Jose Portillo believes in the power of a higher education, and sees it is an investment in one’s future, “that can never be taken away.” The second of four siblings, he was born and raised in Southern California, to parents from El Salvador who moved to the US seeking refuge from the Salvadoran Civil War. Jose recounts how the family struggled financially and had to work hard to make ends meet. He remembers well how those realities influenced his thinking about college. Initially, he felt it was out of reach.
Fortunately, he found a role model in his older brother, who worked a full-time job and helped support the family, while still managing to go to school full-time. Jose decided he would try to follow in his brother’s footsteps.
He attended Westwood College-South Bay, where he graduated with a BS in Criminal Justice and explains that he felt somewhat intimidated, at first, by the application process and applying for financial aid. But looking back, he says things begin to turn around, once he had access to the resources and information he needed. “I started to realize that the process was much easier and more linear than my initial impression,” he said.
It was this experience, and the lessons he learned along the way, that motivated him to embark on his career working with students and supporting them through their own financial aid needs.
Today, Jose is Director, Scholarship Programs at the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, where he is responsible for managing the day-to-day activities involved in administering HSF’s scholarships, including operations, processing, and compliance.
Prior to joining HSF, he worked at Vanguard University of Southern California, rising through the ranks within the Financial Aid Office. He began his tenure at the university as an operations specialist, tasked with ensuring that systems were processing at full efficiency, and restructuring operations as changes were implemented. He was then promoted to assistant director of counseling and compliance in the Financial Aid Office. In that role, he was responsible for overseeing the administration, disbursement, and reconciliation of the financial aid portfolio.
He says he loves his work. “Being able to counsel students and their families on how to make higher education affordable for them, provides me with a sense of accomplishment and pride. It’s that feeling that I like most about my career.” He adds that he is also excited about the broader opportunity his job gives him “to help Hispanic students become leaders of industry through their education.”
His advice to students considering a college track is to “maximize their time in high school” by applying for as many scholarships as they can, joining clubs, and being part of their community. “Through these experiences, they will find what they are passionate about, which will allow them to narrow down what college may be a better fit for them,” he says.