University of Denver Graduation Profile

I graduated with my MBA on Friday, June 3, 2011! (More on that to come soon.)  The University of Denver (DU) highlighted a handful of graduates.  I was one of them.  The story is below:

Joel Portman started his career at DU as a management major.


But try as he might, he couldn’t shake the notion that he was learning more about leadership from his extracurricular activities than from his classes.


Then again, he didn’t spend his free time just hanging out or going to hockey games; instead, he raised $300,000 for Hillel as an intern, served as a student senator, fought for religious accommodations for Muslims, Jews and other minorities on campus and worked as the coordinator for intergroup relations at DU’s Center for Multicultural Excellence (CME).


“I like bringing together different groups … and being able to think and explore,” Portman says.


DU’s dual-degree program offered the perfect compromise: Portman could get a bachelor’s in international studies — with a concentration in international security and conflict resolution — and an MBA.


“It has the economics piece but it also has the [focus on] relationships, and how people understand and interact with each other,” Portman says. “The MBA is allowing me to go into more depth with people who actually care; to learn what strategy is and how to apply that. I like to be able to understand what’s working, what’s not, why and how it can be improved.”


He’s now set to graduate June 3 with both degrees.


Portman came by his ambition — and his interest in social justice — at a young age. In high school, he went on a summer trip to Poland and Israel with his youth group, which was trying to settle on a project for Holocaust Awareness Week.


“I researched it and decided we should expand to genocide awareness more broadly,” Portman says.


Before long, Portman had founded his own nonprofit, Never Again!, dedicated to raising awareness about the Holocaust and the genocide in Sudan and Rwanda.


Though he’s since turned over the presidency, he remains active in that and other social justice groups.


At DU, he joined the Social Justice Living and Learning Community early on.


“I got involved with [DU’s] Undergraduate Diversity Committee and the [DU] Programming Board. I started exploring that more in depth and it just piqued my interest. I saw a lot of opportunity for improvement, and I like planning programs — so I figured it would be a good way to apply my skills, learn more and influence the community.”


He didn’t stop there.


In 2008 — his junior year at DU — Portman studied abroad in Be’er Sheva, Israel.


“It’s in the desert, so it has a lot of Bedouin, as well as a lot of immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia,” Portman says. “I had Jewish, Muslim and German roommates — and I met people from all over the world. It really shaped how I interact with people. [Be’er Sheva] was not very Westernized, so I had to interact with people the way they did. It’s very interesting to figure out how people come together and how conflict resolution happens.”


When he returned, Portman began putting those skills to work by volunteering at the CME. He’s quickly risen through the ranks and now is responsible for planning and producing workshops and training about diversity. His flagship event, the Diversity Summit, this year attracted almost 650 attendees, who discussed and strategized ways to improve inclusion and identity.


As a result of his work at the CME, Portman is in demand as a speaker himself; last year, he hosted a workshop at a national conference in Wisconsin, and this year he presented at a conference of several colleges.


Though Portman has been named DU’s 2011 Student Employee of the Year — and should be able to pretty much write his own job description upon graduation — he’s not resting on his laurels.


“I had a job offer but turned it down because it was in a place I didn’t see myself living. I want to be able to contribute value to the organization and be with them for more than a few years,” he says.


He would consider a position in consulting, project management, organizational development or training.


“I think doing diversity work in international businesses is my ideal job — even if it’s not in the title.”


Despite his numerous accomplishments, Portman comes across as remarkably humble— like when he outlines his ultimate plans for the future: “A lot of the successes I’ve had have been because of the support I’ve had from other people. My long-term goal is to be able to give back and help other people. A lot of what I’m doing now is building skills in other student leaders, so they can be successful. I want to stay involved in the community and give back, in terms of time and financially, to help other people do the work they’re passionate about.”


DU’s graduate Commencement ceremony begins at 4:30 p.m. June 3 at Magness Arena. For more information or to watch a live stream of the ceremony, visit the DU Commencement website.


Camping in Colorado

Saturday night I went camping with some of my favorite people, Javier Ogaz, Ronnie Salter, and Steve Shannon.  We had originally planned a bigger shindig with more people, but life seems to get in the way of such plans some times.  Nevertheless, we had a fantastic time.  One of the reasons I originally looked at schools in Colorado was so that I could enjoy the outdoors and all that Colorado has to offer.  Unfortunately, I have been way too busy to do this as much as I would like.

In an effort to repeat a similar camping trip at the end of the school year in May 2008, we tried to go to a campsite (that may not have been a real site) off of Guanella Pass above Georgetown, off of I-70.  However, there is construction along the pass and the road seems to barely be in existence at various points.  Close to where the camping area would have been, the road was closed.  We turned around and looked for other options.  We found one near Clear Lake, at about 9,882 feet above sea level.  We walked down a hill from a parking lot and found a small clearing with a previously used fire pit.

We set up our too small tent (it was made for 3 people and we had 4, mostly tall, people), made a fire, cooked hot dogs, and enjoyed ourselves.  We looked around a bit and saw the creek and the lake.  In the morning there were a lot of people fishing.  There was an amazing view of the stars through the trees.  It was a great way to end Senior Year in the mountains.

