The Simon Benson House is a familiar landmark on campus, and home of the Alumni Association. But this beautiful, century-old home didn’t always reside in the South Park Blocks.
The house is named after logger and civic philanthropist Simon Benson, who built the grand Queen Anne style house just after 1900 on the corner of SW 11th and Clay in downtown Portland across from the historic Old Church. The interior of the house featured rich detail and decoration, and each room was paneled in a different kind of wood.
The Simon Benson House remained there for nearly 100 years. The home fell into disrepair and was condemned in 1991 but it couldn’t be torn down because of its designation on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Over the years, many people tried to save the historic home and to find new purpose for the architecturally significant building. At long last and under the direction of late City Commissioner and PSU alumna Gretchen Kafoury, the Friends of Simon Benson House was founded to create awareness for the project and ultimately raise the $1.6 million dollars needed to move and restore the home. Kafoury partnered with alumna Pat Squire, then Executive Director of the PSU Alumni Association, and the two got to work to relocate the house to campus, with the intention it would become the home of the Alumni Association and serve as a visitors’ center for campus.
With financial support from more than 1,000 individuals and businesses, the house was moved to its new location on the Portland State University campus on Jan. 16, 2000. The renovation of the house took nearly a year and was done with care to replicate the significant architectural elements. Today the Simon Benson House is once again listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
At the front of the house, you can find an iconic Benson Bubbler. As the story goes, Simon Benson donated $10,000 in 1912 to buy and install bronze drinking fountains around the city, now known as Benson Bubblers. The Portland Water Bureau maintains more than 50 of the four-bowl fountains throughout downtown Portland.
The Simon Benson House is now home for the university’s greatest assets — its alumni — and a visible presence to students to encourage their lifelong relationship with PSU. Visitors are welcome!
Rediscovering Campus is a weekly series that highlights the stories behind popular spaces at Portland State University, as we gear up for a return to in-person learning.
The Urban Plaza is an outdoor gathering space and transit hub between the College of Urban and Public Affairs (CUPA) and the university’s Campus Rec building.
Completed in 2002, the space was created by closing off SW Montgomery Street to vehicular traffic between 5th and 6th Avenues. The original designers envisioned the plaza as a “cauldron” of activity that would serve as the university’s front door, welcoming commuters arriving by bus, train and bike.
The new entrance was also intended to connect PSU to the city’s municipal and financial areas, complementing its existing relationship with the artistic and cultural core of the South Park Blocks.
The plaza captures the natural beauty that surrounds Portland State’s campus by bringing together brick and stone elements, dramatic water features, and evergreen landscaping.
The plaza draws frequent comparisons to downtown Portland’s iconic Pioneer Courthouse Square, and for good reason: local design firm Walker Macy consulted on the master plans for both spaces. While the Square — which opened in 1984 — creates an amphitheater by cutting a circle into a concave set of stairs and steps, the Urban Plaza thrusts stairs and stadium-like steps upward into the space. It was once aptly described by a PSU architect as “Pioneer Courthouse Square turned inside out.”
Londoner John Aiken created the mountain-like sculptures that mark the Urban Center’s main entrance. Composed of stone and light granite, the monoliths create 20- to 40-foot shadows across the plaza’s bricks, reminding passersby of the “hugeness of nature” that surrounds the campus on all sides.
The plaza’s fountains draw attention to the main pedestrian corridors and provide a tranquil backdrop for passersby who elect to sit and stay a while. One fountain creates gentle ripples like a fish ladder, while the others create narrow streams that plunge like the waterfalls in the nearby Columbia Gorge. Students can often be found chatting in the sun or grabbing coffee while sitting atop a fountain parapet.
Perhaps the most surprising feature of the Urban Plaza is the streetcar that carves a diagonal path through its bricks and stones. Each new car announces itself with a friendly chime and gentle shake of the buildings above it.
With no physical separation between the streetcar tracks and plaza pedestrians, the placement was intended to conjure images of busy European streetscapes.
— Erin Sutherland, Marketing & Communications Manager at Portland State’s College of Urban & Public Affairs
Rediscovering Campus is a weekly series that highlights the stories behind popular spaces at Portland State University, as we gear up for a return to in-person learning.
