Emmanuel Moses (he/him)
Director of College Access & Success
The Opportunity Network
What drew you to the world of college admission counseling?
I actually stumbled, or was rather pushed (forcefully, but lovingly) into it by my partner after my original plan of being a teacher never came to fruition. I was ready and certified to teach high school English in the state of New York, but wound up getting my master’s degree in sociology of education. It was in these studies that I was reintroduced to the language (social capital) that defined many of the barriers I knew impacted the communities I wanted to work with.
With this information in tow, I felt like the hours before 8 a.m. and after 3:00 p.m. had a bigger impact on those communities that I hoped to work with than the hours spent in school…but I was stuck on what to do next (and was working for NYU Campus Media full-time — a really easy job). My wonderful “makes-me-better half” lovingly made me recognize that with two degrees from NYU, maybe I shouldn’t just be setting up projectors for the rest of my life. So off I went, reaching out to my networks to see where I could connect with young people and address some of the barriers and structural inequalities that I knew existed.
After several emails and phone calls pestering my network, I was pointed in the direction of the College Advising Corps and became part of NYU’s inaugural cohort of advisers, ultimately serving as the dedicated college adviser for Monroe Academy for Business & Law (a school marked as a failure, and scheduled to close in three years) in the South Bronx. I was hooked and had found my passion, but….it was only a two-year commitment. Fortunately, with a sense of where I wanted to turn my focus to — college access (a term I never heard or thought about in undergrad) — I reached out to my network, applied to the many organizations in New York City, and eventually wound up at The Opportunity Network (OppNet). Ironically, or maybe not, I volunteered with OppNet before I even started in the college access space. And, even more fitting, OppNet has social capital as one of its core pillars. I have been at OppNet for 10 years and see myself there, and as a part of this larger work and field, for decades to come.
What is your favorite part of the job?
The easiest answer is the young people. To be able to be a part of their journey and to witness them realizing, and owning, their greatness during a process that is fraught with anxiety, pressures, and barriers aplenty, is a beautiful thing. Let’s be honest though, it doesn’t always happen right away for all young folx — I’m in a place of privilege where our organization supports them to and through college. (I even get the opportunity to connect with them in their professional careers — some are currently my colleagues at OppNet and elsewhere.)
The next thing that I have to mention is this community — the colleagues that I have come to connect with, laugh with, commiserate with, and even have heated discussions with. This is what sustains me to be there for our young people and their communities. This work is draining and fulfilling at the same time. Having a community and having support from others that fills you up when it gets rough is what makes this work possible.
How has NACAC played a role in your career?
It wasn’t until I joined OppNet that I became aware of NACAC (or NYSACAC for that matter). During my time at the College Advising Corps, the grind of (lovingly) chasing down students in the hallways, the cafeteria, and the gym, kept me focused on the work needing to be done in the school and not much else. Transitioning outside of the school, and into out-of-school-hours work, I was able to have the privilege of discovering that communities for professionals like me existed (shout-out to CACNY). What’s more, I had the time to engage in them, learn from them, and even contribute to them, all of which has been tremendously fulfilling for me this past decade.
At times it is so easy to get stuck in the work taking place at your school, in your city, or in your state, and be oblivious to the other partners/advocates doing this work across the country/world, regardless of what side of an imaginary desk they’re on. There is no desk, we all are working for young people; there are just different organizations and institutions cutting our checks. It is refreshing and reaffirming to have communities like NACAC, NYSACAC (and its Coming Together Conference), the college fairs, and especially spaces like Guiding the Way to Inclusion (which I have yet to go to, but I have sent colleagues) and the Access College Fair (which was back in strong numbers in Baltimore).
I also know that it’s in these spaces, especially on the national level, like with NACAC, where crucial conversations are happening and need to continue. The admission landscape and profession is ever-changing. Unfortunately, it continues to seem to be less and less accepting, let alone understanding, of the underrepresented communities I serve. To be frank, it was this changing landscape, and the impact that these changes were having on many of my colleagues, that led me to get up the courage to put my name forward as a candidate for NACAC’s Board of Directors. I look forward to continuing to contribute to these conversations, be part of the discussion, and ensure that my voice, and the voice of those that I support and work with, is always loud and proud in this space.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today?
