From Social Work to Social Change Work: Interview with Tara Porchia, Fall 2016 Fellow

Q. What inspires or motivates you as an individual entering the nonprofit sector?

My broad career goal is in educational leadership, whether student affairs in higher education or becoming a principal or superintendent in K-12 education.

But I can’t be an effective leader without having worked directly with the communities I hope to become a part of and serve.

The nonprofit sector for me is like community-based learning. It’s an opportunity to work directly with the community, with people, so that I can get to know its needs in order to cultivate and hone the vision that will ultimately guide my decisions and policies when I do eventually take on that leadership role. So what motivates me is knowing that I am here with a purpose, and that purpose is social change.

Q. Share a bit about where you were in your professional life before entering this fellowship.

Before entering this fellowship, I had just finished my second year in AmeriCorps. The major takeaway from my first year of service was that no matter how helpless the world’s problems may make me feel sometimes, I still had control over my own sphere, and as long as I worked at cultivating an equitable and just sphere, then that feeds into the larger system, creating a more equitable and just world overall.

Most recently, I was working at Portland Community College in a role where I was perfectly positioned to see this effect in action.

PCC had a president who was very committed to equity, social justice, and community service, and I was able to see firsthand how her commitment to those principles trickled down into the community and changed things for the good.

It was both her and my immediate supervisor’s transformative leadership styles that inspired me to want to become a transformative leader in my own rite. And so when I stumbled upon this fellowship, I knew it was something I had to do.  

Q. It sounds like you have done a lot of work towards closing the opportunity gap for first generation and low income students around Portland Metro. What brought you to this work? What have you learned from it? How has it changed you?

My senior year of college I was at a complete loss as to what I wanted to do after graduating. One day, I was talking to my very good friend about how lost I was and she told me that she was surprised. She told me that I needed to do something that would ignite a fiery passion inside of me and, for her, it was clear that doing some kind of work with disadvantaged children was just that. A lightbulb went off - and that's when I decided to join AmeriCorps.

So that’s how I came to this work. Like I mentioned, the most important thing I’ve learned is that whenever I feel downtrodden and helpless about the state of the world, I just need to remember that so long as I own whatever it is that I do have control over and make that space as equitable and just as I can, then I am in fact making the larger world as a whole more equitable and just.

I entered the nonprofit sector wanting to do social work. Now I want to do social change work.  

Q. Where should we look for you in the future (field of work, career trajectory, etc.)?

I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up in politics. But as of now that’s not the plan. I’m heading in the direction of higher education. Student affairs, advising, deanship. This isn’t the last you’ll hear of me!