In June of 2020, Randal Wyatt started Taking Ownership PDX, a grassroots nonprofit that helps Black property owners keep their homes by repairing and renovating them. He’s about to graduate from Portland State University with a degree in Social Science, a double minor in Black Studies and Sociology and a 3.92 GPA.
His PSU story: “I was born and raised in Portland, attended community college, then had twins at age 19 and dropped out. I started a band called Speaker Minds. We rap about social issues, and I built a name for myself doing benefit concerts and fund raisers. I went back to community college and got my associate’s degree, became a residential treatment counselor, and then a mentor for Black and Latino boys on probation. Then I moved to Portland Youth Builders as a student advocate with the stipulation that I go back to school and get my degree. I started at PSU half-time in 2017, worked full-time, raised my sons and my music career was taking off. So yeah, it’s been a long road.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the way society works, why things are the way they are, why are systems the way they are, why can’t we have nicer things in America. Last year around this time people started asking me how they can be better allies to Black and marginalized communities. We have to develop more of a village mindset, develop equitable practices that help uplift communities that have historically and currently been excluded. That turned into Taking Ownership PDX, because my studies at PSU taught me that one of the most effective ways to use resources is to keep wealth in communities that are preyed upon for their land.
“I didn’t want to just talk. I decided if we’re really going to change the social climate, I’m going to go out and do it.”
— Randal Wyatt
“I didn’t want to just talk. I decided if we’re really going to change the social climate, I’m going to go out and do it. I was naive about it initially, I thought we’ll just get a bunch of volunteers and start swinging hammers at homes and fixing them up. There’s a lot more to it than that. By the end of the first week, I had $10K. I had one home to work on, so I took the money and started fixing it up, redid the carpet, windows, gutters, all that. Then I got two to three more homes to work on.
“In one year we’ve helped 35 black families fix up their homes with jobs ranging from fixing leaks to roof and window replacements, landscaping, cleanup. We serve primarily the elderly. We’ve raised about $400,000.
“At PSU, not only have I gained knowledge of myself, but it’s inspired me to create an organization that helps the community. It gave me the know-how and what areas to target. It’s worth it. It’s been stressful, but the knowledge that I’ve gained has been invaluable.”
PSU’s CAT program teaches all facets of IT infrastructure in a professional environment
The CAT (Computer Action Team) is a hands-on, IT training program for student volunteers. PSU’s University Communications spoke to the CAT’s Department Manager, Brittaney Califf, and Communications Student, Brian Koehler to find out more about the opportunities CAT provides for students. Interview edited for clarity and length.
Q: What does the CAT do and what does being part of the team entail?
Brian Koehler: The CAT (Computer Action Team) provides IT support throughout the Maseeh College of Engineering (MCECS). With a primary focus on instructional needs, we support many large-scale computer labs (both college-wide and departmental), remotely accessible computer/session servers, various remotely accessible services as well as the server and physical network infrastructure that binds it all together. Where possible, the CAT is also able to leverage its infrastructure to support research and special projects in the college.
The second purpose of the team is to provide an invaluable resource to all students of Portland State University, regardless if they are students of MCECS or not. We provide IT training and skills via our brain dump program to students as well as Help Desk Work experience in an IT environment.
Brittaney Califf: We do everything here! We have our own admin side, our own user services, all the way to the end to our own surplussing of equipment and recycling, so we run the gamut.
Can you tell us more about the Braindump program?
BK: The Braindump program is the major part of being in the CAT. Every student who joins the CAT is expected to participate in this program. It is a weekly 3-4 hour class that is taught by one of our full-time employees or a student leader that has to do with IT. In return for this free class, we ask that students volunteer 3-4 hours per week working on our front desk helping MCECS students and faculty with their IT issues. Students then can put what they learned in the Braindump class in action while on the front desk.
BC: The program is only offered once a year, in the fall. The next brain dump batch will be starting Oct. 8 for this year and we only take one set per year because it’s really like an 18-month program — one batch ends up teaching the next batch. They get a broad range of skills to be at the front desk. Probably within 3 months, they’re on the front desk and by 6 or 8 months in, they’re alone on the front desk, helping people. The best way to learn around here is just to help other people.
What kind of skills are developed in working for the CAT?
