Alumni Newsletter

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ACCC Alum Heads to Ivy League; Reaches Out to Current Students

Miguel Cortes always knew he was a hard worker, but he never considered himself a scholar.

The Puerto Rico native scraped by at Egg Harbor Township High School and put off further education for a decade while he worked as a limo driver and waiter in Atlantic City.

Then something changed. Cortes, now 35, began pursuing his associate’s degree in computer information systems at ACCC, the first of a series of life-changing decisions he would make.

Miguel Cortes

Miguel Cortes

“It was only seven years ago I was working as a waiter with no college education. Now to have the opportunity to attend Princeton University in the fall, it does blow my mind to think about it,” he said.

Cortes earned his associate’s degree in 2002 and transferred to Drexel University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 2005. Acceptance into a prestigious training program led Cortes to a job as a technology analyst at Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development in Raritan. “I attribute my education and career achievements to ACCC setting a good foundation. There are good faculty members who guided me along,” he said. “In high school I was a so-so student, but I graduated ACCC with a 4.0 GPA and was able to get scholarships to pay for my education.”

It’s through his position at Johnson & Johnson and as a member of ACCC’s Board of Trustees Minority Affairs Committee that Cortes hopes to give students like himself a step up.

“One thing I noticed going to ACCC is that there is not a lot of involvement with major companies because they reach out to students at four-year colleges who are closer to graduating,” Cortes said. To combat that, he founded the Minorities in Science and Technology program to encourage Hispanic and African-American students to pursue careers in these fields where minority representation is low.

Cortes plans to invite 200 New Jersey community college students to Johnson & Johnson this fall for a day of workshops with senior executives. He presented his plan to ACCC’s Minority Affairs Committee this spring and will work with the college to identify about 30 students from here to participate. “It’s something I wish I had the opportunity to do when I was there,” Cortes said.

In addition to starting this outreach program, his job at Johnson & Johnson and lecturing across the country, Cortes plans to begin classes this fall at Princeton University, where he will pursue a master’s degree in engineering.

What I lack in natural ability I make up for in dedication. I really think that is how I've been able to achieve what I have," he said.

That is the message Cortes brings when he speaks about his personal experiences as a guest lecturer at high schools and colleges or with the students he mentors in his local school district.

“The primary motive for the work I do is that someone will hear my story and be motivated,” Cortes said.

Cortes returns to Atlantic County frequently to visit his parents, Pedro and Nora, in Egg Harbor Township, and for charity events like last year’s MS-150, a 100-mile bike ride round-trip from Hammonton to Ocean City to raise funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.