Celebration Series – Joseline Cortez

Our Celebration Series is an opportunity to celebrate who we are as an organization.  As many of our alumni return to Houston for Thanksgiving, we want to take this opportunity to celebrate an alumna who embodies the YES Prep mission.  Joseline Cortez is a junior at Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania and a 2011 alumna of YES Prep. 
 
Last January in Italy, amidst eating great pizza and absorbing the culture, Joseline Cortez observed a striking trend – an abundance of Latin American immigrants throughout the city markets.  The observation drew her curiosity.
 
At the recommendation of her advisor at Washington and Jefferson College, Dr. Manzari, Cortez applied for a Magellan Project to further study Latin American immigration in both Italy and Spain.  After a lengthy application progress that included a personal statement, project plan, and budget, Cortez received approval. 
 
In June, she departed for a month-long trip that included visits to Madrid, Barcelona, and Florence, Italy.  While in each city, Cortez would spend her days in markets, easing into conversations with Latin and South American immigrants and uncovering the various reasons for their immigration to Europe.  She discovered that most immigrants came to Spain or Italy to find better jobs and to have a better life for their families.  Though, in certain conversations, she learned a harsh reality – some immigrants were victims of trafficking.
 
Cortez’s experience through the Magellan Project shaped her vision of the future. 
 
“Though we’re not required to continue with the research, I personally want to continue,” Cortez said.  “[The Magellan Project] doesn’t have to be related to one’s major, but I chose that, and it opened my eyes to what I want to do later in life.”
 
Cortez’s ambitions are as dynamic as her personality.  She plans to attend law school to pursue immigration law, a direct product of her experience through the Magellan Project.  However, she also wants to return to Houston to teach.
 
“I do want to come back and teach,” she said. “That has been one of my passions – just seeing all that YES Prep put into me.  I would like to do that for other students.”
 
Applying to the Peace Corps also makes Cortez’s top three list.
 
“I would love, love, love to go into the Peace Corp!” she exclaimed.  “One of those three will work out.”
 
In celebrating Cortez, it is easy, and appropriate, to give accolades for her obvious accomplishments.  Yet, perhaps even more significant is her persistence through college, particularly one that is 1,300 miles away from home. 
 
Though Cortez is flourishing at W&J, she readily admitted that the adjustment to college, to campus life, and to living far from home proved difficult. 
 
“It was really tough my freshman year,” she said.  “I lived my whole life in Texas – warm weather, sunny…family really close.  Taking that step and going to college my freshman year at 18 years of age – it was really tough.”
 
Cortez acknowledged that her biggest obstacle freshman year was her independence – not reaching out to her professors.
 
“I had to get out of my shell and reach out to people – other students, professors, whatever aid that was around – I had to reach out,” she said.   “As soon as I started doing that, as soon as I got more comfortable with the professors, I was just fine.  I was stubborn and self-reserved.  That’s not the way to go in college!”
 
In addition to the support she received from her professors, Cortez found encouragement from Al Newell, vice president of enrollment at W&J.
 
“He always checks up on us – the YES Prep kids.  He sets up a dinner with us and has us over to his house,” Cortez said.  “He always says, ‘I’m here for you.’”
 
W&J is one of 25 colleges and universities in formal partnership with YES Prep through the IMPACT Partnership Program, a program designed to provide the financial, academic, and emotional supports students from low-income communities often need in order to be successful in college.
 
Today, Cortez is majoring in International Studies and Spanish with a Communication-Arts minor.  She is part of the Latino Culture Association, a Spanish tutor, and a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority.  She has two jobs on campus: catering for the school dining hall and serving as a Visitor Services assistant at the office of Admission.  She is also a Student Ambassador.
 
For Cortez, the support she received from her peers, teachers, and the staff at YES Prep enriched her experience and opened doors that led her to where she is today.  She cited going to Brazil for a summer opportunity and AP classes as critical to her success in college. 
 
She reflected on the individuals who impacted her most with gratitude.
 
“Mr. Brandenburg – he opened up my passion of photography, film, and the communication area,” Cortez said.  “Ms. Walter – she was my college counselor.  She provided me the opportunity – opened the door – for me to do a foreign exchange in Brazil.  Cristina Muñoz – She was just a person I could always talk to – whether class related or social.  [She] always motivated me to do my best.”
 

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