Students and faculty travel the globe to meet with Opus Prize finalists

By Madison Pfeifer | September 10, 2018 10:13pm
Student ambassadors met with not only the Opus Prize finalists, but also those whom the organizations strive to help. Photo Submission by UP Marketing

A selection process that has been nearly 20 months in the making will finally reach its culmination this November – and it will happen right here on campus.

Each year, the Opus Prize Foundation partners with a Catholic university to recognize unsung heroes all over the world who are making a difference in their communities. 

The foundation chose UP to be its 2018 partner school. Six student and three faculty ambassadors from UP were sent across the globe last spring to witness the impact the finalists are making in their communities, and to help the Opus Prize Foundation select one changemaker to award a $1 million prize.  

From Nov. 11-15, UP will host different events in celebration of the Opus Prize and its three finalists. Throughout the week, the finalists will be speaking in classrooms and sharing their stories with students. 

The main events will be a public forum on Nov. 12, an interfaith prayer service on Nov. 14 and the awards ceremony on Nov. 15. The winner will then be announced and awarded $1 million, while the other two finalists will each receive $100,000. 

Student and Faculty ambassadors speak with some of the Opus Prize finalists. Photo Submission by UP Marketing

“There’s a dynamic nature to the city of Portland and also the University of Portland...They (the Opus Prize Foundation) have a lot of other choices, but they did pick us,” Daniel McGinty, director of the Dundon-Berchtold Institute for Moral Formation and Applied Ethics, said.

After UP agreed to be a part of the program back in February of 2017, UP created an open application to all student and faculty members to apply to be ambassadors. 

The student ambassadors chosen were junior Julianna Oliphant, senior Brenna Chapman, senior Emily Holguin, senior Ezedin Jabr, senior Nick Krautscheid and senior Alex Peterson.

The faculty ambassadors were Associate Professor for computer science Andrew Nuxoll, Associate Professor for the School of Nursing Amber Vermeesch and Dean of the School of Education John Watzke.

In the spring of 2018, these ambassadors traveled to different sites, met and worked alongside the Opus Prize finalists and saw for themselves the impact the finalists were making in their communities. Upon returning home, the ambassadors made their recommendations to the Opus Prize Foundation based on what they saw.

“I guess that’s what impacted me,” Peterson said. “Seeing what it really looks like to live a life like that where you go out of your way constantly just trying to help others.” 

Peterson visited finalists Daniel and Avitha Victor at the Agape Rehabilitation Center in Chennai, India. This organization provides services for disabled teens and adults, and also assists their patients with finding a job.   

Senior Alex Peterson speaks with two young boys from the Agape Rehabilitation Center in India. Photo Submission by UP Marketing

While Peterson went to India, Jabr traveled to Chicago where he met finalist Dr. Rami Nashashibi and the people of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network. While many services are offered here, the most effective program they have includes training formerly incarcerated men in construction so that they are able to find a job.  

“Everyone I met sort of encapsulated what UP students should be,” Jabr said. “You know how they always say UP students should have certain principles? The people I met had it all.” 

Another student ambassador, Oliphant, traveled to Lima, Peru, where she met with Jose Antonio Patron Quispe and Rev. Daniel Panchot, CSC and their organization, Yancana Huasy. This organization supports disabled youth and helps the families of their patients learn how to support the needs of their child. 

“I think a running theme that I saw was the power of believing in a work that you’re doing and being passionate about it and the impact that you can have through that,” said Oliphant. 

Alongside Oliphant, Vermeesch also traveled to Peru.

“Yancana Huasy is doing such an amazing job of meeting the community where their needs are,” Vermeesch said. “There really are people out there doing amazing work.”

While the site visits may be long over, there is still much to look forward to regarding UP’s partnership with the Opus Prize.

“The Opus Prize is meant to be a catalyst,” said McGinty. “It is meant to have a catalytic impact on the campus and the city of Portland. Our hope is that the University and the city will be different because of these experiences with the Opus Prize.”

Madison Pfeifer is a news reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at