling in her both the confidence to pursue her dream, and the importance of giving back. “From a very early age, Castilleja encouraged us to think about service, and that’s where my commitment to our community began.” Today, she keeps Palo Altans healthy as a doctor and can be found offering free skin checks to underserved patients in the community.

Read Shira's Full Interview

Q: What year did you graduate from Castilleja? 
A: 1997

Q: Where did you continue your education after graduation? 
A: I went to Stanford University to earn my undergraduate degree, UCLA for medical school, and completed my dermatology residency at UCSF.

Q:  Why did you decide to pursue dermatology?  
A: When I was only eight years old, I developed a fascination with skin. While friends would recoil from rashes, I found skin intriguing! My mother was convinced that I was destined to become an esthetician. However, my father — a physician — had other ideas. He taught me that there were specialists in medicine, called dermatologists, who learned how to take care of people with skin problems. So my future professional destiny was sealed by the time I was 10!

Castilleja gave me the confidence and opportunities to make my dream a reality. It instilled in me the sense that I could do anything I put my mind to, no matter how daunting the challenge. To this day, I credit Castilleja for my determination, my understanding that it’s healthy to make mistakes, and my love of learning.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your work? 
A: Practicing dermatology has many rewards. It allows me to work with patients of all ages; coordinate care with colleagues from multiple specialties, including rheumatology, oncology, and primary care; and it gives me opportunities to prescribe state-of-the-science drugs and treatments.

Q: What made you decide to practice in Palo Alto? 
A: Palo Alto has always been home to me. I attended Castilleja and Stanford, and after I completed my training, the opportunity arose for me to work at the Palo Alto Medical Clinic – and I jumped at the chance!

Q: Can you tell us about some of your volunteer activities?
A: I have been very fortunate to work at the Palo Alto Medical Clinic, where we are committed to serving all members of our community. While at Castilleja and Stanford, I provided care for underserved patients at RotaCare, a clinic devoted to taking care of patients who lacked or had minimal insurance. It was a privilege and an honor to serve a leadership role in this organization, and I carry many of the skills I learned to my practice today.

Dr. Shanti Perkins

Castilleja Alumna 
Class of 1990
Internal Medicine

While a student at Castilleja, Shanti developed a passion for science along with a desire to connect with others and give back to her community. She knew that a career in internal medicine would allow her to pursue these passions while building long-term relationships with patients. When she’s not practicing medicine, she volunteers with Girls to Women, a non-profit that provides after-school and summer youth development programming to underserved girls in East Palo Alto, Shanti’s hometown.

Read Shanti's Full Interview

Q: What year did you graduate from Castilleja?  
A: 1990

Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in East Palo Alto.

Q: Where did you continue your education after graduating from Castilleja?
A: I completed my undergraduate degree at Harvard University, and my medical degree and residency at the University of California San Francisco.

Q: Why did you decide to pursue medicine, and what made you choose internal medicine?
A: I decided to pursue medicine because of my love of science and biology – and because I love making connections with other people, working with others, and giving back to my community. I ultimately chose internal medicine because it gives me the opportunity to build long-term relationships with my patients.

Q: Can you tell us about some of your volunteer activities?
A: While I was a college student at Harvard, I volunteered at the Philips Brooks House – a student-run service organization – where I was a big sister for an 8-year-old girl from a marginalized community in the Boston suburbs. I continued mentoring after college and currently volunteer with the organization Girls to Women, an after school program for girls in East Palo Alto, raising funds for their annual 5K. Girls to Women is founded and led by my mother, Patricia Foster, and I’m happy to follow in her footsteps and continue this service to my community.

Q: What made you choose to come back and practice medicine in Palo Alto?
A: I had always planned to come back to Palo Alto so that I could serve my community and be close to my family.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us today?
A: Yes! I have two daughters – one is currently a 6th grade student at Castilleja and the other is a 4th grader who I hope will attend Castilleja in a few years. I want my daughters to receive the same educational foundation that I did, as well as the strong sense of confidence and service fostered by the entire Castilleja community.

Julia Ishiyama

Castilleja Alumna
Class of 2009
Third Year Law Student at Stanford Law School

While a student at Castilleja, Julia spent time volunteering at Walter Hayes Elementary School and later as a member of Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s Student Advisory Board, where she helped compile policy recommendations for the Congresswoman. As a current student at Stanford Law School, she is focusing on issues of gender equity – a passion she credits to Castilleja. “Seven years of all-girls education gave me an incredible appreciation for how rare and wonderful it is to have strong female voices in every classroom, female leads in every play, and women running (student) government.”

Read Julia's Full Interview

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your pro bono work at Stanford Law? 
A: As a first-year, I did pro bono work at Stanford’s Social Security Disability Project (SSDP) to help provide homeless and at-risk clients access to their Social Security benefits. As a second-year student, I plan to work with Stanford’s Housing Pro Bono Project, which helps low-income East Palo Alto renters resolve landlord disputes – whether the client is facing eviction, habitability issues, discriminatory behavior, illegal increases in rent, or other housing problems.

Q: Where did you volunteer while you were a student at Castilleja?
A: My primary volunteer activity was spent working with children in my old kindergarten classroom at Walter Hayes Elementary School. Since Palo Alto public schools operated on a different schedule than Castilleja, I spent my breaks reading stories to students, preparing and running educational activities, and helping administer state-mandated assessments. In high school, I served as a member of Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s Student Advisory Board where I researched and drafted policy recommendations for a year-end report presented to the Congresswoman, including on how to incentivize HPV vaccination.

Q: How do you feel your education at Castilleja prepared you for your future? 
A: Seven years of all-girls education gave me an incredible appreciation for how rare and wonderful it is to have strong female voices in every classroom, female leads in every play, and women running (student) government. As a result, my focus in law school is on issues of gender equity and removing real-world barriers to the kind of female excellence I was surrounded by at Castilleja. To that end, I spent the summer of 2017 interning at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. I am the president of Stanford Lawyering for Reproductive Justice and serve on the board of Women of Stanford Law. This summer, I’ll be at a law firm where I hope to work on Title IX litigation—advocating for survivors of campus sexual assault.

Q: As you know, we are undertaking an effort to increase enrollment to provide more educational opportunities for girls and young women. Are there any comments you’d like to share about this effort? 
A: Castilleja’s investment in its students pays dividends in this community every day. I think seeking the opportunity to double down on your commitment to Palo Alto by populating it with more young women dedicated to service while responsibly managing growth deserves fair consideration by the people of Palo Alto.