The growth of specialized master’s programs at the Hough Graduate School of Business at the Warrington College of Business has helped the College become one of the nation’s top destinations for business students.

Two of those programs—the Master of International Business and the Master of Science in Entrepreneurship (MSE—The Thomas S. Johnson Program)—are celebrating significant anniversaries this year. The MIB is celebrating 15 years of providing students a deep immersion in international business while the MSE commemorates 10 years of entrepreneurial education.

Here are the stories of two alumni whose experiences in these programs have made meaningful impacts on their lives and careers.

Javier Castano (BSBC ’06, MIB ’07)

Reeling from the impact of an enemy rocket would make most question their line of work.

For Javier Castano, it strengthened his resolve.

Castano, 31, is a Foreign Service Officer for USAID (United States Agency for International Development), who has worked in Vietnam, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2011, Castano was nearly struck by an incoming rocket. The force of the impact knocked Castano clear off his feet.

He was unhurt, and his desire to continue his work was unfazed.

“That was the moment I decided to stay,” Castano said. “I thought, ‘If I could survive this, then I can survive anything.’”

A primary mission of USAID is to end extreme poverty, a reality Castano has seen more than he’d like in his travels.

“I grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and I thought I saw extreme poverty,” Castano said. “That was nothing. People should not have to live in these types of conditions.”

Without his MIB degree, Castano would not be able to continue his work. USAID often requires its Foreign Service Officers to have master’s degrees, and Castano believes his expertise in international business was integral in obtaining his position.

“I have no doubt that set me apart,” Castano said. “USAID wants to be sure it has people who are well-rounded and have their eyes open to the world. If you’re dealing in foreign assistance, it helps to have a high level of business acumen.”

Castano is currently in Kinshasa, D.R. Congo, bidding for his next assignment. Wherever he goes, his mission is simple.

“The end goal is to make people’s lives better,” Castano said. “These are the types of programs that improve people’s lives. We can’t end all poverty, but we can end extreme poverty, and raise it to a level we can address as a world.”

David Flores (MSE ’13)

David Flores received all the necessary business tools—accounting, finance, entrepreneurship— in the MSE program to become a successful businessman.

But what he couldn’t do without was the one thing that derailed his prior venture.

“The MSE was transformational in the sense that I was able to focus on building a business 100 percent of the time while I was in school,” Flores said. “But the best thing about the program is the network you build.”

The lack of a strong network in Miami was a major reason his e-commerce site selling men’s apparel floundered. Flores needed a drastic change in scenery and strategy to change his luck.

“The business wasn’t going anywhere,” Flores said. “I didn’t have the network; I didn’t have the contacts in the industry.”

His decision to come north and enroll in the MSE program was life-changing. While he learned the fundamental of entrepreneurship, he was also laying the foundation for a network of collaborators, mentors and friends that would last a lifetime.

Now, Flores is immersed in the Gainesville entrepreneurial scene. He’s a Project Manager at Onward Development, a web consulting and development firm for small businesses; he’s an Adjunct Instructor of Entrepreneurship at Santa Fe College; and he’s a curator for the Gainesville Startup Digest, an online resource displaying upcoming entrepreneurial events in Gainesville. He’s also involved with area non-profits GAINnet, Alachua County Emerging Leaders and Latin American Business Alliance.

“There’s something about Gainesville that I love,” Flores said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the startup community, and leaving this network would have been very hard. If I want to meet someone, it takes just talking to two or three people and I’ll get an introduction. I think that’s very unique to Gainesville, and it’s very valuable.”

Like Flores, many of the city’s top entrepreneurs are MSE grads who chose to develop their businesses right here in Gainesville. Cabidor’s Chris Tassin (MSE ’08), RoomSync’s Rob Castellucci (BSBA ’07, MSE ’08), Invivo’s David Molyneaux (MSE ’11), Bosshardt Realty’s Carol Bosshardt (MSE ’05), and the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research’s David Demosthenes (BSBA ’07, MSE ’08) all still call Gainesville home.