Justin Zoradi, '09, was sitting on a bench in the South Park Blocks in 2007 when he was struck with an idea. He was getting ready to start his graduate program at Portland State University, and was already thinking about how was going to make a difference in the world.
Justin had been wondering how to provide an affordable education for the underprivileged students he had met while leading a field trip to Cape Town, South Africa earlier in the year. His idea was to create a program that would provide them with the financial means to make a degree possible in return for their commitment to community service. His plan was to ask friends and family to provide the funding to start the scholarship contributions coming in. And his experience in the matter? Well, that lay still unmined in the heads of his professors at Conflict Resolution Program.
PSU was the right option for Justin because it was an affordable, innovative, urban university with a diverse student body and small classes. What he had found for himself, he also wanted to provide for those kids he had met in Cape Town; bright, promising young students who could become leaders and transform their own communities, if only they had the means.
Justin began his graduate degree at PSU with the intention of utilizing his schooling to make this dream become a reality. He began the project, now called "These Numbers Have Faces", out of his small apartment, creating a blueprint for a system that would provide a university scholarship to students in return for an agreement to participate in community service, attend leadership and financial literacy trainings, and commit to giving one year of tuition back into the program for a new student behind them.
The plan required honing as it progressed, and that refinement came through the support and input of PSU professors. His program director, Dr. Robert Gould, was impressed with Justin’s idea, and allowed him to use the hours spent working on These Numbers Have Faces as practicum credit. These Numbers Haves Faces grew quickly and organically, and soon had an intern to help coordinate its activity on two continents. To Justin’s pleasant surprise, PSU allowed the intern to be granted practicum credit as well.
As Justin worked through his graduate program and on his organization, he was continually motivated by the dedication and compassion of his professors. As he recalls vividly, Professor Amanda Byron declared "Let’s not define ourselves by what we are against, but by what we are for." It’s this very philosophy that permeates both PSU and These Numbers Have Faces. "PSU has an activist-minded campus." Says Justin. "Every class and program is different, allowing students to find their own path to community engagement."
PSU and These Numbers Haves Faces ultimately have the same goal—encouraging educated, engaged students to become part of their society’s well-being and give back to future generations. The scholars who receive support from These Numbers Have Faces understand that they have been given an amazing gift. Upon graduation and employment, their responsibility is to pass on that gift along to others. Portland State graduates are no different. Our alumni are working to improve the quality of life for millions of individuals right here in the Northwest and around the world.
The work of These Numbers Haves Faces is now impacting over 200 students annually in South Africa, Rwanda, and Uganda. From its frugal offices just east of the Willamette right here in Portland, entire communities halfway around the world are being uplifted. And it all began with an idea that was nurtured at PSU.
"Social Capital is an incredible asset," Justin believes. "PSU graduates build not just skills and intellect, but amass this capital through all of their involvement with our community. The time to create new ideas and models that can change the world for the better is now, and PSU enables all of it’s students to achieve what I am fortunate to be doing: making a difference for others."
Earlier this year Justin Zoradi was named by Portland Monthly Magazine as one of 25 Portlanders who are Changing the World. Read the article here.
By John Riopelle, for the PSU Alumni Association