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SSA Centennial Celebration
Profiles of Distinction Series

Robert Cordero, A.M. 1997

Deputy Director for Operations, Harlem United

“SSA laid the foundation for my career, and gave me the tools necessary for meeting the challenges I now face on a daily basis,” said Robert Cordero, as he spoke enthusiastically about his experience at SSA. “I went into the program a little apprehensive about how a Puerto Rican kid, from Humboldt Park with a public school education, would fare at the renowned University of Chicago. The answer came as I received my degree and realized that, as SSA had challenged me at every step, I had met the challenges thanks to an involved faculty, and a program that was geared to the problems of the 21st century.”

Mr. Cordero recently joined Harlem United as its inaugural Deputy Director for Operations. In this position, he helps to launch new initiatives, manage growth, and raise funds to address the AIDS epidemic and homelessness in Harlem. He currently resides in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood.

Previously, he served as Vice President for Development and Government Relations for the New York-based Housing Works, Inc. — the largest minority-controlled community AIDS service and advocacy program in the country. “I want to make a difference, and not just move paper or talk endlessly about what could be. SSA taught me not to be afraid to take risks, and not to go for shortcuts. My professors kept me grounded as we looked at every aspect of the policies that affect people and communities. I am still in touch with some faculty, and, one in particular, Dr. Waldo Johnson (Waldo E. Johnson, Jr., Ph.D.), who continues to be an invaluable mentor.”

“The faculty works very hard to make the SSA experience a very positive one. There were the small class sizes, and the ongoing opportunities to interact with faculty that resulted in more individual attention. I always felt a part of each class, and appreciated that courses could be tailored to my specific interests. I was also actively involved in the Latino Student Association on campus.”

Before enrolling at SSA, Mr. Cordero worked as an organizer and public health official in Chicago and Los Angeles, and was a teacher in the Chicago Public School System for four years. During his time in the classroom, he observed firsthand the extent to which social problems were hurting many of his students. Eager to make a difference, he began to research schools of social work. SSA’s estimation in the field and among its alumni made the decision to attend the School, an easy one.

“SSA’s strong curriculum in research and public policy was a deciding factor in my decision to apply. I was rewarded from day one. My SSA experience opened up my career, and ten years later I am confident in the knowledge that I am making a difference.”

In 2005, Mr. Cordero was invited to the University of Chicago campus to speak at the SSA hooding ceremony at Rockefeller Chapel. His talk, “Social Work Power,” encouraged the class to “be an influential advocate in whatever path you follow throughout your social work career. You have received a world class education here at SSA that will project you into a future in which you will influence the policies and programs that impact the people and communities we serve.”
Edith Abbott Photo

Robert Cordero, A.M. 1997