As he transitions into his new role as vice provost of student affairs, Kent Porterfield draws on over 30 years of experience in higher education to guide him through a highly unusual first semester on the job.
Effective July 1, Porterfield was named vice provost after being unanimously selected by GU’s search committee, according to Gonzaga News Service. Porterfield was preceded by interim vice provost of student affairs, Manuel Gomez.
“When I interviewed I just kind of fell in love with the students, the mission and colleagues that I had met and talked with,” Porterfield said.
Porterfield has held various positions in the field of student affairs, having previously served as vice president of student affairs at St. Louis University and Northwest Missouri State University.
After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Northwest Missouri State University, Porterfield went on to study at the University of Missouri in Columbia where he earned his doctoral degree in educational leadership and policy analysis.
He and his wife have two daughters, who both attend Texas Christian University, as well as two dogs, Bear and Tiger.
Porterfield and his family enjoy exploring the outdoors and are excited to explore Spokane’s nature scene.
As he and his family looked to make a change and move from the Midwest, Porterfield was drawn to GU’s strong liberal arts foundation and Jesuit values. He explained that he admired the Jesuit education system’s search for truth and commitment to doing so in community with the goal of making the world a better place.
“I’ve always believed in community engaged learning and the opportunity to take what we know and are learning out into the community,” Porterfield said.
Michelle Wheatley, who led the search committee, praised Porterfield’s leadership skills as she reflected on her experience working with him over the summer.
“I am struck by his love for students and for student affairs work, his commitment to our mission, his generosity and work ethic, his attentiveness to people and desire for them to flourish, his leadership skills and his ability to see and respond adaptively and creatively to challenges,” Wheatley said via email.
The 15-person search committee was comprised of several faculty and staff members as well as student representatives and a board of trustees member. GU community members also had the opportunity to voice their feedback during open sessions of finalist interviews.
As vice provost of student affairs, Porterfield is a member of the provost’s senior management team and serves as the chief administrative officer for areas such as management of student services and university events.
Porterfield will also contribute to university planning, budgeting and policymaking, according to the university’s vice provost position profile.
The position profile lays out the agenda and expectations of the vice provost, such as “supporting and cultivating initiatives for cultural competence and increased diversity across the university.”
In the past, Porterfield has engaged in several student-led initiatives, many of which focused on diversity and inclusion. These programs included scholarship opportunities for underrepresented students, intergroup dialogue, literacy programs and “public policy pods” where students collaborate with faculty members on public policies in the local and federal government.
Looking toward the journey ahead, Porterfield hopes to promote diversity, student well-being and more student-led projects.
“I think my most important responsibility is understanding the student experience at the university and continually striving to make that a more impactful kind of experience,” Porterfield said.
As a leader, Porterfield maintains an informal and conversational disposition while relying on input and feedback from students and colleagues. According to Porterfield, he tries to create spaces where everyone can express their input and upholds transparency in his position.
“In 30 years, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, so I do hope I’ve learned from those,” Porterfield said. “Sometimes failure seems like an endpoint, when really I think it’s just a starting point. It’s not defining, it’s refining how we do things.”
Over the years, Porterfield has learned to frame failure as opportunities to learn, stating he brings a lot of experience he calls “failed experiments."
Since starting his role at GU, Porterfield has enjoyed meeting new people and learning about their passions and desires. In alignment with the servant leadership model of service, he hopes to utilize the weight of his position to help others achieve their goals.
Although this year’s circumstances may pose some challenges, Porterfield is looking forward to getting to know the university and building relationships with students in a safe, socially distanced way.
“This is an extraordinary time to enter into the life of our university, and I think he brings strong experience and a deep sense of hope to our GU community,” Wheatley said via email.
Porterfield’s priorities for the upcoming semester are health and safety, equity and justice and building community. He aims to make the GU experience, as different as it may be, meaningful and equitable, especially to disproportionately affected communities.
Porterfield welcomes community members to reach out and have a conversation with him as he settles into his new role.
“I want [students] to see my humanity and understand that I have a title but I’m just like you,” Porterfield said. “I’m just trying to figure out how to do the best I can every day for others.”