Victor Ortiz: From immigrant to Marine Corps Officer and Penn State Berks graduate

Written by Lisa R. Baldi, Director of Strategic Communications at Penn State Berks.

When Victor Ortiz emigrated from Mexico to the United States at age 13, he couldn’t have imagined what his future would hold. Ortiz earned his Penn State Berks baccalaureate degree in organizational leadership on Saturday May 6 during the college’s commencement ceremony. He then will be commissioned as an officer in the United States Marine Corps during a pinning ceremony, which will be held at Reading Senior High School on June 2.

It has been a long journey for Ortiz, and now he has come full circle from being a student enrolled in Reading High School’s JROTC program to becoming an officer in the Marine Corps. He decided to have his pinning ceremony at his alma mater in an effort to show RHS students what they can accomplish if they put their minds to it.

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Ortiz credits the mentors in the JROTC program with helping to guide and motivate him when he was a student. “The mentors were amazing. It’s hard to come to a new country and learn a new language. They helped to motivate and inspire me.”

After becoming a U.S. citizen, Ortiz joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 2012. He had dreams of becoming an officer, but he didn’t have the required college degree. He worked in the position of Marine Corps recruiter for the enlisted ranks and he was assigned to the role of officer selection assistant for the officer ranks. Later, he was tapped to be a screening specialist with the Marine Corps Readiness Support Program. 

As a recruiter, Ortiz helped to prepare young men for the Marine Corps, advising them on lifestyle changes to enhance their fitness levels and studies. In doing so, he was motivated to pursue his own dream. By this time, he had risen to the rank of staff sergeant, and when the age restriction for officers was waived, he decided that it was time to make his dream a reality. But first, he needed to earn his degree.

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Ortiz chose Penn State Berks because he heard good things about Penn State from a JROTC instructor, and Berks is located near his home in Womelsdorf. The father of four said he wanted to stay close to home with his family while earning his degree. The G.I. Bill helped to fund his studies.

“The professors at Penn State Berks are great,” said Ortiz. “They provided the structure I needed and kept me on task to accomplish my goals, and they taught me new ways to look at issues. Their endeavors motivated me to be a better person.”

The baccalaureate in organizational leadership provides a well-rounded liberal arts education with a special focus on the complex social, cultural, and organizational issues that confront organizational leaders in the world. The degree is developed specifically for adult students interested in expanding their professional horizons, enabling them to lead others effectively in any endeavor.

In addition to his studies, Ortiz completed officer candidate school while attending college. He also worked as a youth counselor at Bethany Children’s Home, a nonprofit organization in Reading that provides resources to children and families to work through their losses. When asked why he chose that position, he stated, “You can always do something in the community to make things better for others.”

Ortiz said that when he first arrived in the U.S., his family was in survival mode. They didn’t have the ability or the resources to pursue their dreams. Now he wants to lay the foundation for his children to have a better future.

“My goal is to be able to pass the tools, life skills, and resources down to my children and my children’s children,” explained Ortiz. “I don’t want them to be in survival mode. I want them to be proud of where they came from and I want them to be better prepared – mentally, physically and spiritually – to succeed. I want them to have the strength to be kind to themselves and towards others while maintaining a warrior mentality.”

When asked how he feels about graduating, Ortiz stated, “The closer it gets, the more I realize what it means.”

In addition to being commissioned as an officer on June 2, Ortiz and his partner, Anabel Adame, who is also an organizational leadership student at Penn State Berks, will make the day even more special by tying the knot.

Ortiz will be stationed in Virginia, where he will move with his family in the coming months. He commented, “I look forward to taking what I learned and having the ability to positively influence the culture of my unit as an officer.”

A new class of nearly 230 Penn State Berks students received their baccalaureate and associate degrees on Saturday, May 6, at the Santander Arena in downtown Reading during Penn State Berks spring 2023 commencement ceremony.

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