By Katherine Coble || Staff Writer
President Dan Porterfield has long been a beloved figure among students at Franklin & Marshall, known for his constant enthusiasm and his mini-fridge packed with ice cream. Clearly, however, the secret of his greatness has spread. On Friday, September 30, Dr. Porterfield was honored at the White House in Washington, D.C. for being a “Champion of Change” in education.
Since arriving at Franklin & Marshall in 2011, a significant part of Dr. Porterfield’s mission as a college president has been to increase the amount of need-based financial aid offers that F&M gives out. “When schools don’t have a good financial budget, they miss the opportunity to draw talent from the full American mosaic,” Porterfield says. Because F&M has made need-based aid a priority, it has been able to attract smart, interesting students from all walks of life to Lancaster. These students come to Franklin & Marshall with a unique set of experiences and contribute to a more active learning environment. Dr. Porterfield believes that by investing in financial aid, providers of higher education are also investing in the future of their schools.
“I think that we grow when we understand the perspectives of others besides ourselves and our own group. I think that groups that are diverse bring more resources to problem-solving than groups that aren’t diverse,” Porterfield says. “Having diversity in the classroom invites people to get in touch with and learn more about the traditions and the history, the unwritten history, of [America] as a whole.” When every student in a classroom can offer a different perspective on whatever is being discussed, critical thinking can flourish in a special way. Dr. Porterfield believes that his effort to bring low-income students to F&M has improved the quality of the education that F&M can provide. Clearly, the White House agrees.
Of course, socioeconomic diversity does not impact the classroom alone. The wide variety of perspectives at F&M impacts every aspect of its community, both big and small, from college houses to athletic teams to clubs and organizations. It gives F&M alumni the resources they need to take on the real world. In fact, Dr. Porterfield says, “The world that you as students will enter is still more diverse than our school is.” College is not simply about the four years on a campus, but is also about preparing students for the rest of their lives. By giving students the opportunity to experience a diverse demographic, Dr. Porterfield is preparing F&M graduates for wherever they go next.
This is not to say that gaps in understanding do not occur between F&M students of different backgrounds. Taking advantage of the diversity afforded in a college environment takes work from both the administration and students. “Colleges aren’t immune to the pressures and contradictions and tensions that we see in America today… But we are a part of the solution. We are, perhaps, more a part of the solution than any other institution in American life.” Dr. Porterfield urges F&M students to take advantage of the special position they are in, to explore areas outside of their comfort zone, and to go out of their way to understand the other perspectives that surround them.
Above all, Dr. Porterfield stresses that F&M’s position as a leader in liberal arts education is not simply because of him. Credit is due to the rest of the administration as well as F&M’s professors, staff, volunteers, and students. In his own words, “They put my name on [this award], but it’s really about the school as a whole.”
First-year Katherine Coble is a staff writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.