BK: Students in the CAT can learn almost every facet of IT infrastructure in a professional environment. Some of these systems include Windows, Linux, printers, website development, and networking. We also have teams that specialize in technical and wiki writing to record and document all of the Computer Action Team’s training and systems, as well as student leadership roles and a communication team.
BC: If you don’t know what you want to do, this is a great place to find out what you enjoy: You can do the purchasing, administrative, and business end or you can join a networking team. You can do hardware, software, development, web administration and we have a video team. We have a huge variety of opportunities where people can mess around and find what they love. People really find their niche here.
What kind of jobs can experience with the CAT lead to?
BK: Many students have found jobs via connections they made at the CAT with Nike, Intel, and other local companies. Our weekly Braindump classes will teach students everything about IT in a professional setting as well as give them hard skills they can use in their day-to-day technology use. They will walk away with one year of IT help desk experience if they complete the Braindump program. They also have the chance to work closely with our full-time employees and get even more directed training in any systems of their choice.
How many people are currently involved in the CAT?
BK: The CAT is run by Janaka Jayawardena, who set up the idea of the Braindump program and student volunteer program almost 30 years ago, and is assisted by Brittaney. The team consists of 8 FTE (that includes a director and department administrator), 7-10 student workers, and an army of volunteer trainees. Technical support for each platform (Windows, Linux/UNIX, etc.) has a full-time lead who, in turn, is surrounded by a team that may include full-time employees, student workers, and student volunteers.
BC: There are fewer student workers right now due to current constraints, but the volunteer crowd consists of about 43 people right now.
How has the CAT been operating differently during the pandemic?
BK: The Computer Action Team was one of the driving forces to getting many MCECS systems pandemic-ready; the students and full-time employees worked daily to get all of the labs set up virtually and get the professors and employees of MCECS running. To do this, we had our students in the technical writing team update and improve our website to have the latest information and user guides to getting set up for remote labs.
BC: The Braindump program has also been all online for the first time ever — this is our first remote batch of students. Skills are being transposed into online help, whereas students would usually walk over to a lab and help somebody. Phone calls are usually a big thing for us and those are not happening; they’re being transposed into voicemails and students are then returning the calls. It’s a little weird but no less active. People are not needing less help, they’re just needing different help.
What should students interested in joining the CAT know?
BK: Again, we only enroll students once a year in October; it is the only chance they get to join the Braindump program and become a part of the CAT. They can learn more at our website and they can follow our social media accounts to get a heads up on next year’s orientation.
BC: We take people from all across campus. You don’t have to be studying Engineering, we’ve had folks from Geology, English, Physics — all over the place. We’ve taken folks who don’t know how to turn a computer on! You really do learn from the ground up, if you need to, and it starts wherever you are.
How a Portland State student group makes the major more welcoming for all
If you’re a current or prospective computer science student, you may have heard of We in Computer Science, more commonly known as WiCS, one of PSU’s student-led computer science groups. But do you know much about the group’s goals or what it offers for CS students? WiCS’s 2020-2021 president, Alejandro Castaneda, weighs in on four key things to know about the group.
WiCS was originally founded as “Women in Computer Science” by a group of women at PSU who felt that they didn’t belong and that there wasn’t a space for them in computer science.
That out-of-place feeling was largely due to a general trend in tech: “As courses go on to the upper division, the amount of women and people of color in classes just drops down significantly,” Alejandro explains. “This is something seen throughout the whole industry, where people of color and women have higher burnout rates . . . It’s this culture of tech that is very exclusionary.”
The group was later renamed to “We in Computer Science” as an acknowledgement that several groups —including women and people of color as well as LGBTQIA+ and gender non-conforming people, first-generation immigrants, and disabled people — face this exclusionary culture.
Its name may have changed, but WiCS has always focused on supporting each of these groups that have been historically underrepresented in computer science. WiCS envisions a future in which these groups are truly included — a future in which diversity is celebrated and people can truly feel that they belong in computer science.
WiCS works to build this future by providing a community in which members can receive advice and guidance from people who may have been through similar experiences. Essentially, as Alejandro says, “In case they are struggling, or in case they’re feeling alone, they have this whole community that is also there to support them.”
