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Howling Success

Howling Success: Caston Reaves II

Howling Success returns, featuring a student whose experiences with the Black Male Initiative have led him towards a career path in education.

Caston Reaves poses with his Howling Success banner in front of a model plane outside Engineering Building III on Centennial Campus.
Caston Reaves poses with his Howling Success banner in front of a model plane outside Engineering Building III on Centennial Campus.

Caston Reaves II came to NC State as a first-year student envisioning a future career in engineering. Fast forward 2.5 years, and the future he sees for himself has taken on a different shape, one that involves teaching and mentorship. 

Since spring 2023, Reaves II, a third-year student studying mechanical engineering, has served as a village mentor for the Black Male Initiative (BMI), a Living and Learning Village housed in Avent Ferry Complex that offers Black male students a safe space where they can develop professionally, academically and personally. 

“Our mission is to try and build community,” Reaves II said. “As a Black male on this campus, it’s very hard to find that. So the Black Male Initiative and I as a mentor try to push that forward and make that community as much as possible.” 

Our mission is to try and build community.

BMI’s capitals are aspirational, navigational, social and cultural, as the program tries to help Black male students navigate every aspect of college life. 

Reaves II reflected on the opportunities he’s had and the friendships he’s made through BMI, including with alums who still come back to visit. 

From left: Quashon Bunch, the Black Male Initiative program director and associate director of the African American Cultural Center, Babilla Fondinka, Caston Reaves II, Jalen Hampton and Jameco McKenzie, director of the Multicultural Student Affairs.

“I believe it’s very important,” Reaves II said. “Sometimes you feel lost, and that’s not the point of why you come to college. For me, BMI was another place I could call family. They’ve given me the resources I need to go through college a lot easier than I could have ever expected with the friendships I’ve made.”

BMI was another place I could call family.

Reaves II joined BMI as a second-year student and said he wished he’d had that community to lean on in his first year at NC State. 

Now, he can take pride in ensuring younger Black male students have the necessary resources and support. 

Caston Reaves II speaks to Babilla Fondinka, one of his mentees in the Black Male Iniative.

“Having my mentees or members of BMI come sit down and talk to me about what’s going on in their lives, being able to find comfort in talking to me is always rewarding,” Reaves II said. “It doesn’t matter what the conversation is or what it’s about. I feel like when people need me or decide to use me as a resource, that’s my reward from it.” 

Quashon Bunch took over as the program director of BMI at the start of the 2024 spring semester, but worked under the previous director Jameco McKenzie, for the past year and a half, getting to know Reaves II and watching him develop as a leader. 

For the program’s leadership, having a peer mentor like Reaves II who is familiar with campus and can foster a sense of belonging for Black male students is invaluable. 

“Caston has demonstrated great leadership skills with his peers,” Bunch said. “He takes the initiative to get things done. He’s also very informed as far as current events and trends, especially trends that directly impact African American students on campus. So he does a great job of bringing some of those current events, trends and challenges to the job, so he is able to promote and advocate for other members in BMI and his community .”

Reaves II knew well before exploring his college options that he wanted to pursue engineering. Before starting high school, he attended a summer engineering program, and, in a booklet he received, marked aerospace engineering as a field he wanted to pursue. 

For Reaves II, a native of Virginia, getting accepted into an engineering school like NC State was a dream come true. 

“It feels really good,” Reaves II said. “NC State was my number one choice because of the engineering school. So being able to get in and be around fellow engineers, it feels great. I’ve always had my ups and downs, but everybody has to go through ups and downs. But overall, seeing that letter come in saying that I got accepted, especially into the program that I wanted, it truly has made my hard work worth it.”

Over the past year, Reaves’ goals have changed, however. He’s switched from aerospace to mechanical engineering, and intends to pursue his master’s degree in that field. 

He also intends to pursue a doctorate in education, a decision that was solidified last summer when he spent a week mentoring high school students at NC State’s Emerging Scholars program. 

“I talked to my group of mentees and other people that were a part of the program,” Reaves said. “They said, ‘Caston, as much as you love engineering, you fit very well in education.’”

Reaves said working with those high school students made a lifelong impact on him, and hearing about his impact on them made him decide to pursue education. 

“We had our last day, and seeing them talk about me in a positive manner and how much I impacted them, it was truly eye-opening. I shed a couple tears, because it really meant a lot. I haven’t had that emotional connection to people, especially with the education aspect.” 

Seeing them talk about me in a positive manner and how much I impacted them, it was truly eye-opening.

That he has a future in education and mentorship after college might have come as a surprise for Reaves II, but not for those in the program that had a major impact on him in his time at NC State. 

“I think everything that he’s learning and has learned here in the Black Male Initiative, as well as other leadership roles on campus that he’s had, I think he’s going to be able to take it with him into his career,” Bunch said. “That’s going to make him a valuable asset in  the future once he steps into his career.” 

The Howling Success Award recognizes students for their outstanding work in campus leadership, community service, and other areas in the Division of Academic and Student Affairs. If you know a student you consider a Howling Success, nominate them here.