Release Date: 
Wednesday, June 24, 2020

HawkPride: aspiring physician Cortes is Outstanding Biology Student of the Year

Rafael Cortes is one of two HFC students to be named Outstanding Biology Student of the Year. He will attend the University of Michigan this fall.
Rafael Cortes is one of two HFC students to be named Outstanding Biology Student of the Year. He will attend the University of Michigan this fall.

Rafael Cortes, a 2020 graduate of the Henry Ford Early College (HFEC), is one of two students to be named Outstanding Biology Student of the Year at HFC (the other student is John Jaranson). He also earned the HFC Outstanding Biology Student Award with a $500 prize.

“It is an immense honor to receive this recognition. Never did it occur to me that I would receive this award. I am grateful for this opportunity and would like to personally thank everyone who nominated me,” said Cortes, of Lincoln Park.

Every year, HFC’s Biology Department chooses two students for an Outstanding Biology Student of the Year award and scholarship. Students are chosen for their academic record in biology courses at the College, along with their leadership and service to the College.

HFEC graduate

The eldest of three siblings, Cortes earned his high school diploma through the HFEC, and also his associate degree in general science with a major in biology. He earned a second associate degree in liberal arts.

“Early College is a five-year program designed for students interested in the medical field. It combines high school and the first two years of college,” said Cortes. “We were fortunate enough to take college classes on the HFC campus alongside other College students.”

Currently, Cortes is doing healthcare research through the Community College Summer Fellowship Program (CCSFP), which is part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) at the University of Michigan (U-M) in Ann Arbor.

A rewarding experience

Cortes’ time at HFC was rewarding. He learned more than coursework from the College’s faculty and staff.

“Because of their advice and guidance, I was able to thrive here, not only academically, but also professionally. All of my instructors went above and beyond – they taught their courses with immense passion and made sure that their students were comprehending the material. They also taught us how to be good citizens in today's ever-changing world, whether it means going out and voting, or simply lending a hand to someone else,” he said.

Dr. Cheryl Garrett, an HFC biology professor, enjoyed having Cortes as her student.

"One of Rafael’s many strengths is his intellectual curiosity,” said Garrett. “He is not satisfied with a superficial understanding of scientific concepts, but prefers to delve deeply into course content and then apply what he has learned in various ways. These are the characteristics of a successful scientist and I have no doubt Rafael will make his mark in whatever field he chooses to pursue."

Message for fellow Hawks

Cortes takes great pride in having attended HFC, and won’t be shy about telling people that.

“As my time at HFC is coming to an end, I am happy to say that I will remember all the moments, I will cherish all of the memories I made here, and I will take with me the many lessons learned as I continue my journey in life. I am proud to say that I went to Henry Ford College, and I forever will be #HawkStrong.”

He also has a message to all current and future HFC students:

“Be proud of who you are and how far you have come,” said Cortes. “Take advantage of the wonderful resources that HFC offers, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. No one here expects you to do this on your own. Finally, if you have the chance to help others, especially younger people in terms of academics, please do so – it is a rewarding experience for both of you.”

The Hawk becomes a Wolverine

This fall, Cortes will attend U-M. He plans to double-major in neuroscience and psychology.

“Additionally, with everything going on – the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and recently revealed sexual assaults in my community – I have developed a stronger passion for fighting for justice and racial equality,” he said. “I now see that happenings in society can have a tremendous impact in the field of medicine. If time allows, I hope to minor in law, justice, and social change at U-M so that I can be better educated on these topics and have a good understanding of how I can help.”

Medical school aspirations

Cortes aspires to a career as a physician, specializing in emergency medicine. His dream school is to attend Stanford University Medical School. If accepted, he would like to enroll in Stanford’s MD/MPH program. After graduating from medical school, he wants to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders (DWB).

“DWB is one of those programs that has a significant impact in the lives of many people, especially in the marginalized and vulnerable communities,” he said. “Their core principles and values, along with what they do, really speak to me. I believe that everyone should have access to medical care and not worry about paying for it. With DWB, I will able to donate my abilities as a physician to provide care to those who really need it.”

Inspired by his sister

Cortes’ youngest sister Alejandra inspired him to become a doctor. When Alejandra was born, she was diagnosed with Type I Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a congenital condition that made her bones extremely fragile and easily susceptible to fractures.

“Her first year of life was difficult – she fractured fives bones, including the femur, which is normally the strongest bone in the body. My parents were constantly taking my sister to the hospital, feeling worried that she would be destined to experience life within a medical facility,” explained Cortes. “Nevertheless, the doctors that treated my sister alleviated our worries and gave us hope that things could only get better. Boy, were they right! This whole experience made me realize that I want to become a doctor, so that I can give back to my community and help others overcome their hardships, all the while letting them know that there is still hope.”