ACE Honors San Diego Community College’s Carlos O. Cortez With 2022 Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award
March 07, 2022

ACE announced today that Carlos O. Cortez, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD), is the recipient of the 2022 Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award.

The award is named in honor of Reginald Wilson, senior scholar emeritus at ACE and founding director of the Council's Office of Minority Concerns, and is presented annually to an individual who has made outstanding contributions and demonstrated sustained commitment to diversity in higher education. This award is sponsored by the University of California San Diego and was presented today at ACE2022, ACE's Annual Meeting in San Diego. 

ACE2022 Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award

Becky Petitt, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, University of California, San Diego; Carlos O. Cortez, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District and winner of the 2022 Wilson Diversity Award; ACE President Ted Mitchell; Gailda Davis, assistant vice president and chief of staff, ACE Learning and Engagement.

“Throughout his career as a teacher, principal, and higher education administrator, Carlos Cortez has been committed to equity, inclusion, and social justice,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell. “Working primarily with underserved, ethnically diverse student populations from low-income communities, he is a passionate leader and advocate for urban education reform. As higher education strives to create more equitable and just outcomes for all students, I can’t think of anyone better to receive this award.”

Before becoming chancellor of SDCCD in July 2021, Cortez served for six years as president of the San Diego College of Continuing Education (SDCCE), one of SDCCD’s four campuses. While there, he helped expand the San Diego Promise, which provides graduating high school seniors with a two-year college scholarship plus textbooks, to serve adult learners who complete programs at SDCCE, creating the only Promise program in California for low-income adult students. 

He also helped launch the San Diego Gateway to College and Career learning community serving students involved with the justice system, homeless students, former foster youth, and students with disabilities, through paid internships, counseling, grants, and scholarships. 

An important voice in statewide efforts to diversify the faculty and administrators who serve in the California community college system, Cortez is also regarded as a national champion for noncredit programming and the lead historian on adult education in the United States. In this regard, he champions the expansion of higher education opportunities for immigrants and refugees and other adult learners who lack foundational skills to continue their education. 

He is championing efforts to have City of San Diego and state officials designate the SDCCE’s flagship campus, the Educational Cultural Complex, as a civil rights landmark. Additionally, in support of the LGBTQ+ community, he has hosted a National Coming Out Day Speaker Series with SDCCE, and proudly continues to support, through San Diego Pride, scholarships for trans and non-binary youth. 

“I am deeply honored to receive the 2022 Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award,” said Cortez. “My father was a factory worker and union member who moved to Connecticut from Puerto Rico. My mother was a teacher of special education. Both emphasized the importance of education and giving back to our community. They instilled in me a deep commitment to promoting education as a pathway to opportunity.”

Cortez began his career in education as a Teach for America Corps member. His experience spans the public, private, and charter school sectors in Washington DC, Houston, New York City, Los Angeles, Berkeley, and San Diego. He received his bachelor's degree in history and sociology from Georgetown University; a master's degree in race and gender politics from New York University; and his PhD in education policy and administration from the University of Southern California. All three degrees focus on African American feminist political history.

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