Jamari Cortez (’19) grew up in the “forgotten borough” of Staten Island, New York. Living in such a diverse community made it easy for him to relate to other people, helping drive his desire to mentor and work harder for the opportunities he has been given. He is currently a project manager for Cisco Systems, Inc., a gig he secured prior to graduation after attending an event held by the company for African American students. In his off-time, he continues to explore his passion for DJing on the side.
Throughout his time at UNC-Chapel Hill, Jamari found time to mentor students through Project Uplift, and broaden his knowledge by studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea. Both of these experiences help shape his view of diversity and lead him on a path for success.
How would you describe where you grew up?
I grew up on the north shore of Staten Island, New York. Often referred to as the forgotten borough, Staten Island can be described as being segregated. Affluent people live on the South Shore while those who aren’t as fortunate live on the North Shore. My neighborhood is Mariners Harbor, which is home to one of the many public housing projects on Staten Island.
How did your identity shape your approach to diversity work?
As a Black and Puerto Rican male from New York City, diversity wasn’t talked about that much because we lived it. I always had friends of different ethnicities, races and backgrounds, which made it easier to relate to other people in college.
What were some of the highlights working with the University Office of Diversity & Inclusion and what were some of the challenges?
One of the best experiences I ever had was working as an Activity Counselor for Project Uplift. The challenging part was getting selected to be a part of the program but I was able to participate my last two years at UNC. I enjoyed providing the guidance and knowledge I never received as a high school student.
What was your major at UNC and how did you choose it?
Surprisingly, I changed my major five times while at UNC. The first four were Biology, Biomedical Engineering, B.S. Computer Science and B.A. Computer Science. I finally decided to complete two degrees in Information Science and Communications with a Media and Technology concentration. I chose these two majors because I loved the field of technology and wanted to use my interpersonal skills to really make a change.
Can you describe your role as a Project Uplift counselor?
As a Project Uplift counselor, I would describe myself as a mentor and life coach to the participants I came in contact with. One of the goals of Project Uplift is to encourage students to pursue higher education but I believed there was much more to that. I enjoyed getting to know students, hearing their stories, seeing what areas in their lives they wanted to grow in and provide them with any resources that would help them reach their success.
Did you participate in any internships throughout your undergraduate career? If so, what were they, and how did they help get you to where you are now?
I never had an internship in undergrad; however, I did study abroad in Seoul, South Korea the summer of my junior year. I studied Corporate Communications and Communication Management Strategies at Sungkyunkwan University and one key thing I learned was that you are able to connect and communicate with people despite not speaking the same language.
How did your current job at Cisco present itself?
I began applying to jobs the summer before my senior year. It wasn’t until March 2019 that I was presented the opportunity to work at Cisco. I attended HBCU Day at Cisco with UNC students in MBSA and BIT. The day consisted of mock interviews, a resume workshop and a tour of the facilities. During my mock interview, my interviewer was impressed by my resume and interview skills and encouraged me to apply for the Project Manager position they had available. The following week, I had my first-round interview. The week after that, I had my final round interview. During Spring Break, I was in my room studying and received an email containing my offer letter from the company.
Can you describe your roles and responsibilities within Cisco?
Being a project manager at Cisco, I am the lead for different technical projects for the company. The projects consist of working with engineers to deliver services or products to different customers. I am responsible for scheduling meetings, creating timelines and overall being the lead liaison between Cisco and the customers to complete a project as efficiently as possible.
I always had a passion for music. I got my first guitar when I was two years old from my grandfather who always brought me to the studio as a kid Also, I’ve always been known for making playlists and I never realized how extensive they were until someone pointed it out.
I took “The Art and Culture of DJing” at UNC the fall of my junior year but it mainly focused on the history of DJing as opposed to the practical use of it. In my senior year, I bought my first DJ controller and downloaded Serato DJ onto my laptop. I decided to teach myself how to DJ for fun since I had more time on my hands. I started out DJing house parties and small gatherings with friends but one night, one of my friends called me and asked if I was busy. He told me that he was setting up his equipment to DJ a huge back to school party but his laptop fell off the platform and shattered. Immediately, I packed up my equipment and drove to the venue. I never DJ’d in front of a huge crowd but I plugged in my controller and started spinning. Everyone loved my music and was surprised that it was me DJing the whole time. From there, I started getting booked for more events.
Where do you see yourself within the next five years?
In five years, I will be 28 years old. I have a younger sister who will be 13 by then and I hope to be able to move her and my mother out of Staten Island and into a house. Aside from that, I would like to be making three times as much as I am making now as well as truly make an impact in the entertainment industry as a DJ and a creative.
What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity is the welcoming of different ethnicities, races, gender, sexual orientation, social status, financial status, ideas, concepts, etc. The more these aspects are welcomed and encouraged, the more we are able to learn and create new experiences from the different components that shape our humanity.
Written by Casey P. Jones