Faculty Farewell: Frank Cabrera

Ayesha Sen, Staff Writer

When Associate Director of College Counseling (CoCo) Frank Cabrera was not offered admission to Horace Mann in ninth grade, he never imagined joining the school as a faculty member, he said. “It’s always fun to think about how life has come full circle, because I could not have been happier with the way things ended up.”

Cabrera will leave the school after five years of working in the CoCo office to become the Director of College Counseling at the Brooklyn Friends School, he said. For the 2021-2022 school year, Cabrera will be the sole person in the office, after which Cabrera will work with the school to hire two more members of the department, strengthening the College Counseling Department.

Prior to joining the school, Cabrera worked as an admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania, he said. At the time, he was happy with his position at UPenn and was not planning on leaving. However, after Executive Director of College Counseling Canh Oxelson announced the opening in the CoCo department, Cabrera decided to look into it, he said. 

After an initial conversation with Oxelson about the CoCo and his vision for the department, Cabrera knew that the office was the right place for him, and he decided to apply, he said. Cabrera began working at the school in September of 2016. “It was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself personally and professionally,” he said.

Cabrera will apply his experience and knowledge from the school to his new role at the Brooklyn Friends school, he said. He has learned that while college counseling typically only includes a student, their family, and a counselor, there may be moments where a counselor reaches out to other figures in a student’s life as well, such as a grade dean or an advisor. “It’s one of those things I didn’t necessarily get trained to do, but has now become a frequent occurrence each year,” he said.

What makes Cabrera special as a college counselor is his incredibly student-centered approach to college counseling, Oxelson said. “Most college counselors think about how a decision is going to affect the parents, the family, the entire senior class or the junior class —  all these different people who are part of the admission process,” he said. “But the bottom line is, when it comes down to it, [Cabrera] is focused on the students, and what’s going to be best for each individual student.”

Sonia Shuster (12) said that Cabrera’s balance of focusing on the student’s desires and realistic outcomes made him an effective mentor. Cabrera understands how nerve-racking the admissions process can be, so he takes specific actions to try and make the process more bearable, Shuster said. He shares what he believes a student’s probability of getting in somewhere is given their application. This is especially helpful in keeping a student’s ambitions in check and makes for a more strategic approach to college admissions, she said.

Cabrera also knows how to push a student to reach their full potential in a kind and supportive way, Alexander Cox (12) said. Cabrera helped Cox improve in his creative writing, he said. “Mr. Cabrera pushed me to express myself and my interests more in the college process, and because personal writing isn’t necessarily a focus at Horace Mann, that was definitely an eye opening experience.”

While highly knowledgeable in navigating the college process, Cabrera also took the time to understand the kids he worked with on a deeper level, Aidan McAndrew (12) said. “I was not just another kid to him, but rather someone he personally rooted for and wanted to succeed.”

McAndrew felt like he could talk to Cabrera about anything, as their conversation dynamic was always fluid, he said. “He’s such a relaxed conversationalist that the topic subject would gradually transition from light-hearted things like his relationship to Pokémon games to institutional problems with the way colleges talk about the communities situated around their campuses,” he said.

Although Cabrera and the CoCo department as a whole take their work seriously, they are also a tight-knit group, Oxelson said. “He brings his fun loving personality, his love of 90s pop star Mariah Carey, and if you haven’t noticed, he also brings his serious sneaker game too,” he said. “It’s these little things that make [Cabrera] such a unique and amazing member of our CoCo community. We’re really going to miss him.” 

Outside of the CoCo office, working with affinity groups has been one of Cabrera’s most cherished experiences at the school, specifically the LGBTQ+ affinity group. “Students and teachers have collaborated and created a space where we can just be ourselves and there are no expectations beyond that,” he said. “It’s always been the thing that I look forward to, no matter what.”

Cabrera said the LGBTQ+ affinity group has been an incredible way to give back to the school community. “HM has always felt like such an amazing place for me to be in as an adult, so for me to be able to model what I wish I had at that age in high school has been amazing,” he said. To Cabrera, stressing the importance of living authentically is incredibly important. “To be out, to be proud, and to be living your full truth — that is my vision for the HM LGBTQ+ community.”

Emily Lombardo, co-advisor to the LGBTQ+ affinity group, describes Cabrera as a thoughtful and caring advisor, they said. He always remembers to check in with the affinity group about how they are doing and how they are engaging in self-care, which was a much needed contribution to the space. “No matter what we talked about, I always felt heard by him.”

Cabrera’s sense of humor also makes him an amazing mentor to students in the affinity group, Lombardo said. “I remember our first in person affinity group meeting when he poetically described his love for RuPaul’s drag race and how it was getting him through quarantine,” they said. “His loving description made me go home and start watching it immediately.”

Leaving the school will be bittersweet for Cabrera, he said. While he is excited about the opportunity, leaving behind his colleagues and students will be difficult. “But, I like to think that’s a good sign,” he said. “It means that I will always hold my memories from HM very close to my heart.”