President Daniel R. Porterfield launched Franklin & Marshall College's fall semester Common Hour series on Sept. 1 with a discussion about meeting life's challenges through "creativity, innovation and discovery."
"I think those three values enhance the academic community and enhance life," said Porterfield, who joined F&M as its 15th president in 2011. "They bring joy, they bring insight, they bring togetherness, they bring progress – new ways of thinking; new ways of belonging."
During the first of this year's weekly campus community conversations held every Thursday classes are in session, Porterfield introduced the new chair of the F&M Board of Trustees, Sue Washburn ’73, a member of the first four-year class of women to enter the College in 1969.
He also announced two new major gifts, from Mary Hyman, wife of 1947 alumnus Sigmund Hyman, and Trustee Tony Kreisel ’66 and his wife, Dr. Kimberly Faris.
Hyman committed a bequest of $1.5 million to increase the Sigmund M. and Mary B. Hyman Endowed Scholarship Fund and create an Endowed Student Research Fund that will support innovative student research and discovery in the natural sciences, business and economics.
Kreisel and Faris have committed $1 million to establish the Faris-Kreisel Mindfulness Program to bolster the College’s comprehensive wellness initiatives.
Porterfield also introduced F&M alumna, parent, and Trustee Susan Klehr '73, P'12 and her husband Lenny ’72, the new volunteer co-chairs of important and ongoing fundraising initiatives for the College. The couple has donated to many projects across campus including leading the fundraising for the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House and providing the principal gift for the Klehr Center for Jewish Life. The Klehrs have signaled their intent to continue to lead philanthropy efforts on behalf of their alma mater.
Returning to the theme of creativity, innovation and discovery, Porterfield discussed an exhibit at last year's senior art show by Alejandra Zavala, an immigrant who displayed a portrait series of 43 F&M students of Mexican-American identity called Hasta la Raiz or “Down to the Root.”
Porterfield presented a few of the exhibit's images – partial skeletons superimposed over the student photos. He said Zavala ended the series with an image of 43 portraits of Mexican students kidnapped two years ago and presumed murdered. So compelling was the exhibit the College purchased it for its permanent collection, Porterfield said.
"There's more to say about this work of art, but it reminds me so much of the power of creativity, innovation and discovery; to takes us to places that we haven't known to go," Porterfield said.
Citing the values he emphasized, Porterfield added that F&M has built within the last five years a strategy for recruiting talented students of modest means, developing a new Connections curriculum and expanding the College's focus on students' holistic education.
"We've done this by helping to solve national problems and claiming the national stage," said Porterfield, with a nod to the broad recognition F&M has garnered for its teaching, recruiting and admissions work.
To the first-year students in the audience now in their first week of classes, Porterfield said the same three values of creativity, innovation and discovery should apply to them during their academic careers.
"Liberal arts education is about empowering students to become creators, discoverers, and innovators – not simply to answer questions asked of you, but to pose questions that no one has thought to look for before," he said.
Porterfield also cited faculty research such as Associate Professor of Computer Science Erik Talvitie's work on artificial intelligence, which recently earned Talvitie a National Science Foundation Career Grant, and Assistant Professor of English Meg Day's work on trans studies and trans poetics.
"It’s extraordinarily important that we remember that faculty scholarship, innovation, creativity, and discovery reside at the core of our mission," he said. "This is good for students to remember, too. You can be creators, innovators, and discoverers, especially with the mentoring of the faculty."