By: Connie Klimek
When meeting Dr. Monica Porter, vice-chancellor of student affairs and diversity, dean of students, the adjectives “well versed,” “elegant” and “social advocate” come to mind. At the forefront of Porter’s professional mission is to appear approachable to students. As she pays forward respect for experiences she had with “angels along the way,” Porter is an active source of encouragement, inspiration and comfort for students at IU South Bend.
Porter is an industrial organizational psychologist by training but has always had a desire to teach. Initially working in a governor’s office in North Carolina for diversity and teaching on the side at a community college (a historically black college and university), to being selected as Fullbright Scholar and venturing to Africa for a year to launch the first psychology program in Botswana, Porter’s journey is nothing short of vigorous.
After gaining international experience working with educational development, Porter switched over to the non-academic side of higher education. Porter’s experiences in the classroom raised her awareness of obstacles and circumstances that students juggle which may hinder their ability to be successful. As Porter knew that education was only a portion of students’ livelihoods, she sought to have a larger impact on students’ lives outside of the classroom.
Porter believes both the academic and non-academic components of a university have value, yet she feels that she has more of an impact on the non-academic side. Porter enjoys helping students explore opportunities that are more broad than just pertaining to specific fields or majors. She aims to facilitate student development and adaptability while discovering their path.
Adaptability is a familiar concept to Porter, as her academic journey started and ended quite differently. Porter began studying at Southern Illinois University as a criminal justice major and sociology minor. Yet, at the 9th hour, Porter switched her major to psychology. Porter was so moved by one psychology course, she decided to switch her entire major.
Feelings of apprehension and being overwhelmed, which students at IU South Bend regularly feel in anticipation of choosing a major or switching majors, are not foreign to Porter. Porter resonates with these unsettling feelings as she experienced the same nervousness.
Porter hopes her story resonates with students since the leaders which students connect with on campus, faced the same uncertainty that students are currently experiencing.
While initially feeling discouraged by the amount of time Porter spent in college on her minors rather than her major, later in life Porter finally discovered how beneficial her minors were, as all three departments- psychology, sociology, and criminal justice- made her eligible to become a department chair.
While completing her bachelor’s degree was an achievement for Porter, she continued to experience more trying times in her journey toward graduate school. Little did Porter know, her “angels along the way” were awaiting her arrival at Western Michigan University.
Porter began her first semester in graduate school feeling so overwhelmed with the workload that every week, she battled quitting.
Days where everything that could have gone wrong, everything did go wrong: canceled housing contracts, being told she couldn’t register for classes, being told she had to wait a semester before an advisor could take her on, were all experiences that summed up Porter’s (not so warm) welcome to graduate school.
Porter’s first angel was her department chair in graduate school. No advisor was available to take her on, so Porter persistently pleaded with her department chair, who then made an exception and advised Porter for a semester.
Due to a canceled housing contract, Porter was in tears about not having a place to lay her head. Then, a lady walked into the room, Porter’s second angel. This kind stranger offered Porter a ride and a place to stay. While assessing the threat of “stranger danger,” Porter had faith in her self defense skills, if needed, and hopped into the stranger’s car.
“My husband is in Jordan, and I just didn’t want to be in this big house by myself. I just need one person, one companion” said the kind stranger.
Porter lived with her second angel for a year, rent free, along with the kind stranger’s dog, Maggie.
“She is now 90 years old, lives in Coloma, Michigan, and every month I go visit my friend,” said Porter.
Amidst a challenging week of graduate school, which led to a tearful phone call to her mother, Porter’s mother gave her a reality check. Porter chose to challenge herself to succeed through her struggles, as her angels and loved ones made sacrifices to help Porter succeed.
Now, Porter’s career at IU South Bend is centered around easing students’ navigation through obstacles that her own mother experienced, as her mother began college after raising her children.
The angels at rough times, when Porter was really frustrated and really wanted to quit, kept her going. Porter feels that God places little angels at the right time and place and when you’re ready to give up.
Now in her role at IU South Bend, Porter pays forward the generosity and support her angels showed her.
“When students come to see me, my number one job is to help them stay in school,” said Porter.
Porter is well aware that life does not stop when students are in school, so she finds the right resources, connecting students so they don’t quit.
“You are here because you belong here, there are going to be dragons along the way. So, everyday you get up, you get your sword, and you slay the dragons. Just slay them and keep moving forward,” said Porter.
Photo // Dr. Porter