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Park City’s first Bright Futures students achieve major milestone

Isaac Cortés is one of several students from the first Bright Futures class (2016) who graduated this spring.
Isaac Cortés
Isaac Cortés is one of several students from the first Bright Futures class (2016) who graduated this spring.

It’s a banner year for Park City’s Bright Futures program. Its first class of students is graduating from college this spring.

Park City Education Foundation started the Bright Futures program in 2016 as a platform that supports students who are the first in their families to go to college. The program supports students for a minimum of seven years, 10th grade through college graduation.

Jennifer Billow is the vice president of advancement for the Park City Education Foundation. She said the first class of Bright Futures students are graduating this spring.

“It’s been a long journey. You apply to Bright Futures at the end of your ninth grade year,” Billow said. “This first class started in 2016. When these kiddos were freshmen, COVID hit, freshman in college, that threw every college student in the nation for a loop. Almost the entire first class is graduating. There's even one student from the class of 2020 who's graduating from college.”

Isaac Cortés, 22, started with the first Bright Futures class in 2016. Seven years later, he walked across the graduation stage to claim his diploma from Westminster College in Salt Lake City. He graduated with honors with a degree in communications and a minor in business.

“I'm part of the first cohort that Bright Futures has ever graduated," Cortés said. "My class and I, we were kind of the guinea pigs of the whole program. And, you know, we're definitely leading the way for the rest of the Bright Futures cohorts and inspiring other students to continue their education beyond high school.”

Other Bright Futures graduates include students from Utah State University, Weber State University and Salt Lake Community College.

Cortés said he wouldn’t have been able to complete his education without the help of the program.

“The support that Bright Futures gave to my education was just really the extra push that I needed," he said. "Whether that was in terms of financial support, or, like getting advice from a mentor or even having fellowship by [Bright] Futures students as a peer support, you know, during their journey of getting their education too you know we've been involved in the program together for all these years.”

According to Billow, the national average for first generation students who graduate college is 11% by the time they are 24.

“We're really trying to beat those odds in Park City, and that's exciting," Billow said. "Then the high school class that's graduating this year, the high school class of 2023, it’s the biggest Bright Futures cohort ever with 24 kids in it. So, the word spreads and the classes get bigger. And of course, that means more support. And this community really steps up.”

Cortés said he’s taking a couple of weeks to let it all sink in, but not waiting too long to start his career.

“I'm really interested in communications work and public relations, marketing, that type of field," Cortés said. "I'm looking for opportunities. Although I have offers on the table, I'm just keeping my mind open to new opportunities that allow me to use my skills to the to my full potential.”

Currently 126 Park City students are enrolled in Bright Futures, according to Billow, with 52 students in college.

By the fall of 2023, Billow said she expects more than 150 students will be enrolled in Bright Futures.