“I knew that I could use my skills and talents to help others in the neurodiverse community. After reflecting on the most effective ways to drive change, I realized that business school would be the best place to grow as a social impact leader.” – Edwin C. Portugal, WG’25

Nestled within Wharton’s halls lies a vibrant community, where the School’s students each contribute their own unique perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. Without the diverse tapestry of individuals that make up its uniquely non-homogenous student body, Wharton would simply not be Wharton. It is within this ecosystem that student activists are rising to the forefront, advocating for causes that extend far beyond the classroom.

One such remarkable individual is Edwin Portugal, WG’25, an incoming MBA student who is also a proud advocate for the rights of neurodivergent people. Cleveland Clinic defines “neurodivergent” as “a term that describes people whose brains develop or work differently for some reason. This means the person has different strengths and struggles from people whose brains develop or work more typically.”

For Portugal, who is autistic, applying to Wharton as a neurodivergent person was a task that felt daunting at times.

“When I was applying to business school, some people said not to mention neurodiversity,” he says. “They had good intentions – they knew that unconscious bias is rampant in our society. I knew this too. I struggled with this knowledge. I could take a safe, typical route, focusing on other aspects of my personal and professional life.” Instead, Portugal embraced his unique perspective via his Wharton application, wherein the first sentence of his admissions essay read: ‘I am autistic and aim to improve life outcomes for people like me in the neurodiverse community.’

Now that he’s learned of his acceptance into the School, Portugal now finds himself looking forward to joining Wharton’s campus in Philadelphia this fall. Here, read more about Portugal’s journey navigating not only his MBA application; but his experiences as a National Guardsman, as a husband, and as a proud advocate for the rights of other neurodivergent people everywhere.

Meet Wharton MBA candidate, Edwin Portugal

Edwin Portugal, WG’25. (Image: Ali Bennett Photography)

Portugal grew up in a small town of about 2,000 people in upstate New York, where he nurtured his deep interest in public policy and political systems, taking particular interest in the history of the Soviet Union. These childhood interests carried over into his undergraduate years at Brown University, where he earned his BA after he majored in public policy and Slavic studies. Despite his commitment to his double-major, Portugal felt called to serve his country and found time to enlist in the National Guard at the age of 18, during his freshman year at Brown.

As the child of Filippino immigrants who underscored to Edwin the values of patriotism and love of country from the days of their son’s early childhood, Edwin enlisted because, he knew that if he didn’t, he would have regret.

“I also come from a policy background, but I think that service is such an important, beautiful thing. I encourage people to find ways to serve your country, or however you most define community,” Portugal explains.

The twenty-eight-year-old also found that he thrived under the structure of the National Guard and found it brought order to his life; which, later, he realized may have related to his autism diagnosis, which came shortly after he discharged from his military service in 2020.

As a Communications Specialist with the National Guard for over six years, Edwin has high-level expertise with satellites and radios. (Image: friend of Portugal)

How seeking help helped Edwin put the pieces together 

Even though Portugal both graduated on time from Brown and went on to work in high-functioning positions around local, national, and international nexus of political power, Portugal still sensed that he behaved differently and faced certain challenges, especially socially. He struggled with organization and sought therapy to address these difficulties during the pandemic, with the support of his fiance at the time, Emma, who Portugal married in early June of this year.

He initially booked an evaluation with a hunch it would result in a diagnosis of ADHD, but left the appointment with a formal diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) instead. And while Portugal is now fully open about his ASD diagnosis, it took a full year before he began disclosing his condition more publicly. But ever since he felt ready to dive into truly understanding how his autism impacted his life in both Portugal’s past and his present, his perception of his diagnosis is now a source of strength.

“So much makes sense, now that I know my diagnosis and what autism is. I’ve learned more about my own form of ASD, it’s been such a big insight into the challenges I’ve faced in my life, and my strengths and weaknesses,” he says.

Love on the spectrum: hear how Portugal’s wife, Emma, continues to support and encourage Edwin to pursue his dreams

Newlyweds Edwin and Emma, pictured on their wedding day on June 3, 2023. (Image: Kadri Photo)

Portugal’s relationship with his now-wife, Emma, serves as one of the primary cornerstones of support upon which Portugal depends for success. The couple met during Portugal’s internship in Washington, D.C., while he worked for Quicken Loans before joining the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe as a policy intern.

After Portugal’s autism diagnosis in 2020, Emma’s continuous love and support served as a major source of strength for Portugal as he absorbed the news for the very first time. “Emma was so supportive. She understands that the person who I was when I met her was autistic then, too; we just didn’t know it yet. When I got the news, she just said something to the effect of: ‘I don’t have any like negative connotations around [your diagnosis], and I love you as you are.’

“A common misconception about autistic people is that we have no emotions. But the truth is that we perform our emotions in a different way, and you can absolutely be on the spectrum and still find love and be married,” Portugal says.

Portugal formally begins the full-time MBA program this fall.

– Grace Meredith

Posted: July 3, 2023

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