3. Mentorship program
WiCS’s mentorship program is one major way in which it builds this community. Mentees are paired up with a mentor (who can, in turn, also be a mentee if they so choose). It’s one of WiCS’s biggest highlights, Alejandro says. The mentor helps foster connections between their mentee and the rest of the WiCS community, and helps guide them through courses and jobs.
The 2020-2021 school year marks the third year of the program, and with 23 mentors and 36 mentees total, it’s still going strong even in this year’s remote world.
Aside from its mentorship program, WiCS also holds several events throughout the year designed to help and support its community. Here are the big ones:
Annual Winter Career in Tech Night: A workshop in which local tech companies are connected with WiCS members to provide real-world advice for resumes, internships, interviews, networking, hiring standards, and everything else career-related.
Annual Spring Hackathon: Participants work with a team over a weekend on a real coding project to encourage community growth and bolster coding skills for students of ALL levels.
Monthly Town Halls: These often feature presentations from members of the tech community and discussions about how to both improve and thrive within the industry.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about WiCS is that they want you to get involved. Alejandro advises checking out WiCS’s website and its Slack channel, and recommends people who are curious to come to one of the events it hosts.
Just taking the initiative to attend a WiCS event is a fantastic first step. “Even if your video’s off, even if your mic is on mute, you still showed up,” Alejandro says. That bit of involvement can lead to deeper participation and connection, and can potentially create an experience that’ll stick with you for years.
WiCS may focus on supporting groups that are historically underrepresented in computer science in particular, but that doesn’t mean that only people in those groups can be a part of its community. Anyone who shares WiCS’s vision of a future where everyone can feel welcome in computer science is encouraged to take that first step and check the group out!
She served as president of Winona State University from 2005-2012, after which she became a distinguished professor of public service at Portland State.
Watch an interview with Ramaley by Liza Schade on May 22, 2020 in the PSU Library Archives, in which she discusses lessons learned during her time as president of PSU, ideas behind the new University Studies curriculum, diversifying student and faculty, and creating safer and more inclusive university spaces.
Gladys McCoy, ’67
First African American elected to public office in the state of Oregon
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, on February 28, 1928, to Tilman Sims and Lucile Dawson and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, McCoy grew up during the Depression in the Jim Crow South.
The first in her family to attend college, McCoy graduated in 1949 from Talladega College in Alabama. She moved to Portland, married William McCoy, and had seven children before she decided to pursue a graduate degree at Portland State University. She received a master’s degree in social work in 1967.
During her years of service, McCoy focused on issues of diversity in public workplaces, public health programs and social services for low-income populations, and justice and human rights.
In 2018, the Multnomah County Commission adopted the Gladys McCoy Standard, which directs the county to interview qualified candidates of underrepresented groups for leadership roles in county departments.
Gladys McCoy died in Portland on April 11, 1993. Each year, the Multnomah County Office of Community Involvement presents the Gladys McCoy Lifetime Achievement Award for “volunteer service dedicated to improving the county community.”
Avel Gordly, ’74
First African American woman to be elected to the Oregon Senate
Born Feb. 13, 1947, Avel Gordly served in the senate from 1997 to 2009. Previously, she served for five years in the Oregon House of Representatives.
Gordly graduated from Girls Polytechnic High School in 1965 and worked at Pacific Northwest Bell until 1970, when she enrolled at Portland State. She earned a degree in the administration of justice in 1974, the first person in her family to graduate from college. She went on to work for the Oregon Corrections Division as a women’s work-release counselor and later as a probation officer.
She was elected state representative from north and northeast Portland in 1992. In 1996, she was elected to the Oregon Senate, where she served from 1997 to 2009.
In 2008, OHSU opened the Avel Gordly Center for Healing, which provides mental health and psychiatric services. Gordly has also served as a professor of black studies at PSU.
First woman to serve on the Public Utility Commission
Nancy Ryles served in the Oregon House of Representatives, the Oregon Senate and as one of three members of the state’s Public Utility Commission. She was known as an advocate for education and for equality for women and minorities. An elementary school in Beaverton is named after her.
Born Nancy Ann Wyly, she graduated from Jefferson High in Northeast Portland and was chosen as Portland Rose Festival Queen in 1955. Ryles attended Portland State and Willamette University, but did not graduate from college.
