Dr. Carlos Cortez grew up in Connecticut and part of a family he says worked hard for everything they had.
"I didn't realize I was lower class or working class as a child because my daily life was pretty good tight family large Puerto Rican family, my parents are both Puerto Rican by origin ," said Cortez.
His parents prioritized education, and he quickly discovered, so did he.
He went on to get a bachelor's and master's degree and then while pursuing his doctorate, decided to take a break and joined Teach for America, working with students in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood.
"I realized first hand the disparity in opportunities we provide students from particular communities so that's when I found my calling," Cortez explained.
Teaching has been in his life ever since, eventually bringing him out to the west coast where he worked in several schools in Los Angeles and then turned his sights towards the community college system.
"It really was the opportunity to help with systemic change that would create opportunities for underserved populations that's inspired me and driven me and motivated me to do this work," said Cortez.
In 2015, he accepted a job with the San Diego Community College District and then last summer he was offered the role of chancellor.
"I have to pinch myself sometimes. This is a dream opportunity for me and really not so much for me but because of the difference I can make in this role," Dr. Cortez said.
The district includes San Diego City College, San Diego Mesa College, San Diego Miramar College, and the San Diego College of Continuing Education.
With an annual enrollment of roughly 100,000 students, the district is one of the largest in California.
A diverse population, that Dr. Cortez believes deserves every opportunity available.
'I believe that when one acts and operates from a position of empathy we try to check our own biases and prejudices and to go above and beyond and be generous in our interpretations of the experiences of other people," Cortez said.
He's open about who he is and knows that might help him connect with others.
"I'm queer, I'm binary, I'm Latino, I come from working class roots, in many ways I can identify with some of the obstacles our students have encountered but I've also been very fortunate and blessed."
Which is why Dr. Cortez says he also feels compelled to give back, through a lens focused on equity, inclusion and social justice.
"There will always be individuals who are less fortunate than others but its our job as an educational system to try when and where possible to ensure that all students have an equal shot."