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Against all odds
Against all odds


Ramon Torrecilha was recently appointed provost, the second highest academic post, at California State University - Dominguez Hills. But back when he began his education at Portland State—as a farm worker who spoke little English—this appointment would be too fantastic to even consider. 

Torrecilha moved to the United States to participate in an agricultural exchange program that promised education in return for working on an orchard in White Salmon, Washington. But the Brazil native, who came from a laborer background, soon found that his new employers were less interested in teaching than they were in cheap labor. It was only with the help of a bilingual Bible that Torrecilha started to understand English and found his way to Portland State. Here, he became part of a community that encouraged his desire to learn.

“I’ve come to where I am today because of education,” says Torrecilha, “and I received my education through Portland State University. For that, I’m eternally grateful.”

He started at Portland State studying English as a second language, a PSU program that is ranked highest by U.S. News and World Report for providing English proficiency for more international students than other universities in the U.S. After his first term, Torrecilha enrolled in regular classes and fell in love with sociology. He eventually earned a doctorate in the subject, but he still remembers a conversation with a PSU professor that he recalls as a turning point in his schooling.

“She said, ‘absolutely, you can do what I do.’ And that day my life changed because I had somebody that really saw potential in me.”