Ryles served on the Beaverton School Board from 1972 to 1978. The Oregon Education Association gave her its Human Rights Award in 1974, and she was named Beaverton’s “First Citizen” in 1979. She was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1978, the Oregon Senate in 1982, and was appointed to the Oregon Public Utility Commission in 1987.
In July 1990, Ryles was diagnosed with brain cancer. She died in September at age 52. Her early death gave her farewell speech to the Senate added poignance: “The challenge then is to do the best we can … wherever we are … in whatever time we have. I hope I have done that.”
Before she died, a group of Ryles’ friends decided to honor her legacy by creating a scholarship in her name. She insisted that it go to students who returned to school at PSU after their education was interrupted.
Betty Roberts, ’58
First woman to serve on the Oregon Supreme Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals
Betty Roberts was the 83rd Associate Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, the highest state court in Oregon.
She was the first woman on the Oregon Supreme Court and the first woman on the Oregon Court of Appeals. Roberts served from 1982 to 1986 on the high court and from 1977 to 1982 on the Court of Appeals. She graduated from Portland State College in 1958.
A native of Kansas and raised in Texas, Roberts had previously been elected to both chambers of the Oregon Legislative Assembly, but lost bids for the governor’s office and the United States Senate, both in 1974. She was married three times, including to Frank L. Roberts and Keith Skelton, both of whom she would serve with in the Oregon Legislative Assembly.
She was a private mediator and senior judge until her death due to pulmonary fibrosis.
Margaret Carter, ’72
First African American in the Oregon House
Born December 29, 1935, Margaret Carter was the first black woman elected to the state’s legislature. She served in the Oregon House of Representatives from 1985 to 1999, and the state senate from 2001 to 2009.
Born Margaret Hunter in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Dec. 29, 1935, she was one of nine children. Her father was a Baptist minister, and her mother was a cook at the school cafeteria. After getting married she had five daughters by the age of 28, and moved to Oregon in 1967 to escape abuse by her then husband. In 1970, she enrolled at Portland State, graduating in 1972 with a bachelor of arts degree in education. She earned a masters of education in psychology from Oregon State University in 1973.
She resigned from the senate in 2009 and took a post as deputy director for human services programs at the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Tawna D. Sanchez, ’12
Second Native American to serve in the Oregon legislature
Born and raised in Portland, Sanchez is Native American, of Shoshone, Bannock, and Ute descent. She is currently serving in the Oregon House of Representatives, for the 43rd District which covers parts of north-central Portland. She is the second Native American to serve in the Oregon legislature, and the first to represent Portland.
Sanchez graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Marylhurst University and with a master’s degree in social work from Portland State University in 2012.
Sanchez served on the Oregon Child Welfare Advisory Commission and the Oregon Family Services Review Commission, and has worked with the Native American Youth and Family Center for much of her life.
Debbie Murdock was known and widely respected for her tireless belief in and dedication to public service and Portland State University. She worked tirelessly at PSU for 14 years serving as lobbyist and strategic advisor to the president. Her intellect, passion and powers of persuasion led to tens of millions of dollars in funding for PSU and policy directives that helped transform the University into the largest in the Oregon Higher Education System.
During her time at PSU, Murdock helped secure funding for several major projects, including the Native American Student and Community Center.
Murdock died of cancer in 2007 at the age of 52. Her colleagues and friends established the Deborah Murdock Scholarship to honor her memory in a way that she would have loved: by helping PSU students reach their educational goals.
The Memorial Clock Tower in Urban Plaza is named after Murdock, and is said to represent her energy and vitality.
What if the solution to a more sustainable car is to install a hydrogen engine conversion kit instead of replacing the entire car?
For student-entrepreneur Blake Turner, converting existing gasoline-fueled cars to zero-carbon hydrogen-combustion vehicles using a conversion kit is the solution to a more affordable and sustainable car.
Turner is the founder of Turner Automotive, a business that focuses on converting existing gasoline-fueled cars to hydrogen-combustion. Turner says he got the idea for his business from working on a Chemistry class term project, but the idea wasn’t fully developed until later when he participated in Invent Oregon, a PSU-led competition for college students to address imperative problems.