Camping Near Clear Lake, Colorado - (from left) Ronnie Salter, Javier Ogaz, Steve Shannon, Joel Portman

Clear Lake - off of Guanella Pass, Colorado

The 2010 University of Denver Pioneer Awards

The University of Denver Pioneer Awards Ceremony 2010 was held last night, Tuesday, May 18, 2010.  I was nominated for two awards and was also there to support my friends receiving other awards.

Outstanding Student Awards

Students, advisers, and student organizations are nominated based on their contributions to academic excellence, the campus and university, and community involvement.

18 Seniors were nominated for Outstanding Senior.  A few (3 or 4) were chosen as Distinguished Seniors.  One was chosen as Outstanding Senior.  This year, that person was me.

My certificate reads:

A University is a community of leaders and scholars.
A leader is one that raises the bar for their peers and works to better their institution.

The University of Denver
would like to recognize
Joel Portman
Outstanding Senior Student

This award is present to you in recognition of your excellence in the areas of leadership, scholarship, citizenship, and service to the University of Denver community.

I was not expecting to receive this award.  While I have been active, I did not think that I was as involved this year.  Apparently other people recognize my involvement more significantly than I did.  Either way, I am very appreciative to everyone.

Two years ago, I also received the award for Outstanding Sophomore Student.

Pioneer Awards

The Pioneer Award is the most prestigious award given to a University of Denver student.

From the award ceremony booklet:

The year was 1926 and the Parsons of the Colorado Seminary became the Pioneers of the University of Denver.
That same year the Kynewisbok [University of Denver yearbook, now defunct] began one of the University’s most lasting traditions – the naming of “The Pioneers” – individuals whose dedication to our University and its students is beyond measure.
This year’s Pioneer Award nomination came from all over campus and represent the finest ambassadors of the University of Denver both on campus and in the community.
The 10 students, 1 faculty member, 1 staff member, and 1 student organization selected by the committee were chosen for their exemplary dedication and contributions to, and on behalf of, the University.
While their personal goals and ideals differ, they are bound by their visions of a better DU.  Their work toward a goal does not make them unique, but rather the creativity, passion, and spirit with which they pursue this vision does.  Each of these people and organizations have made a difference.

The 1930 Kynewisbok urged its winners,
“Go forth: great battles are yet to be won.”
We urge the same.
The battles they have fought at DU may seem small in comparison to the battles of life but the fight our Pioneers have given show us what is best in ourselves.

We salute their bold imagination, their fiery determination, their collective sense of compassion, and most of all, their Pioneer spirit.

Twenty-six students were nominated to the Pioneer Award.  Ten received it.  I, along with several of my friends, received the award.

I received a poster/certificate/plaque (it is rather large) that has a picture of former University of Denver Chancellor Henry Buchtel and the recognition text.  Henry Buchtel was Governor of Colorado from 1907-1909 and was Chancellor of the University of Denver 1900-1920.  He moved the University of Denver out of debt and began many lasting traditions.

The text on my award reads:

Pioneer.  One who sets themselves apart.
One who chooses a direction and then blazes a path for others to follow.  A pioneer is an innovator, a person who uses his creative talents and unique perspective to positively impact hiss community.

A University of Denver Pioneer is a scholar, a leader and a person with a compassionate spirit and strong character.

We honor
Joel Portman
for his Pioneer Spirit and commitment
to the University of Denver.

/x/ Chancellor Robert D. Coombe

This was certainly a very nice recognition of my four years of hard work and involvement at the University of Denver.

I am appreciative to have been recognized with these awards for my work at DU – but really it is because of everyone who has been there with me and who has supported me that I have been successful. Additionally, I could not have asked for a better group of people with whom to receive the Pioneer Award.

Joel Portman, Tuyen Trisa Bui, and Javier Ogaz, Pioneer Award Recipients, with Provost Gregg Kvistad

Recent School Newspaper Articles

I’ve been quoted or featured in several University of Denver school newspaper articles over the past few weeks.  Our paper, The Clarion, has gotten a lot better over the years, but their accuracy in reporting and fact checking sometimes still leave a lot to be desired (depending on the article, of course).  Many people at DU think that students do not read The Clarion.  I disagree and believe that more people are aware of what the newspaper writes about than may be recognized.  The paper is published weekly on Tuesdays.

In the May 4 issue, an article was printed about the 9th Annual Diversity Summit on Inclusive Excellence, which I helped plan and organize.  While there are some factual errors and Mia’s last name is misspelled (it is “Elizardi”), the article is pretty good and positive.

In the May 11 issue, I am in the paper twice.  Javi and I had been interviewed to give our opinion of Antoine and Jim, one year after we lost to them in AUSA Elections.  The article was supposed to appear in the May 4 issue, but apparently the newspaper editors thought it would help Jim and Felipe (who we were supporting in the USG Elections) and they did not want to print it.  As such, it got tacked on as an addendum to an article interviewing Antoine and Jim.

