Volunteering is student’s way to give back

Joel Portman never thought of college as a place to take it easy. Besides courses (usually four each term), a part-time job (12.5 hours a week) and AUSA senator, Portman is a prolific volunteer.

That volunteering spirit earned him the Scholar of Promise Service Award from the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. The award is for completion of 50 hours of youth-oriented community service within a year.

Portman, a sophomore management major and Judaic studies minor, has been involved in the Boy Scouts since first grade. When he goes home to St. Louis over summer break he lends a hand however he can, often working at a Boy Scout camp. In his role as Chapter Chief for the Scouts’ Order of the Arrow honor society, he was in charge of 850 members. He’s also an assistant scoutmaster and an Eagle Scout.

“Boy Scouts has benefited me the most of anything I’ve been a part of,” Portman says. He credits the program for helping build his leadership skills.

That’s saying a lot, considering Portman’s resume lists 17 current volunteer activities. Portman serves on the DU Programs Board, co-founded a Holocaust awareness group and chairs AUSA’s diversity committee. He’s active in the Honors Program, Social Justice Living and Learning Community and Voltaire Society, among others.

Katie Symons, associate director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL) and assistant director of the Social Justice Living and Learning Community, has seen Portman grow during his time at DU.

“He is one of those students who jumped right into getting involved on campus,” Symons says. “He’s committed to looking at diversity through a social justice lens and trying to fight for rights and equal treatment for people who are oppressed.”

His involvement at the Bridge Project had him interacting with youth who live in Denver public housing. “That was pretty eye-opening for Joel,” Symons says, noting that he both taught and learned from the youth.

With all Portman has going on, it’s easy to wonder what’s getting shortchanged. He swears he gets plenty of sleep. And that he does his schoolwork.

“As much as I get out of the classroom, I get just as much out of everything else as that I do. I’m learning good skills that will pertain to any job that I get.”

Portman’s passions, whether it’s educating students about current and past genocides or promoting diversity on campus, are all about making the community better.

“I like to make a difference, to get involved,” he says, noting that he prefers proactively taking steps rather than reacting. For example, he’s working to get the message out that diversity affects everyone and is more than a pledge for new students to sign onto and forget.

As for the award, Portman says it’s always nice to be recognized, but it’s not why he does it.

“If everyone did their little part to make the community better, then everyone would have a better time and be more accepting of each other.”

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