Robert E. Cortes ’22Ed.D.

Robert Cortes on commencement stage with Dean Holmes and University employee

Doctoral Graduate Overcomes Challenges to Earn Degree

Robert E. Cortes ’22Ed.D., Outreach Coordinator for Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), decided it was time to go back to school after earning his bachelor’s degree from Hunter College, and his master’s degree from Columbia University School of Social Work. Between earning his last degree and beginning his studies at St. John’s University, 17 years had passed.

“An opportunity presented itself through a doctoral cohort initiative created between BMCC and St. John’s University,” he explained. “As a BMCC staff member, I had a chance to work with my colleagues and study in the doctoral program in The School of Education at St. John’s.”

Dr. Cortes graduated with a Doctor of Education degree in Administration and Supervision at The School of Education Commencement ceremony on May 17. For his dissertation, “The Stereotype Threat Experiences of Men of Color Persisting at Community College,” he explored factors affecting the graduation, persistence, and retention rates of men of color attending community college. 

“St. John’s gave me the tools, skills, and knowledge to conduct high-quality research,” he said.

During his time at St. John’s, Dr. Cortes experienced a number of unexpected challenges. In addition to his duties at BMCC, he had an infant son, and his wife was expecting their second child, who was born during his studies.

The COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, and Dr. Cortes lost his father on March 26 of that year. “He died over the course of three days with no hospital visit, wake, and funeral allowed. It was the darkest time of my life,” he recalled.

During this difficult period, Dr. Cortes was heartened by his St. John’s experience. Ultimately, challenges posed by the pandemic and juggling full-time work with family responsibilities were overcome through the supportive cohort model and advisors in The School of Education, Dr. Cortes stressed.

“As a student, I genuinely felt a sense of kindness and respect from everyone I interacted with in the St. John’s community—and that included professors, administrators, staff, and Public Safety officers.”

In 2021, Dr. Cortes slowly began rising from the darkness of losing his father and continued work on his dissertation, which he successfully defended in March. He made special mention of his dissertation committee, which included Catherine C. DiMartino, Ph.D.,  Associate Professor, Administrative and Instructional LeadershipAndré McKenzie, Ph.D., Vice Provost and Interim Chief Diversity Officer, and Adjunct Associate Professor in The School of Education, and Ceceilia Parnther, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Administrative and Instructional Leadership, whom he called “my biggest advocate, supporter, and role model.”

One of three recipients of the 2022 Dr. Gene Geisert Outstanding Dissertation Award from The School of Education, Dr. Cortes said, “Through coursework, wonderful professors, current social justice issues, and the shifting political climate—as well as my own academic experiences across my lifetime—my topic emerged.”

He added, “I want to continue being a servant leader who creates genuine connections with students, staff, and colleagues while inspiring others to achieve wonderful things and recognize their full potential. I am committed to student success from a holistic perspective and hope to accomplish my own aspirations in roles of leadership.”