Carlos Cordero: ‘A degree that matters’

NEW CLASS, NEW FACES: They’ve built schools around the world, published books, conducted research and apprenticed in family businesses. This year’s incoming first-year class of 3,988 enrollees at UNC, coming from as far away as Singapore and as close to home as Chapel Hill, features award-winning scientists, artists, champion athletes – and the recipient of a Purple Heart. They are diverse. They are talented. They are hopeful. And this week, we meet five of them.

What do you do when you’ve reached the rank of Army staff sergeant early in your career? If you’re Carlos Cordero, 27, you go back to school to earn a degree that will help you reach your goal of becoming a commissioned officer.

Cordero, a native of Puerto Rico, will enter Carolina this fall as a transfer student from Fayetteville Technical Community College through the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program (C-STEP). Talented low- and moderate-income high school and community college students are guaranteed eventual admission to Carolina if they complete the C-STEP requirements.

Cordero has served in the Army for nine years, with deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas around the world, rising to his current rank of Staff Sergeant. In Afghanistan, he briefed his commanding officer daily on logistical requirements for Special Operations. He earned a Purple Heart for wounds he received during an enemy rocket attack in 2011 during the same deployment.

While deployed, Cordero was taking distance education classes in Afghanistan through the University of Maryland’s Europe Campus. When he returned to Fort Bragg, he continued his studies at Fayetteville Tech, where he earned an associate’s degree in arts.

“I want to earn a degree that matters, not only for its area of study, but that is also significant for the institution that granted it,” he said. “The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has everything I wished for — the curriculum, the history and the reputation. From the moment I began applying, great sense of pride grew in my heart.”

That pride swelled even more at Cordero’s very first UNC football game – one of the college experiences offered through C-STEP. When Carolina beat rival N.C. State in 2012, “the deal was sealed,” he said. “I would forever be a Tar Heel!”

At Carolina, Cordero will major in peace, war and defense in the College of Arts and Sciences with a minor in military science. He also plans to study a third language, possibly Russian. His goal is to become a military intelligence officer.

“My experiences in the Army are what have made me choose this area of study,” he said. “From my perspective, the world we live in is a brutal one, and I want to do my part in ensuring that our country continues to enjoy the freedoms that it does, and it continues to be shielded from its enemies the way it has been.”

The husband and father of five sons in Fayetteville will be relocating temporarily – another deployment, of a sort — to Chapel Hill while he works on his degree. He sees the pursuit of his college diploma as an integral part of service to his country.

“I hope that earning this degree will give me the qualifications I will need to one day work for one of the agencies that ensures our safety and defends our country from foreign and domestic enemies,” Cordero said. “Our way of life depends on the sacrifices of many, and I owe it to our country to join them in the fight.”

By Susan Hudson, Communications and Public Affairs

Photo courtesy of Carlos Cordero

Published August 11, 2014