Here’s how Turner explains Turner Automotive: “Our conversion kit can convert a gasoline engine to hydrogen without modifying any existing components. The idea is that converting a car is much more affordable, convenient and sustainable than building new cars. The affordability comes from the fact that it’s a small conversion kit, rather than a whole new car, and the convenience is that you can go back to burning gasoline at any time, allowing for a gradual transition that does not exist at the moment.”
Turner Automotive was built with the help of PSU’s Cube Program. The Cube is a four-month-long program that helps students turn their prototypes into reality, preparing them for launch by the end of the program. Currently, Turner Automotive is developing its Hydrogen Engine Conversion Kit.
“While COVID-19 has put a serious stop to our ability to work with our mentors, I hope to come out of this pandemic driving a fully converted car! We have explored various business strategies and how we plan to distribute our kit,” Turner said.
We asked Blake about his business and experience at PSU.
“The Cube has been invaluable as a resource for funding, access to mentors, and most importantly access to other student entrepreneurs.”
How did The Cube program help you?
The Cube has been invaluable as a resource for funding, access to mentors, and most importantly access to other student entrepreneurs. This environment of collaboration has helped give us new ideas and strategies that we would not have been able to come up with otherwise.
What is some advice you can offer to other student entrepreneurs?
Just say ‘yes’. I had a hard time trying new opportunities and going outside my comfort zone. I would doubt myself, and just stick with what I knew. But when I first agreed to participate in Invent Oregon, it changed my life…In the two and a half years I have been with the cube, I have had experiences I never would have dreamed of.
As we continue to refine our technology, we intend to raise more non-dilutive funding through other competitions to fund a Beta test of our Conversion Kits. This Beta Program will convert ten volunteer cars to give us long-term usage info, as well as valuable user feedback to refine our kits. After the Beta Test, we will convert a small fleet of vehicles. We have talked with PSU about converting the PSU facilities fleet, but this is still in its early stages. After the first fleet conversion, we plan on selling to individual consumers to scale up production before targeting larger fleet operators.
Turner planned to graduate in 2022, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put that on hold for now. In the meantime, he is working out his education plan. After graduating Turner said he plans to take his business as far as he can. “Outside of my business, I plan on pursuing a career in communications, specifically technical communications, ideally representing an engineering team and communicating their projects to other sectors,” Turner explained.
Visit the Cube webpage to learn more, or find out more about Turner Automotive.
— Autumn Barber
This is one a series of profiles about students in the Cube program, a four-month intensive course that is designed to prepare student entrepreneurs for launch and go-to-market for their companies.
This Women’s History Month, take a stroll through Portland State’s Walk of the Heroines and celebrate some of the African American women activists and community leaders who left their mark in our city:
Kathryn Bogle was a freelance journalist, social worker and community activist best known for “An American Negro Speaks of Color,” a 2,000-word article she sold to The Oregonian in 1937, which described the realities of being Black in Portland.
Willie Mae Hart
Willie Mae Hart co-owned Portland’s first Black-owned cab company, which helped people out during the Vanport flood, and was the first African-American nurse to work at Portland’s Physicians and Surgeons Hospital. The PSU Library’s University Archives & Special Collections has this interview with Willie Mae Hart from 2010.
Pauline Bradford, among one of the first African Americans hired by the IRS, was a respected teacher, committed community volunteer and longtime neighborhood advocate. The Portland State University Archives & Special Collections has this interview with Pauline Bradford.
The interviews were conducted by Portland State University public history students in 2010. In winter 2015, with professor Dr. Patricia Schechter, a second cohort of students reviewed the recordings and transcripts of the oral histories and created a digital exhibit containing audio and written excerpts from the interviews, photographs, and historical and biographical information. The digital exhibit can be accessed here.
Marie B. Smith
Marie B. Smith was a civil rights leader, a Williams Avenue YWCA board member and became the first female president of the Portland branch of the NAACP.
Verdell Burdine Rutherford
Verdell Burdine Rutherford was a prominent leader in Oregon’s civil rights movement. She also was an avid historian who created an extensive collection that chronicled the African American experience in Oregon, which you can now find at Portland State’s Library Archives & Special Collections.
