3/02/2011 Jill Colford Schoeniger ’86

Dan of the People

President-Elect Dan Porterfield Thrives on Interaction

  • Dan Porterfield Dan Porterfield

Three shots of espresso over ice. That is the beverage driving Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D., on Nov. 17, the day after he was introduced as Franklin & Marshall College’s 15th president.

But even a few minutes with him reveals that what truly drives him is human interaction. At a quick stop at Jazzman’s Café before a photo shoot, he jumps into line—and into animated conversation—with several F&M students. The questions flow: Tell me about your favorite class? What should I know about F&M?

Porterfield engages so naturally with the students that it is clear he relishes being an educator. Working in higher education is a “joyful experience” and a calling that enlivens him.

He says he is inspired by the individual stories of growth, the opportunity to influence and learn from young minds, the dynamism when faculty and students work together and the power unleashed when an entire college community embraces ideas and projects. And he “cannot wait” to experience all of that at F&M.

And the F&M community is eager for him to experience all of that as well. “Dan has many impressive qualities, starting with his enormous energy and powerful intellect,” says Trustee Art Taylor, Esq., ’80, a member of the Presidential Search Committee. “He is a great fit for F&M because he intimately understands the needs of students today, he is a great communicator and he will be an excellent spokesperson for our brand of education. He is brimming with passion to lead F&M to new heights.”

Porterfield first learned about F&M’s strengths in his teenage years in his hometown of Baltimore. “Everyone knows that F&M is student-centered with a history of launching people into lives of significance,” he says. “I love the combination of stellar academic quality, close-knit community, a lovely campus in a strong city, iconic founders and a broad-based commitment to building upon gains made in recent years during the presidency of John Fry.”

In recent months, this perception has only strengthened. “The single greatest asset is the excellence of the people associated with Franklin & Marshall,” he says.

A 1983 graduate of Georgetown University, Porterfield has served his alma mater for 14 years, most recently as senior vice president for strategic development. He also has been an English professor throughout his tenure. He plans to teach courses at F&M that use literature to explore issues of human rights, education, immigration and social justice.

After graduating from Georgetown, he earned a second bachelor’s degree as a Rhodes Scholar at Hertford College at Oxford University and a Ph.D. from The Graduate Center of The City University of New York. Prior to joining Georgetown, he served for four years as a senior aide to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala.

Porterfield stresses that his first few months from now until Commencement will be characterized by active listening and sharing his own ideas about education and the needs of college students.

“I want to engage intensively with students, faculty, professional staff, alumni and parents,” he explains. “I want to hear what people love about Franklin & Marshall, what they see as our strengths and weaknesses and what they aspire to for the College and for themselves.”

He also will be focused on recruiting new administrative leaders in financial management and student recruitment, working to finalize the 2012 budget, evaluating F&M’s competitive position and opportunities, and representing the College in the public arena—for example, he will be a speaker at a March 2011 conference on educational equity at the Yale University School of Management.

Always a Professor

A professor for more than a decade, Porterfield has taught nearly 1,000 students and won Georgetown’s award for outstanding teaching. He admires the “passion for learning and depth of care” that he sees in the faculty at F&M and appreciates the importance placed on the faculty-student relationship, long considered a hallmark of an F&M education.

Porterfield was thrilled to hear the faculty and students on the Presidential Search Committee talk about the lasting relationships they have formed at F&M, mainly because “working with students directly, getting to know them and becoming a part of their lives” are major reasons he wanted to become a teacher.

Porterfield’s teaching style places “a heavy emphasis on critical thinking, writing, classroom discussion and student leadership.” Many of the students in his courses also were involved in social entrepreneurship, tutoring or human rights advocacy.

When asked how his students would describe his teaching style, his answer comes quickly: “Invasive. Everybody writes. Everybody speaks up. Everyone is taught to listen actively.” These intense interactions have resulted in many lasting relationships. When the news broke that “Dr. P” was leaving for F&M, his students filled his Facebook page with notes of thanks for his mentorship, guidance, support, care and encouragement.

Porterfield is eager to be inspired by the students at F&M. He knows he is stepping into an environment that takes full advantage of all a liberal arts education has to offer.

“I have already seen that our students are traveling the globe, doing high-level research, serving in Lancaster, connecting with faculty and making this campus the best anywhere,” he points out. “They have bought into the idea that a formative college experience changes how we think and live, forever.”

What defines an outstanding liberal arts college, he says, is the focus on student learning, faculty discovery and the creation of an intellectual community. It is one of the qualities he sees as a competitive strength.

“We can say to all students who apply: ‘If you come here, you will work directly with superb scholars who will know you personally, you will take seminars right away, you will have a chance to be a leader in our clubs and activities and you will create an individualized undergraduate experience. We will push and prod you. We will launch you. And we will be a home base that goes where you go.’”

The simple reality for Porterfield is this: “There is no better preparation for the responsibilities of adulthood, being a parent, being a citizen, being a leader in a global knowledge economy, than a liberal arts education. You learn to love learning, ask questions, challenge assumptions, relate ideas and inform theory with practice, and vice versa. The liberal arts education may be more relevant and more important to America’s strength than Ben Franklin and John Marshall ever envisioned.”

It Takes a Community to Raise a Student

Being a part of a campus community is something that Porterfield and his family—wife Karen Herrling and three daughters, Elizabeth, Caroline and Sarah—most enjoy. For the past eight years they have lived in a residence hall on the Georgetown campus. They loved interacting with students and hosting campus functions. They anticipate doing more of the same at F&M—from participating in College House activities to attending athletic events to hosting seminars at the President’s House.

