Bobby Cortes, BSW Program Admissions and Recruitment Coordinator, Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work and Family Science
Bobby Cortes, BSW Program Admissions and Recruitment Coordinator, Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work and Family Science

Bobby Cortes knows what it’s like to juggle work, school and life with little sleep. A 2015 graduate of the University of Louisville Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work and Family Science, Cortes is now bringing his years of experience in the social work field back to UofL, encouraging the next generation of social work students.

After working for a decade with youth and their families as a site supervisor for school-based services at the local non-profit Family and Children’s Place, Cortes, 33, joined the Kent School staff in October 2023 as the Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BSW) Program Admissions and Recruitment Coordinator.

First-Gen student success
A first-generation student, Cortes grew up in Oldham County in a family that valued education.

“My mom was one of only two of the six kids in her family who completed high school, and my dad was an immigrant from Mexico who completed the ninth grade,” said Cortes. “My parents were both laborers, and they were breaking their backs and coming home late at night, and they just didn’t want that same burden for their kids; they didn’t want that life for us.”

Each year, over a third of UofL’s first-year students are first-generation. To support this growing population, UofL joined the Center for First-Generation Student Success First Scholars program, which helps universities share data, model innovations and scale impact to advance student outcomes. Since 2019, these efforts have contributed to a 3% increase in first-to-second-year retention for first-gen students.

Finding a supportive environment at UofL
Cortes attended other colleges briefly before transferring to Louisville, where he found a niche he didn’t expect for a “guy who grew up in Oldham County on a horse farm. The only time I came to Louisville as a kid was to go to Kentucky Kingdom or the rodeo,” he said. “So, for me to go to this city and feel as comfortable as I did is a testament to everything, all the work they did to help me, not only at Kent school but at UofL, in general.”

Cortes said the University of Louisville felt personal and was responsive to his needs, including helping him balance academics with working night shifts at UPS and fulfilling his practicum hours.

“My advisors, the staff and the professors that I worked with looked out for me as an individual,” he said. “They supported me through my journey as a nontraditional student, and were able to meet me where I was…that made me feel like more than a number or just the next student coming through. They get to know me as a whole person.”

The path to success wasn’t always a smooth one for Cortes, and there were times when things were tough, and he felt too exhausted to go on. He relied on his family for moral and emotional support, and on his UofL family, as well. 

“I remember thinking there’s no way I can squeeze in the time to write this 10-page paper and then study for this exam and read those four chapters,” he said. “There was no downtime, and I felt like I was on autopilot for the better part of those years.”

But the memories of those times ultimately made the achievement sweeter.

“It makes me feel incredibly accomplished in a way that I really can’t describe. I knew that I wanted it, but I also knew I was really going to have to work for it,” he said.

New role creates new opportunities to serve
After receiving his BSW degree, Cortes worked as a youth social worker in the Louisville community. Now, in his new career as an admissions and recruitment coordinator at UofL, he’s come full-circle and is preparing the next generation of social workers to make a difference.

“I’m now in this position, advocating for my students and providing resources, counseling, sometimes crisis management,” he said. “They all have unique circumstances and backgrounds, and even though every situation is different, I feel I was once in their shoes. I really want to pay that forward for more UofL students,” said Cortes.

Cortes says he also hopes to help grow the Kent School, encouraging others to pursue a social work degree, noting the importance of addressing mental health.

“As professionals, we need to grow and advocate for mental health and talk about it as plainly as you would a physical injury,” said Cortes. “Nobody has any problem going to the doctor with a sprained wrist, but you might be hesitant to say you’re really feeling uneasy and need to go talk to somebody about it.”

Bobby Cortes treasures the messages from former families and students about things he has taught them and the impact it’s had on their lives. “For example, they’ve told me something we did together framed their thinking in a different way,” said Cortes. “I really, really love those kinds of a-ha moments.”

He’s looking forward to more of those a-ha moments in his new role with aspiring social workers.  

March is National Social Work month. Click here to find out more about Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work and Family Science.