I’m not sure there is much that I didn’t allude to in my previous response, but while I feel that the students we serve are definitely worried and confused about what recent changes (SCOTUS, FAFSA, AI, and more) will mean for them and their future success, I also know that that same stress and uncertainty is impacting the advocates and champions of these students (us — those in the profession).
We have to stay on our toes with every change that comes up. And many of us, especially those working with and supporting underrepresented populations, have to shield our students from blow after blow, hit after hit, reminder after reminder that many of the spaces they are trying to access weren’t built for them and continue to reflect that sentiment in many ways.
In addition, many of us doing this work share similar lived experiences and identities with our students, myself included. While our students are at the forefront, and should be, we also need pay attention to the needs of admissions and access professionals, because as they say, you can’t keep giving from an empty cup. What this looks like, or what it should look like, I’m not sure. But I know that more consideration needs to be given to the growth, value, and development of those of us in this work, and those opportunities have to be unified across all titles, positions, and areas (high schools, colleges, CBOs, and IECs alike).
When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
I’m a partner (you already know my “makes-me-better half” is the reason why I’m in this profession). I’m a father to a 4-year-old son, Dean, and a 7-year-old daughter, Izzy, who are all the things. And at my core, I’m also a “Blerd” (Black nerd). Have I happened to indoctrinate my children and my mother-in-law into all things Marvel? Why, yes, I have. If you happened to come across me in many professional settings, or at a conference this year, my “blerdness” was in full effect (Marvel suit is always a hit). Most of my time outside of work, beside being the best partner and father I can be, is dedicated to all things nerdy.
In a previous life I used to run marathons — shout-out to all those who joined the 5K hosted by Glimpse/InitialView at this year’s NACAC conference — but I must say the hardest marathon that I’ve participated in was the Marvel Movie Marathon that took place over 31 hours, in a cramped movie theater in Times Square before the premiere of Avengers: Infinity War (shout-out to Aaron Ray from Hamilton College for being in that fight with me).
I also passively but passionately engage in sports — I’d rather watch cartoons with my kids, but always have the score refreshed on my phone. Let’s run down that list: My mother’s side of the family is from Argentina so “Futbol is Life” and Manchester is Blue; I bleed “Blue and Orange” and suffer for it as a Knicks fan; and I am a proud supporter of “Dem Boyz,” but try not to be too annoying (ask Jonathan Hoster). Also, I don’t get upset when what usually happens, winds up happening (if you were a real Cowboys fan, you wouldn’t get upset).
If you could be any fictional character, who would it be?
I think I’m going to change the question to “What fictional character am I aspiring to be?” Bandit Heeler!
Every parent knows and can recognize the Bluey theme song from miles away. And even if you aren’t a parent, or an aunt/uncle/grandparent/caring adult, Bluey is amazing television show that just hits all the right notes. Bandit is the father of 6-year-old Bluey (an Australian blue heeler puppy) and 4-year-old Bingo, and partner to Chilli Heeler.
Bandit is not only the type of father I aspire to be, he is the type of leader I aspire to be. I carried a little figure of him around as my significant leadership object at a recent retreat for a fellowship program I’m participating in with the Institute of Non-Profit Practice. (I also bring the entire Heeler figurine family with me when I travel for work). Bandit leans into the curiosity of his children, he practices what seems like infinite patience, but also shows his vulnerability and awareness that he doesn’t have it all figured out as a father (not to mention as a partner).
He is always striving to learn, to grow, and to be the best version he can be for his children and his partner. What also stuck with me, and something I find so crucial, is that he demonstrates that being able to apologize and say sorry to his children is something that he needs to do as a father. When I say that this show, and this character, brings all the feels (don’t get me started on the brilliance of Chilli), it’s not an understatement.
Published Dec. 18, 2023