  • Porterfield and his wife, Karen Herrling (center left), are welcomed  by the College community. Porterfield and his wife, Karen Herrling (center left), are welcomed by the College community.

In addition to calling himself a teacher, Porterfield considers himself a community partner. At Georgetown he founded two programs—the D.C. Schools Project and the After School Kids Program—through which hundreds of Georgetown students tutor and mentor at-risk youth and immigrant children in the communities surrounding the university.

He also has led Georgetown’s relationship with Teach For America, the highly selective national program that places recent college graduates as teachers in underserved communities. In the past five years he has mentored more than 65 successful applicants.

In addition, he created a partnership with The Cristo Rey Network, a national organization of 24 high schools that provides a college preparatory education to 6,500 young people in underserved communities. Georgetown now enrolls 21 of these students.

“Cristo Rey is an educational model that was producing extraordinary graduates who were highly prepared for college success,” says Porterfield, who serves on the network’s board of directors. There he built a pipeline that made the match between Georgetown and those graduates for whom the fit was right. “We will do the same at F&M—identify great schools that are developing high school talent, and then bring our value to those students’ front doors.”

Porterfield intends to build on the many strong community partnerships F&M has established in Lancaster and beyond. “There is an intrinsic value to giving back to our community,” he insists. “For students, civic engagement also puts into a deeper context the ideas and issues being studied in the classroom.”

Already, Porterfield has created a new relationship for Franklin & Marshall. The College will host 12-15 students from the national charter network KIPP, composed of 99 schools around the country, on campus this July for a three-week, pre-college immersion program, in which they will study with professors and meet with current undergraduates. “KIPP is one of the top-performing education networks in America,” Porterfield says. “It’s a smart move educationally and strategically for F&M to become one of KIPP’s first two college partners.”

Porterfield has seen firsthand that the greatest successes result when students, faculty and professional staff collaborate. In 2004, after a group of students studied the Rwandan genocide in one of Porterfield’s classes, they became interested in the genocide that was occurring in Darfur. They formed Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) to raise awareness and to try to stop the atrocities. Georgetown’s faculty and administration offered guidance and financial support. Over the next three years, STAND became a national movement that grew to about 800 chapters at colleges, universities and high schools around the country.

“One class, one campus, one community has the ability to create projects with impacts that reach well beyond a campus,” Porterfield says. “That drive is a part of the Franklin & Marshall DNA. It’s part of what attracted me to the College and part of what I hope I can contribute.”

Franklin & Marshall 2.0

The Board of Trustees, the faculty and the new president all share a vision for F&M’s future. “We want to grow our academic strengths, challenge ourselves to create transformational results, engage our alumni and bring the extended F&M family together, enhance our campus space, and develop new resources for student aid,” Porterfield says.

As the person charged with leading these efforts, Porterfield promises to do what he has always done: engage, create, challenge and collaborate.

“Academic communities benefit from models that emphasize collaboration and communication,” he says. “Colleges have developed an enduring practice of shared governance and shared responsibility that have allowed them to flourish. It is crucial that faculty, students, professional staff and alumni work together to develop strategic priorities and engage in problem solving.”

More specifically, Porterfield intends to include the entire community in a comprehensive process of strategy formation to help position Franklin & Marshall for even more competitive success.

He feels the timing could not be better as the College’s faculty recently voted to conduct a comprehensive curriculum review. “During the first few months, while I’m reaching out broadly and getting to know the entire College community, I’ll also be setting a stage for the community to understand still better our current competitive position for students, resources, opportunity and prestige.”

Porterfield believes it is important that “together we develop from that knowledge, strategic priorities and a plan that empower every person who cares about F&M to be part of a winning strategy. This work will help inform curricular development, the services we provide our students, the way we position F&M in the public eye, the nature and scope of our next capital campaign, and the spirit and ambition with which we offer all that is Franklin & Marshall to the larger world.”

On a chilly day in November after Porterfield was announced as the future president, he shared some of these ideas during an informal meeting over coffee with students. After showing them videos about the Cristo Rey Network on his iPad, Porterfield collected names, class years and e-mail addresses.

As the group reluctantly disbanded to allow Porterfield to go to McCaskey High School to learn about the College’s new mentoring program, Project LAUNCH, Porterfield wanted a photo of the students to put on his Facebook page.

A picture is taken with his iPhone and added to the 988 photos already on it. Truly, Dan Porterfield is a man of the people.

The Porterfield File


• Ph.D. in English from The Graduate Center of The City University of New York (Mellon Fellow in the Humanities)

• B.A. in English from Hertford College at Oxford University (Rhodes Scholar)

• B.A. in English from Georgetown University (Coakley Medal as Outstanding Senior)

Career highlights

• Senior vice president for strategic development at Georgetown University

• Vice president for public affairs and strategic development at Georgetown

• Assistant professor of English at Georgetown

• Senior aide to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala

Teaching honors at Georgetown University

• The School of Foreign Service Faculty Excellence Award (2010)

• Georgetown College Edward Bunn, S.J., Award for Faculty Excellence (2008)

• Dorothy Brown Award for exemplary commitment to the educational advancement of students (2003)


• Married to Karen Herrling, an advocacy attorney in state and legal enforcement of immigrant rights

• Three daughters: Elizabeth, Caroline and Sarah

Social media

• Blog: http://president.fandm.edu

• Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/danielporterfield

• Twitter: http://twitter.com/danporterfield

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