picture of alum Vicente Cortez
Vicente Cortez (photo by SBVC student Laura Oliver) 

As an impressionable young middle school student in 2004, Vicente Cortez experienced a 4th of July that year that would change the trajectory of his life forever as one of his schoolmates was chased down and shot in a gang-related drive-by shooting.

“When I saw one of my friends die right in front of me, I knew this wasn’t the life for me and I needed to make my own path because I didn’t want to fall into that category,” Vicente said.

Vicente Cortez experienced many of the challenges that came with having friends in gangs and family members who weren’t aware of the importance of education.

“I knew I didn’t want to end up dying in front of my parents or risking my family members going to jail and decided to go my own way. Even today, I see some of those same friends who have criminal records and have spent time in jail. They have a lot of nice things, but for all the wrong reasons.”


As he navigated the challenging teenage years, Vicente eventually ended up attending Middle College High School, the award-winning program on the campus of San Bernardino Valley College where students take college courses in the morning and high school classes in the afternoon. After a friend told him about the field of psychiatric technology, Vicente got a head start in the SBVC Psychiatric Technician program by completing all of his pre-requisites before receiving his high school diploma in 2009.

“When my friend first told me about the Psych Tech Program, I didn’t even know what it was,” Cortez admitted. “I was on my own—from studying and reading to learning how to do research. Nobody around me had any knowledge about the health care field either, so I had to figure out how to relate to things and find examples beyond the textbooks,” Vicente shared.

Vicente persevered even though he entered the intensive program as one of the youngest students (age 18) and initially felt the pressure of high expectations.

“The program was hard—and, considering that I was young, I think some people didn’t expect me to follow through and thought I might fail,” Vicente said. “But the professors were awesome and I used all of that doubt to prove everybody wrong. I knew that as long as you have a heart for what you want to do, you can do whatever you want.”

Vicente graduated from SBVC’s Psychiatric Technician Ceremony in August 2011, immediately passed his certification exams, and has begun applying for positions at local hospitals and mental health facilities. As the first in his family (and his extended family) to graduate from college, Vicente understands the critical role he plays in being an example for his younger siblings who are age 15 and 9.

“I’ve tried to set the bar high so that they can reach it and aim to go higher,” Cortez said. “My parents left Mexico to live here and provide a better opportunity for our family. They did their part to give us a better future. And my way of thanking them for that is to have a career and do what I can do to make them happy and help them.”


Vicente’s heart for psychiatric technology is evidenced by his desire to eventually become a psychiatric nurse where he can help people who are lost by getting to know their stories. While completing the required clinical trainings at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, Vicente encountered a patient who had been admitted because of drug abuse and was hearing voices and seeing things.

“I saw how people started working with him and he got better. He came in swinging, spitting and everything, and now he is under control and is back out in the world after getting help,” Vicente said. “I experienced that change and saw what a difference I could make.”

At only 20 years of age, Vicente already has an attractive résumé for employers to consider: A college degree, completed certifications, significant volunteer experience in a technical health care field, and fluency in Spanish. Vicente’s hope is that his skill set will be a differentiator when hiring decisions are made at hospitals and mental health facilities.

“I’ve had a tough life, but I know that life doesn’t stop for anybody. I live by day by day and keep pursuing what I want to do,” Vicente shared. “I’ll volunteer or do whatever I have to do and wherever there is a job for me out there, that’s where I’m going to go,” Vicente said.