Beatrice Morrow Cannady
Beatrice Morrow Cannady was a leading champion of Portland progress and racial equality, editor of the Advocate, Oregon’s largest and at times only African American newspaper, and a founding member of the Portland NAACP.
Buying a home is the quintessential American Dream. Couch is the evolution of a simple idea to make homeownership more achievable for partners or groups of individuals.
The idea for Couch was developed by MBA students Jesse Harding and Jacob Taddy, evolving from Taddy’s MBA Pioneering Innovation team in 2018. Together, they created Couch, a business that makes it easier for people to invest in a home either as a group or in a partnership.
Here’s how Harding explains Couch: “Couch uses its system of service and educational resources to create a holistic ecosystem that supports buying partners in being more competitive and reducing risk in the venture by helping prepare them for co-owning and management of their property. Think of it as TurboTax for shared home buying.”
Couch was created through the help of PSU’s Cube Program. The Cube is a four-month-long program that helps students turn their prototypes into reality, preparing them for launch by the end of the program. Currently, Couch is in development.
Harding describes Couch’s business this way: “We are focused on improving homeownership access and affordability by making buying and then owning a home with others easier. We take a proactive approach, streamlining the organization, decision making and administrative aspects of buying that is further complicated when you don’t fit within the conventional box of buying with a spouse or as an individual.”
We asked Jesse about his business and experience at PSU.
“Take advantage of the resources that are available to you. They may not always be readily apparent. Always ask.”
How did The Cube program help you?
The Cube provided a dynamic community of innovative thinkers that I could learn from. The ability to share insights and resources made my concept stronger. I also really benefited from the informal accountability that emerged from our group dynamic. Juan, Himalaya, and Xuan [the Cube’s staff] were always there, gently pushing and supporting me along the way.
What is some advice you can offer to other student entrepreneurs?
Take advantage of the resources that are available to you. They may not always be readily apparent. Always ask. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance in whatever form you need it. You’d be surprised how willing faculty and advisors are to support you.
Oh geez! A lot. Of course, we’re looking for funding. We’re still focused on the build-out of our IP (Title Selector, Partnership Agreement Builder, etc.). You can never have too much market validation. So, I’m working on a couple of Study Cases and using lean surveys to that effect.
Harding graduated in June 2020 with an MBA and a graduate certificate in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship.
“Moving forward, I’m focused on positions where I can merge storytelling and strategy. That could be public or private so long as the net benefit of the work is that it grows community. Ideally, within the next ten years you’ll see me helping to lead the charge behind a high-impact social innovation/social enterprise,” Harding said.
Looking for a sweet treat? Look no further than Woppa! alfajores. Created by four founders, Woppa! is a business that creates GMO-free alfajores sandwich cookies that come in a variety of flavors.
One of the four founders of Woppa! is innovator and student-entrepreneur German Ochoa. Ochoa is a senior at Portland State University majoring in Global Supply Chain Management.
Ochoa’s business model is focused on sustainability and inclusion while sharing delicious alfajores with the world, which are sandwich cookies found in countries like Spain and Argentina. After a year of research and development, Ochoa found that the only way to stand out from the competition was to create a sustainable product “that can genuinely represent and inspire those who follow their dream.”
Woppa! was created with the help of PSU’s Cube Program. The Cube is a four-month-long program that helps students turn their prototypes into reality, preparing them for launch by the end of the program. Currently, Woppa! is in the process of completing its production line and looking to expand to a second facility.
We asked German about his business and experience at PSU.
“The uncertainty can be your best or worst ally, but you gotta trust yourself so things can turn out for the best.”
How did The Cube program help you?
The Cube has made great connections for me in the food industry and advising on a few essential steps to execute my next phases, whether it is preparing financial opportunities down the row or ensuring my company’s IP (intellectual property).
What is some advice you can offer to other student entrepreneurs?
The uncertainty can be your best or worst ally, but you gotta trust yourself so things can turn out for the best. That is why you are called an entrepreneur, take the risk because no one will do it for you.
Next is to open a second facility here in Portland to ensure a lean process that would allow me to grow in different regions.
Ochoa anticipates graduating in the fall and plans to finish two of his certificates in Food and Beverage and Social Innovation at PSU. In terms of his business Ochoa said he plans to “expand more in the food industry and find more opportunities where my knowledge can serve others.”