University News

Junior wins Truman scholarship

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 15, 2010

Over spring break, David Poritz ‘11.5 checked his e-mail and found a message from President Ruth Simmons — telling him that he was one of 60 Truman Scholars, a select group of students chosen from 576 candidates across the nation to receive up to $30,000 for their graduate studies. Poritz, who founded the nonprofit Esperanza International as a freshman in high school, was selected for his leadership in promoting environmental change.

Poritz took a leave of absence last year to develop his social enterprise organization, Gaia Certification, Ltd., which aims to institute the world’s first global certification system that creates incentives for companies to use higher standards of oil and gas exploration and production.

“Gaia was an epiphany I had while working in a production industry in the Amazon. I recognized that the gas and oil industries didn’t fundamentally have to have a negative social and environmental impact,” Poritz said.

“The problem in the gas and oil industries is that there isn’t a mechanism to evaluate what is an acceptable practice,” he said. “Gaia offers an industry score card on various social and environmental factors.”

Scholars were selected “on the basis of leadership potential, intellectual ability and likelihood of ‘making a difference,’ ” according to a press release from the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation.

Poritz hopes to attend law school and pursue a master’s degree in forestry and environmental studies at Yale, he said. But in addition to the actual scholarship, he said, “You get the opportunity to be part of a globalized network of students involved in leadership and social justice issues.”

“I think having a background in environmental law would be a critical skill set for (the Gaia) team,” said Poritz, who oversees an advisory council of law students that is developing environmental legislation for the Ecuadorian government as a client for the Yale Law School Environmental Protection Clinic.

Though Poritz, who is concentrating in Latin American and Caribbean studies and anthropology, said he is still searching for a balance between schoolwork, campus life and running a new corporation based in Ecuador, he is confident he made the right decision in returning to Brown last semester.

“My goal at Brown is to align what I’m doing with Gaia so they coalesce. Brown gives me a unique opportunity to feasibly accomplish my goals” because of the New Curriculum’s flexibility, said Poritz, adding that he would not be able to run Gaia if he attended a school with a rigid core curriculum.

Brown’s “central” geographic location is also an advantage, said Poritz, who regularly travels to Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., on weekends for business meetings.

“My education won’t be what it will be for many people. I spend less time in the classroom than some people, like pre-med or engineering students, but that doesn’t make my education less meaningful,” he said. “It’s the concept of experimental learning that has been the cornerstone of my education.”

Joshua Bernard ’11, co-president of Esperanza International — a nonprofit that aims to aid indigenous communities adversely affected by toxic contamination — described Poritz’s “passion for social justice” as “infectious.”

Esperanza International facilitates the development and writing of environmental legislation in the U.S. and Latin America, according to Bernard.

“When I began working with Esperanza a few years ago, David had been dealing with issues of inequity and sustainability in the Amazon for almost a decade,” Bernard said.

“In 10 years, David’s efforts may bring about serious changes in the way our society perceives and extracts natural resources,” he added. “In 20 years, I think we would all be surprised if David was not running the country.”

Poritz said he has no presidential aspirations, but added that he would consider running for the U.S. Senate “sometime way down the line.” 

For now, he is focusing on expanding the impact of Gaia.

“My goal is for 10 percent of global oil production to reach Gaia certification,” Poritz said.