His resume rivals some professionals twice his age.
By June, the 23-year-old will have earned a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and a master’s degree in Business Administration. Somehow, he found time last quarter to work 20 hours a week, complete a full load of courses, and launch and maintain an entire social media network for a national diversity training company. He helped nearly double participation in a University of Denver diversity retreat in less than two years. If you don’t know his name, you should. Meet Joel Portman, the 2011 DU Student Employee of the Year.
University of Denver Director of Financial Aid Chris George announced the winner of the annual title Wednesday at the Ice Cream Social Awards Ceremony in the Gottesfeld Room of the Ritchie Center. The Math Department Team – comprised of Sarah Caulkins, Nikki Chen, Grace Horwath, Juan Valles and Molly Webber – was named Student Team of the Year.
For the last two years, Portman has built a foundation of practical knowledge in diversity issues as a program coordinator at the Center for Multicultural Excellence at DU. Prior to joining the staff, the St. Louis native volunteered his time at the center.
“Joel is mature, wise, and professional beyond his years,” according to his supervisors, Johanna Leyba, the Assistant Provost for Inclusive Excellence, and Thomas Walker, Program Director of Intergroup Relations & LGBTIQ. “Many people on and beyond the campus have assumed he was a full-time, veteran staff member based on how he carries himself and represents the university.”
When the Center for Multicultural Excellence lost an assistant director last spring, it was Portman who filled the gap, ensuring the center’s major projects – the Diversity Summit, Voices of Discovery Intergroup Dialogue Program and Diversity and Unity Retreat – had proper administrative support.
His employment has been an integral part of his learning experience at DU. “I’m able to bring a different perspective to the table (in class),” he says. Even better in his eyes: “The work I’m doing here impacts the entire campus.”
Plus, “CME is more like a family than an office,” Portman says. While CME staff keeps work fun, they confront serious social justice issues, often involving issues of identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation and privilege. One of their goals is to create a more welcoming campus. Joel wants to extend that mission to the larger, business world.
The Eagle Scout and former Hillel staffer says he feels obligated to use his privileges – as an educated, white male – to shape a more equitable world.
“My theory is there is a lot of potential in this world,” Portman says. “I’ll do whatever I can do to make sure everyone has an equal part at the table.”