Director of Higher Education Services Earns National Recognition

The doors had just been unlocked, the curtains raised, and the lights turned on during a chilly Southern California winter morning at NAC 1. Maria Cortes, Director of Higher Education Services, was performing her usual routine of checking emails when she received the news of a lifetime. “I was getting ready to meet with the Higher Ed Team when I opened up an email sent the night before by Maria Furtado, Executive Director at Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL).” The message brought with it a wave of shock and excitement. “Am I getting nominated? Or, am I receiving an award?” That was exactly what was going on in Cortes’s head as she was overcome by a surge of emotions. “I re-read the email to make sure I had it right before I realized I had been awarded.” She had been chosen as one of the recipients of the 2016 Counselors That Change Lives Award, the first time Cortes was recognized at the national level.
The Counselors That Change Lives Award is only granted to 8 high school counselors nationwide every year. Its recipients are recognized as counselors who have adopted CTCL ideals, “Helping students frame their search beyond the ratings and rankings to find a college that provides the foundation for a successful and fulfilling life.” Loren Pope, retired New York Times education editor and journalist, carefully analyzed 42 colleges and wrote a book to dispel popularly held myths and he challenged conventional wisdom about choosing the best college to attend. The book, with the same name as the organization, inspired the colleges and universities mentioned inside to work together to promote this philosophy. Colleges That Change Lives, Inc. was formally organized in 1998, independent of Lauren Pope and his publisher.
“Receiving an award of this gravity means a lot to me. It brings with it a lot of positivity because I devote so much of my time to the students, and getting recognized on the national level is pretty amazing,” said Cortes, fighting back tears of joy. “To me, this award is not only a reflection of my work, but the dedication the staff at the NAC have to help students.” Maria’s willingness to spread such recognition reflects greatly on her humble and charitable personality.
On any given day at the NAC, it isn’t unusual to find Maria congratulating scholars on their accomplishments. “I am very proud of you” and “I know you can do it” are just a couple phrases Cortes has in her arsenal to encourage students to overcome boundaries and succeed wherever in the world they may be.
When asked what aspect of her duties she likes the most, she responded, “One of my favorite aspects in my role is reading their personal statements because it brings forth a different dynamic.” Cortes continued, “It gives me a window of opportunity to understand where they come from.”
The college application process can be confusing to students who are new to this phase in their search for an institution of higher learning. Students have to balance the workload that comes with their senior year of high school along with college applications, scholarships, and understanding financial aid. Because of this, the NAC’s Higher Education team is always working closely with scholars, mentoring them every step of the way. With the focused leadership of Maria Cortes, scholars have been granted acceptance to prestigious national and international institutions.
Our NAC scholars have graduated from and/or attend 10 of the 42 CTCL Schools. In alphabetical order, those colleges are: Allegheny College, Birmingham-Southern College, Denison University, Hampshire College, Hope College, Juniata College, Kalamazoo College, Knox College, Saint Mary’s College, and Wabash College.

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