Local Upward Bound grad is ‘Rising Star’

6 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Salvadore “Sam” Portera Jr., a graduate of the TRIO Upward Bound program, the University of Maine at Presque Isle and Limestone Community School, earned a “Rising Star” award at the Maine Educational Opportunity Association’s (MEEOA) annual awards ceremony recently.

The award was created in 2013 to identify emerging professionals who are former participants of Maine’s educational opportunity programs who have earned degrees, are at the beginning of their careers, and are starting to make impacts in their careers and communities.

Portera was nominated by UMPI’s TRIO College Access Services Director Darylen Cote. In her nomination, Cote stated that glimmers of Portera’s career as a political organizer showed as early as his sophomore year in high school when school visits with his UB adviser often turned to political discussions. Later, UB staff arranged an internship for Portera in Congressman Mike Michaud’s Presque Isle office.

When Portera became homeless in his senior year in high school, the UB staff and the UMPI admissions director arranged for him to be admitted early to UMPI, to live in the residence hall, and to earn both high school and college credits. Consequently, when he graduated from Limestone Community School as the valedictorian of his class, he also started what would have been his freshman year at UMPI as a sophomore. Right away, he started to “pay it forward” by becoming a tutor with other college students for UMPI’s TRIO Student Support Services program.

His interest in politics continued to grow. While in college, Portera became even more politically active as the president of the UMPI College Democrats, the chair of the Presque Isle Democratic Party and the volunteer coordinator for the Aroostook County Democratic campaign office. His political activism has included volunteer work, paid internships for such organizations as Equality Maine, and currently through his job as a Political Organizer at the Maine People’s Alliance.

Portera credits TRIO Upward Bound for helping him along the way.

“UB played a significant role in who I am, not just what I do,” Portera said. “I moved around as a child, but always to places that were less than tolerant of people who were different. As incredible as it sounds, UB’s summer program was the first place I ever went as a student where a person would get in trouble for using derogatory terms about LGBT people. For high schoolers, the culture of ‘us vs. them’ is universally powerful. UB was able to create a unique environment to challenge us to feel safe and equal among our peers, regardless of our differences.”

Last spring, when UMPI’s two applications to renew Upward Bound funding were rejected by the U.S. Department of Education due to line-spacing errors, Portera jumped in to help. He activated an alumni and supporter network on social media and organized a phone bank and a canvassing effort that, in the end, generated over 2,000 letters supporting UMPI’s UB program to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. He then organized a press conference outside the Presque Isle post office, after which over half of those letters were mailed.

That effort garnered statewide and then national media attention. Along with Maine legislators and those from other states affected by similar application errors, Portera helped ensure UMPI’s applications were subsequently read and funded. He has continued to pay it forward by providing training in political advocacy to the Upward Bound Student Leadership Council.

Portera has successfully worked on issues such as access to healthcare, fair wages, marriage equality, reproductive rights and much more. His work earned him the Rising Star recognition.

Potera will be Maine’s delegate to the national Council for Opportunity in Education’s upcoming policy seminar. He will travel to Washington, D.C., in March and will join other TRIO alumni from throughout the country to visit Congressional offices, sharing the impact of the TRIO programs.