Portia Nartey is the first in her family to complete high school, the first to complete college, and the first to attain a graduate degree. She was recently accepted in three competitive PhD programs and has a long-term professional goal to work for the United Nations.

Portia Nartey, MSW ’22, MSP ’22

Growing up in Ghana, Portia saw how cultural barriers hold women back. Instead of developing a pessimistic view of the future, she chose to test those limits. “I grew up in a community where I didn’t see women doing so many big things, but I really wanted to do big things,” Portia says. Her mother couldn’t complete high school, but she encouraged Portia to lean into every educational opportunity.

In college, Portia began to work with girls in rural Ghana, providing one-on-one tutoring, mentorship, and public health guidance. Helping deconstruct cultural taboos around menstruation—and keeping girls in school by teaching them to make inexpensive reusable sanitary pads—is what she considers her greatest success from that time.

Her passion for empowering the underserved, particularly women, led Portia to the Brown School, where she pursued Master of Social Work and Master of Social Policy degrees with a concentration in international social and economic development. Portia has gained invaluable tools and experiences from WashU—leadership opportunities, applied practicums, and connections with professors, peers, and alumni. This summer, she will participate in the Brown School’s Researcher Resilience Training (RRT) program designed for advanced doctoral students. The program will provide didactic instruction, hands-on experience in child-focused studies, individualized consultation and mentorship, and ongoing support resources.

I grew up in a community where I didn’t see women doing so many big things, but I really wanted to do big things

Portia Nartey

Portia believes her WashU scholarship made this path possible. As she says, “Some people need scholarships so they can have a great future—I mean, something great could come out of our lives. So, I would encourage the university to keep supporting more and more people. And in the future, I hope to give back to WashU to support other people like me.”

Portia was recently accepted into three of the top PhD programs in her field and decided to continue her important research at WashU. She will enter the Brown School’s rigorous PhD program in fall 2023. As she says, “…when I go out in the world, I know I’ll be able to access so many places and opportunities that would have been difficult without this education from this institution.” She exudes the optimism of a change maker, and her WashU experience has instilled the knowledge and confidence she needs to reach her goals. Hearing that other Brown School graduates have landed in careers at the UN, Portia smiles knowing, “It’s achievable.”

You can help future change makers like Portia when you make a gift of any amount in support of Brown School scholarships.

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