Kristoffer Toribio, president of the International Association for College Admission Counseling, began his presidency at the IACAC annual conference in New Mexico last month. He walked on stage wearing a new pair of bright pink tennis shoes, which sparked a buzz among participants and online.
“I have this superstition that when you’re stepping into a new chapter, it starts with the first step. And it starts with a fresh new pair of shoes,” Toribio tells The PIE.
Toribio sat down with The PIE this summer to discuss what he believes this new chapter has in store. “I’m really excited for the role of president. There’s definitely been a call to change for the organisation and I think the conference is a good way to start the year.”
When asked about the change, Toribio expounds, “My biggest goal is to support the voices of the membership. There’s definitely been a call to focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and access.”
To that end, there is a newly-formed DEI committee at IACAC. “The role of the president is to ensure that the structure is in place, and to support it, so the ideas can come into fruition; into actual policy,” he asserts.
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and access are the cornerstones of Toribio’s mission for the organisation during his presidency, and were themes woven throughout the conference planning and sessions.
“IACAC is part of NACAC and based in America, but it is global”
“[IACAC] is a round table that brings everybody in from different areas of admissions and counselling,” he proffers. “And at the centrepiece of that roundtable are the students. We all represent different aspects, but we’re here with one mission.”
Aligned with these core tenets is Toribio’s drive to promote “new voices and fresh perspectives.” As such, there was a push to engage first-timers at the first in-person conference for the organisation in three years.
“One of the biggest highlights was the fact that nearly 50% of attendees were first timers, some of whom presented a session, so I was really focused on their experience,” he shares.
And the delegate experience began well before the conference started. Toribio recalled the “pre-hype events to start to build community in virtual lounges for people to get together before the conference”, from the flamenco dancers at the opening ceremonies, to this year’s addition of the Global Education Fair.
“The fair was an opportunity to better profile our university members not from the US. Access is important. IACAC is part of NACAC and based in America, but it is global.”
Toribio also sought to ensure that virtual attendees could maximise their experience. “The accessibility to be part of [the conference] was important as well,” he notes.
Toribio is a Pacific Islander, and a first-generation graduate, who works at a community college. Weaving in Hawaiian language and culture, he spoke candidly about what his identity means to him. “I’m incredibly proud to be representing community colleges. We had 21 attend this year, which is by far the largest contingent of community colleges that we’ve had.”
He argues that there is often a preconceived notion of what community colleges are that does not always capture their true essence. “It was really important for me to not just represent community colleges, but also represent the students who choose to attend.”
Toribio says he witnesses success stories on a daily basis on his Orange Coast College campus. “Representing community colleges for me is really just being a storyteller of experiences that I’m hearing and witnessing every day here.”
“We have a mission to ensure students find the right fit”
Working in this educational environment changed his own perspective on higher education. “I truly believe this is the answer to so many issues in HE, in terms of financial access and access to receiving a quality education. And I have a duty now to amplify that as my mission in terms of representation.”
Regarding his colleagues in IACAC, Toribio offers, “We have a mission to ensure students find the right fit in institutions. It’s all about information sharing, building community, and rooting each other on. Because, in the end, we all truly, deeply care about the students.”