Emory Report
June 11, 2007
Volume 59, Number 32

Emory Report homepage  

June 11, 2007
Full Circle

by kim urquhart

Marc Cordon came to Emory to be a doctor, groomed since childhood to take over the medical practice of his parents, Filipino immigrants who wanted their son to live comfortably in the American dream. While Cordon excelled in his studies at Emory — earning a degree in neuroscience and behavioral biology and a master’s in public health — it was his leadership activities such as founding the Filipino Student Association, serving as an orientation leader and interning in the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services that captured his interest.

He now works in that office as associate director of multicultural programs and services, over the past four years re-energizing existing programs and launching new initiatives that led the Center for Student Leadership and Engagement to name him “Adviser of the Year.” Changing his career path from medicine to student affairs required a leap of faith, and Cordon says that he has “come full circle” in his journey.

He often shares his story of self-discovery with the students who come to OMPS in search of their own cultural identity or leadership potential.

Cordon’s initial connections with Emory’s Asian American community as a freshman were the beginning of what would emerge as a theme in Cordon’s life, connections with youth being the thread that would unite all other activities going forward.

After completing an internship at Emory Hospitals, Cordon continued his pre-med studies at the University of South Florida. During this time, he was hired by the Organization of Chinese Americans to conduct leadership training, which allowed him to connect with students around the country.

When Cordon wasn’t in class or traveling with OCA, he was touring as lead singer of an alternative rock band. “For awhile I thought music was where I wanted to go, because I was actually connecting with young folks,” says Cordon. The all-Asian American band quickly gained a following among the Asian American community as they toured cities such as New York and Washington, D.C. “We felt like we could start telling our story and sending a message through music. But to the core what it was is basically what I’m doing right now, which is connecting with young people. It was still that same thing that I enjoyed doing in college, only it was in a different arena.”

Now somewhat older and each with full-time jobs, Cordon says the band “still sees the potential to continue to connect with young people” and continues to practice. “Our next album is about growing up as an Asian American in the South and coming to the point where you’re really proud of who you are. And isn’t that what I do here? So it’s just an artistic way of doing what you’re passionate about.”

He remembers the day he decided to pursue his passion. “One day I walked out of my physics/biology class and walked into the USF registrar’s office,” he recalls. “All the money I had made in my internship and some of the money that I made from the band went into finishing my school work. I asked them if I pulled out now, would I be able to get my money back?”

The answer of course was no, and Cordon was just a few pre-med requirements shy of taking his Medical College Admission Test. Yet he decided then and there to walk away from a career in medicine to follow his heart.

“That was difficult thing, and I did a lot of soul-searching,” he says. “One day it hit me after I made a list of all the things I enjoyed doing in college. They were all centered around student affairs, focused on connecting with youth no matter what the medium was.”

Cordon decided to call his alma mater to inquire about open positions in student affairs. He describes what happened next as “almost like destiny.” The dean was out of the office and Cordon instead spoke with the OMPS program coordinator, who happened to be leaving. When Cordon came to interview at Emory, he recognized a staff member he had once trained as an orientation leader. The adviser who had helped Cordon start the Filipino Student Association was on the search committee. “It must have been the law of attraction. Once I realized that that’s where I wanted to go, it was like doors opened up,” he says.

“I’ve been able to use that experience to tell students about the patience involved in career development, that oftentimes you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen but eventually things will start coming your way,” says Cordon, who encourages students to explore their options and their passions.

Cordon is dedicated to providing students with tools that will enrich the community both at Emory and beyond. Again, he is able to draw from his own experience at Emory.

“What made my college experience so empowering was that I realized I actually had the ability to change things around here,” he says. “And I think it’s an empowering thing for an 18-year-old to realize they can be change agents. They don’t need a title, they don’t need to wear a tie, they can just go and work with other people,” Cordon says.

He views diversity and multicultural competency as an important leadership skill, and shares this with students. “It becomes less about race relations and more about developing as a leader and broadening your own senses,” he says. “Diversity goes beyond race, it goes to values. We have students here of difference cultural backgrounds, religions and socioeconomic class, but more so students come in with different values. Diversity is about really being able to appreciate those values.”

In addition to assisting students with their concerns, Cordon also devotes much of his time at OMPS to assisting multicultural organizations with their programming. Cordon developed a new program, Sustained Dialogues, where students meet weekly to discuss issues over a free dinner. He has also breathed new life into programs such as Multicultural Outreach and Resources at Emory, a mentor program for incoming students of color; and Crossroads, a pre-orientation retreat for freshman, by “putting them into the hands of students.”

Cordon is currently working toward his Ph.D. in student affairs at the University of Georgia. He hopes to publish research showing how diversity-focused programs such as Crossroads can empower youth and change their attitude toward diversity early on in their college experience. “It seems that the folks who have gone on that retreat have become real advocates for community and diversity on campus,” Cordon says.

In this research, Cordon again speaks of coming full circle. “Now I’m realizing how much my public health degree is a help to me now. The big thing in student affairs right now is assessment, and becoming more accountable for the things that we do,” he says. “Also the general themes of public health are centered around improving the quality of life and being proactive,” an approach Cordon applies to his work at OMPS.

“In order to be in the field of diversity, you have to constantly be wanting to learn more. There’s always new skills and new knowledge to acquire,” he says. “Just like leadership in general, you have to constantly hone your skills.”

He shares this with the students he mentors and in his leadership workshops. “The best time to start honing those skills is in college. Because once you get those wheels moving, you’ve got the rest of your life to keep acquiring them.”