Even during the handful of years that Margarita Gutierrez Lemus spent as a legal assistant, she would volunteer weekends to teach at a college access program in Salem. She began as a student at the very same program, and ever since she has been committed to youth development and education. Now, the 30-year-old is a program manager at College Possible Portland, which provides resources—from college application help and financial aid coaching to study skills—for low-income students pursuing higher education. “The youth help me imagine a more equitable world,” says Gutierrez. “Their minds are more open and creative.”

Creating change is not just something she fosters in her students—it’s something that she pushes for among grownups, too. Gutierrez Lemus is the cochair of College Possible’s joint Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, and has been an integral part in developing new policies and training methods around those issues.

“She knows the barriers of higher education,” says Julie Mancini, College Possible Portland’s executive director. “And because she can convey those barriers and think thoughtfully about them, the program participants know she has their back, and they also know she’ll hold them accountable. I’ve worked in the city for many years, and I do believe she’s exceptional.”

The 15th Annual Light a Fire Awards

6 p.m., November 21, Oregon Convention Center


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