Aaron Babst, ’11, didn’t expect to end up at Portland State University. Humble and hardworking, Aaron was raised in Oregon City, and planned his route to Multnomah University. He took Advanced Placement classes in high school, earned multiple scholarships to pay for his education, and lived at home with his close-knit family to save money.
Like many journeys, however, Aaron’s didn’t end up where he had anticipated. During his first semester at Multnomah, he realized that “The campus looked just like my hometown. It felt like I was in a bubble, and I didn’t like feeling cut off from the larger world.”
Aaron investigated transferring to another school, and looked at both Oregon State University and the University of Oregon. They each offered a large campus surrounded by a small, homogenous town — an experience that was too similar to what he already knew. So he chose instead to enter PSU, drawn by the promise of an urban, diverse campus integrated into a bustling city.
With a new academic home and rejuvenated enthusiasm, Aaron balanced his studies and ongoing responsibilities with verve. He commuted into Portland every morning at the break of dawn, taking advantage of the PSU Rec Center pool with its view of the city at first light, and often stayed on campus until dusk hit the Park Blocks. At night he maintained his full-time position as a baker, continuing his commitment to complete school debt-free.
The diversity of people within PSU proved to be exactly what Aaron had hoped. For the first time, he was interacting with the full spectrum of a broad community, which helped him embrace his own individuality. A fellow student in class turned out to be the first homosexual person with whom he had consistently interacted, and they began to talk about their experiences. Aaron recollects: “It was great to get the perspective of someone who had already blazed the trail that I was about to take. I was hesitant about coming out because of the conservative atmosphere I had grown up in. He let me know what to expect and made me feel like I wasn't alone.” Encouraged by the openness of his peers and his safe surroundings, Aaron came out as gay, taking an important step for his own integrity.
PSU’s blend of online coursework and collaborative classes, including a senior capstone project featuring students with over a dozen different majors, provided the perfect foundation for Aaron’s continuing growth. “Working in a team is a must in the real world, and classes where I had to collaborate with varied groups of people prepared me for my current career.” states Aaron.
Thanks to his education and a post-degree internship at Simple, Aaron is now enmeshed in another diverse city, Chicago, where he works as the community coordinator for Google Maps. He teams with colleagues around the globe, and enlists users from every corner of the Country to provide content and feedback. While Aaron misses Oregon’s natural splendor, he is using the adaptability he learned at PSU to continue his own journey, on his own terms. With that courage, the possibilities for Aaron’s future can only grow.