NACAC shared some big news with its members earlier this month.
After a year-long search, the association selected its next chief executive officer. Angel B. Pérez, currently the vice president for enrollment and student success at Trinity College (CT), will assume his new position at NACAC on July 15. He succeeds Joyce E. Smith, who is retiring after more than 30 years with the association.
1: College admission is more than a job for Pérez — it’s a passion.
“One of the reasons I actually do the work I do now and why I’m so passionate about it was because I truly believe that a high school counselor and an admissions officer changed my life,” Pérez said.
Although he always loved learning, college attendance wasn’t a forgone conclusion. Neither of his parents had attended college and his New York City high school was known more for its gang violence than its academic profile.
But a counselor at his high school was impressed by the professionalism he demonstrated as a peer mediator, and a rep from Skidmore College (NY) helped him envision what a liberal arts education could offer.
“Even though the only reality I knew was Puerto Rico and the South Bronx, there was something deep down inside of me that I knew I wanted to live a different life,” Pérez said. “…I saw how difficult life was for my parents and I wanted to make sure that I sort of took advantage of them bringing me to the US (to) get as educated as possible.”
2: His time at Skidmore set the course for his future and helped him more clearly understand the complexities surrounding college access and success.
“My mind was blown by college…I did become a really different person,” shared Pérez.
The former Fulbright Scholar earned his bachelor’s degree at Skidmore, majoring in social work and government. He went on to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University (NY), a doctorate from Claremont Graduate University (CA), and a Teaching Certification in Higher Education Pedagogy from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University (MA).
Those experiences — particularly his undergraduate years — also offered Pérez a powerful perspective into what it means to “make it” as a first-gen, low-income, student of color.
“The people around you look very different, sound very different, have a different knowledge base than you,” he said. “…You end up navigating these two very, very different worlds…and you have to be really strong emotionally to really manage that.”
“It’s one of the reasons I have such deep levels of empathy for the students who are making those transitions today,” he added.
3: Pérez likes to joke that he never left college, having worked in higher education for the past 22 years.
He also has great respect for the counselors, admission professionals, and others who help students navigate the college admission process.
During his How I Got Into College interview, Pérez referred to college admission counselors as “chief storytellers.”
“They are the ones with their words—and, yes, sometimes really beautiful brochures—that tell the story of what life could be like on a particular college campus.” For Pérez, the effect was like “painting a picture” of a place he didn’t know existed, but was almost instantly drawn to.
4: He has big ideas about how to make the admission process better and is eager to learn more from NACAC members.
Pérez shared his support of test optional admission policies during his chat with podcast host David Whelan. He also talked passionately about the need to simplify the FAFSA. But his first actions as NACAC’s top executive will involve soliciting member feedback, Pérez said.
“I think a big part of how you begin is by listening and really understanding and respecting the history of the organization,” he said. “…NACAC is a really complicated organization. It has over 15,000 members. It has affiliate organizations all over the country and internationally as well.”
Pérez wants to hear from members from all those various segments as he plots a future course for the association.
5: Pérez is proud of his work with NACAC so far and is eager to tackle the host of challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis.
Pérez, a longtime NACAC member, is currently finishing up his appointment as chair of the association’s Ad Hoc Committee on Leadership in College Admission. The group will issue a report to the board of directors this summer that examines what NACAC will look like in 2030.
“I think this is an incredible moment, in our history—in the world’s history—but it’s also an incredible moment in college access in the United States. Colleges and universities right now are in a really tough place, but I do think there is no better time than now to bring people together to think about what the future will look like and to fight for the issues that we care about the most,” Pérez said.
Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.