In the spring of 1981, then-sophomore Daniel Porterfield (COL ’83) desperately hoped to become a resident adviser for first-year students. Nearly 30 years after mentoring that original group of freshmen on Darnall Hall’s fourth floor, Porterfield plays a major role in the Georgetown community as its senior vice president for strategic development.
Fr. Otto Hentz, S.J., who advised Porterfield to apply for the RA position, had no idea that years later Porterfield would become an integral part of many students’ Georgetown experience.
“Dan is a people person graced with an instinctive care for others, and he acts on it,” Hentz said. “His care for others has a special focus when it comes to Hoyas because of his own richly formative experience as an undergraduate, which he wants others to have.”
After receiving a Bachelor of Arts from both Georgetown and Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, Porterfield worked in a senior role at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He then earned his Ph.D. from the City University of New York Graduate Center. Porterfield returned to the Hilltop in 1997, where he has served as an English professor, vice president of communications and interim athletic director, in addition to his current position.
Though the memories from his administrative duties will characterize his Georgetown experience, Porterfield said that it is the individual conversations he has had with thousands of students that will stay with him when he assumes his role as the next president of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., on
“That’s like winning a gold medal in the Olympics when you see a student pursue a goal and pursue it well and honorably, and you want them to achieve it,” he said.
Porterfield did not always know he was going to be a professor, but his experiences in the Clinton administration and in law showed him that his true calling was education. He stressed that he was able to do his job well because of the confidence others instilled in him.
“[University President John J.] DeGioia’s vision has been a big part in my success because it has always let me know that if I was out supporting Georgetown students, my boss had my back,” Porterfield said.
When news broke on Tuesday of Porterfield’s departure, his Facebook page was flooded with comments by current students and Georgetown alums congratulating him on the achievement and wishing him the best in his new endeavor. According to Porterfield, this made all the difference.
“Over the first 15 minutes [after making the announcement], there was just support pouring in from my former students and current students,” Porterfield said.
“That way that Georgetown students support each other when we are stretching, doing something new, trying to make a contribution to the larger world, that’s the Georgetown spirit of supporting one another and encouraging one other to believe that you can go do things, that you can go make a difference. . That’s something I will remember for the rest of my life,” he said.
Throughout his nearly three decades on the Hilltop, Porterfield has made his mark on the university.
He has lived in the heart of campus in Copley Hall with his wife and three daughters for the past seven years. Porterfield takes full advantage of his proximity to student life by holding classes in his apartment and inviting students to dinner.
“I love going to church in Dahlgren, playing pick-up basketball at Yates and eating chicken fingers in Leo’s. I love sharing the Georgetown experience with my children,” he told THE HOYA in October.
One of Porterfield’s landmark contributions came with his work toward the founding of the LGBTQ Resource Center. In 2007, a string of bias-related incidents involving gay students on campus spurred an examination of LGBTQ resources on campus. Porterfield headed three working groups in conjunction with Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Rosemary Kilkenny.
The results of the working group led to the establishment of the center in fall 2008.
“I think our community creation of the first LGBTQ resource center at a Catholic university is one of the greatest group experiences I’ve had at Georgetown,” said Porterfield. “It was incredible.”
That milestone was recognized beyond the Hilltop with his recent appointment. When the LGBTA group at Franklin & Marshall learned of his appointment, they quickly sent a note congratulating Porterfield. But the administrator was quick to downplay his track record.
“The reason they were excited was because of a Georgetown accomplishment, not a Dan Porterfield accomplishment. It was all of us that made history together,” he said.
He also served for a time as interim athletic director after Bernard Muir resigned for a post as head of the University of Delaware athletic department in June 2009. Porterfield pulled double duty on top of his commitments as vice president of strategic development and an English professor, until current Athletic Director Lee Reed was appointed in April.
In recent years, Porterfield has taught popular classes on human rights, education and social justice despite his administrative commitments.
In 2003, he taught “Human Rights: A Culture in Crisis,” teaming up with DeGioia and government professor Anthony Arend. The curriculum examined such issues as torture and prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Prison. The class engaged students by bringing in outside speakers to deliver lectures and holding small, private dinners for groups of students in the class.
He is currently teaching a class called “Those Who Teach, Lead,” which examines public education and teaching today. The class recently returned from a field trip to New York City to get a hands-on look at key players in urban education.
After he was tapped for his next job, Porterfield sent an email informing his students of his approaching exit.
“Our class has inspired me and renewed my desire to make a greater difference for students in underserved communities. As we discussed in class yesterday, just like for you, it’s also important for me to continue thinking about the ways I’d like to give and grow more, and this new role is one way,” he said in the email.
But many said that Porterfield’s connection with his students extends beyond the classroom.
Noreen Shaikh (COL ’12) met Porterfield through her involvement with the Muslim Student Association.
“I ran into Dr. Porterfield one night while he was walking his dog,” Shaikh said. “It could have been a mere passing, but instead, he took the time to inquire into my studies and plans for MSA.”
Shaikh added that he has always been eager to encourage the social justice initiatives launched by Georgetown students. He has been a vocal supporter of Fast-A-Thon, Teach For America and Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, to name a few.
“His earnest dedication to community at Georgetown and his commitment to the sense of inclusiveness on campus really struck me. He is one of few individuals that is committed to not only the words of the Jesuit tradition, but actively commits himself to the practice as well,” she said.
For many Georgetown students, Porterfield is more than just a teacher or an administrator. His departure from the Hilltop evokes strong emotions, sadness at the thought of losing a mentor and excitement for Porterfield and his next stage in life.
“When I read the email, my jaw dropped,” Deven Comen (COL ’12), who is studying abroad in India this semester, said in an email. “I actually teared up at the thought of Dr. Porterfield leaving Georgetown. As my trusted mentor, greatest cheerleader and supportive friend, [students] should emulate his commitment and passion for bettering his community.”
Yasmin Serrato (SFS ’13) met Porterfield through an ice cream party he hosted for the Community Scholars Program the summer before her freshman year.
“I remember that he was one of the first people of Georgetown to reach out to my class,” Serrato said. “He has always offered a helping hand and has never turned anyone in need away. While I am happy for his success, I, along with many at Georgetown, will be sad to see him go.”
Though a two-and-a-half hour drive will soon separate Porterfield from his alma mater, he stressed that he will always bleed Hoya blue.
“I’m not leaving Georgetown,” he said. “I am going to Franklin & Marshall, but I am a Hoya at heart deeply as a faculty member, as an undergraduate and as an alum, and I will continue to support Georgetown and continue to be very present.”