Similarly, I have mentioned the letter to the editor that Javi and I had written endorsing Jim and Felipe, that The Clarion would not print.  I was contacted last weekend about editing the letter and having it printed this past week.  At first I was opposed, but then decided to use the opportunity to try to encourage more student activism and to challenge all new USG representatives to actually fulfill the platforms on which they ran. (Crazy idea, right? – and in this picture – which is from when we ran in the 2009 elections – my tie is messed up because of the wind. oy.)

If you are interested in other, older, letters to the editor I have written or articles in which I have been quoted, visit The Clarion‘s website and search for my name.

DU USG Elections – Endorsement of “FOR DENVER” Ticket

DISCLAIMER: The letter below was submitted to The Clarion for publication as a letter to the editor for the 05/04/2010 publication. The Clarion refused to print the article even though they seek out student opinions and voices.  We believe that it is important that you see this message.


University of Denver Students,

Last year we ran together for AUSA President & Vice President.  While we did not win, we have both kept our promises to maintain our involvement, push for change, and make the University of Denver a better place.  We also said that we would hold our election opponents responsible for carrying out their platform.

Antoine Perretta and Jim Francescon have worked hard this year to meet the goals they promised to all of us.  We are happy to say that we believe in their successes.  All of us have worked together throughout the year.  Several months ago, we began discussing this year’s USG (the name was changed this year) elections.  We wholeheartedly support and endorse Jim Francescon and Felipe Diaz for USG President and Vice President.

Over the past several months, we have worked with Jim and Felipe as they developed their platform.  All of us have the same overarching goal: to unite and connect our campus.  We know that Jim and Felipe will be successful in this endeavor.  Even their For Denver ticket shows representation from almost every dimension of our campus community.

Jim and Felipe are proven leaders who have the experience, dedication, and connections necessary to fulfill their platform.  They will succeed in creating the lasting campus improvements we need.

Some of our past supporters may not agree with our decision to support the For Denver ticket.  We encourage you to contact us.  Let’s talk about why we believe Jim and Felipe are the high quality leaders DU needs and deserves.

Whether or not you support Jim and Felipe, vote.  The University of Denver exists for the students.  Have your voices heard and shape DU to be the institution you want it to be.


Joel Portman and Javier Ogaz


Voting Instructions:

Please follow these steps to vote:

1. Log into MyWeb –
2. Click on surveys
3. Click on “Senate Elections”
(be sure to click “next question” to vote for all eligible candidates)

If you have problems, email with your votes.

For more information about the FOR DENVER ticket, visit


Specific People I Endorse:

Jim Francescon and Felipe Diaz  – USG President and Vice President – link
Stuart Portman – NSM Senator – link
Dario Ogaz – HRTM Senator – link
Vanessa Teck – Sophomore Senator – link
Dorielle Parker – JKSIS Senator – link
Julia Godshaw – On-Campus Senator – link
Ericca McCutcheon – On-Campus Senator – link
Craig Hirokawa – SOCS Senator – link
Jeremy Lynch – DCB Senator – link

The White Privilege Conference

Today marks the end of the 11th White Privilege Conference (WPC – link).  It has been a great opportunity (my second – I attended the conference last year in Memphis) to learn about and discuss white privilege/oppression, diversity, multiculturalism, and social justice.

Javier Ogaz and I are currently in our hotel room at the Radisson Hotel in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I enjoy the opportunity to spend good amounts of time having quality conversations with good friends.  Javi is certainly at the top of that list.  This is the second year in a row that the WPC has been good for this.

Earlier today, we facilitated two workshops on Addressing Microaggressions – A Focus on the Little Things.  Each was an hour and half.  The first had 38 participants and the second had 36 participants.  Our topic, workshop and presentation styles/methods were well received.  For our first major national presentation, I’d say that we were successful.  In our sessions, we had high school students, undergraduate students, graduate students, PhD students, high school teachers, college professors, government employees, non-profit workers, activists, community organizers, and business consultants.  Click here for a copy of our workshop handout.  Of course, we are available to facilitate trainings and workshops for you too!

The keynotes and sessions we went to included:

  • Redressing Health Inequities in Native America: The Role of India Self-Determination
  • Creating Social Justice in Organizations: Sharing Best Practices and Lessons Learned – a two part workshop led by the Social Justice Training Institute
  • Ethics and Leadership: Making Choices for Social Justice
  • What I Said and What I Meant: Cross Cultural Communication
  • Free Land: A Hip Hop Theater Experience
  • Shabbat Ce-Liberation Dinner
  • A Celebration of Youth

The White Privilege Conference has definitely been a great experience – it has helped me realize where I am in my personal development.  Last year, I was afraid that I would only be able to attend Beginner-level workshops and would find them all challenging.  In fact, the beginner-level workshops were usually easy/very understandable and I wanted more of a challenge.  I was further along in my understanding of these topics than I had thought.  This year, I found that the keynotes were more specific than I would have preferred – but the ones we attended were still good.  Further, I was less interested in as many workshop topics.  The ones we attended were Intermediate and/or Advanced levels.  It seems as though my experiences and involvement this past year have really helped me grow in my identity and my understanding.