Former Achievement Connections Coordinator Continues to Combat Opportunity Gaps in Higher Education

As a first-generation college student at UW–Madison, Jose Torres often felt at home in the Red Gym. He spent a lot of time in the multicultural center in the upstairs portion of the UW–Madison Armory and Gymnasium.

But it wasn’t until after he graduated that he realized a whole other world was housed within the Red Gym — one that would directly shape his future in nonprofit work.

Jose Torres, former Achievement Connections campus coordinator

“I never made my way to the Morgridge Center, which was right next to those stairs that everyone goes up [to the Multicultural Center],” he says. “And so for me that was really nice to be able to sit in that office and know there’s more to the Red Gym.”

Torres graduated from UW–Madison in the summer of 2015 and joined AmeriCorps. After working with City Year in Chicago for one year, Torres made his way back to Madison and the Red Gym through a job opening at the Morgridge Center.

He became the campus coordinator for Achievement Connectionsa tutoring partnership between United Way of Dane County and AmeriCorps that pairs UW–Madison students with high schoolers in the area. 

Achievement Connections was only in its second year when Torres arrived, which he says was a formative experience for him and led him to continue a career in recruitment after he finished AmeriCorps. 

“I was very lucky to be part of a growing program and just learn a lot about it,” he says. “It was really nice for me to be able to set a foundation or an additional layer to what was already being established for the program in terms of volunteer recruitment and what that process looked like.”

Following his time at the Morgridge Center, Torres landed a fulltime job with City Year as a recruiter on the UW campus, where he continued working alongside the Morgridge Center for five years. 

He now works as a recruiter for a nonprofit called Braven, which is a professional development organization that hosts fellowships for underrepresented students such as first-generation college students, students from low-income backgrounds and students of color.

Torres grew up in an immigrant family, and as the eldest child, he had to learn a lot of things for himself about higher education. 

Jose Torres Public Service Fair
Jose tabling for City Year at the 2017 Fall Public Service Fair.

“I had support from my counselors and stuff like that, but within my own family, I had no one to really guide me,” he says.

Torres came to UW–Madison after he was awarded a Posse Scholarship — one of the most comprehensive college access, diversity and leadership development programs in the U.S. 

He says this scholarship opened his eyes to a lot of the shortcomings in the public school system that failed many of his peers. Posse helped him understand the impact of achievement gaps and the structural barriers that impacted his former classmates’ ability to make it to college. 

When he came to UW–Madison, he originally wanted to be a veterinarian. But Posse changed his perspective and made him want to address achievement gaps through nonprofit work.

“Everything just shifted for me where I’m like, I really want to do more things that are more meaningful that are going to have an impact on people’s lives,” he says. “And I have been able to do that through the nonprofit organizations that I’ve worked with and working at the Morgridge Center.”

While he found his calling through recruiting for nonprofits, he says there are ways for everyone to actively engage in ending achievement gaps. 

Whether it is volunteering through programs like the Morgridge Center’s Badger Volunteers or getting involved with a long-term program like AmeriCorps, Torres says UW students have the power to make an impact.

“There are many different ways to take action,” he says. “And it might feel small, because a lot of the problems also stem from systemic issues, but you can make a difference in at least one person, and I’ve seen that with the students that I’ve worked with.”