ACC 2016-17 Student of the Year – Leah Porter

Leah PorterEarlier this spring, Arapahoe Community College student Leah Porter was selected as one of 15 nationwide Guistwhite Scholars by Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society. Recipients are chosen based on academic achievement, leadership accomplishments and engagement in PTK programs. It proved to be just one of a multitude of accolades that the Malaysian native would garner during a decorated 2016-17 academic year at ACC.

Porter initially arrived in Colorado in 2001, but spent the majority of the ensuing six years traveling in and out of the country before returning to Denver as a permanent U.S. resident in 2007. She has lived in Israel, Singapore, Czech Republic (Prague) and Puerto Rico, and is fluent in five languages. However, when she enrolled at ACC in 2014, her written English and math (logarithms) competencies were not yet at the college level. Language barriers were frustrating and rendered prerequisite courses challenging. Porter, however, persevered through the adversity and was encouraged to apply for the ACC Sales Club Scholarship by Dr. Jim Boespflug while taking his Business Law class. Much to her surprise, she was selected as the recipient.

“Winning the scholarship really woke me up,” explained Porter. “It invigorated me, and I realized that I wanted more from my college experience. In fact, it motivated me to apply for an officer position in ACC’s Sigma Phi Chapter of PTK.”

She has become accustomed to overcoming obstacles, but none may be greater than the cultural adversity she has – and continues – to contend with. Porter, however, knew the path she wanted to travel, and began a new journey three years ago. Her goal: an associate degree and “cerebral” career.

“There is a socioeconomic demographic of women in Malaysia who are discouraged from advancing their intellect,” expressed Porter. “There is, unfortunately, a stigma that exists within my family because of the choices I’ve made to pursue my education.”

The President of Sigma Phi, Porter garnered Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Gold Scholar recognition earlier this spring. She is ACC Student Government’s representative on the State Student Advisory Committee (SSAC), as well as the student representative on the State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education (SBCCOE). Porter earned Distinguished Officer acclaim at this year’s PTK Colorado/Wyoming Spring Regional Convention and was named to the PTK All-Colorado Academic Team in March. In 2016, she attended the PTK Honors Institute, served as Sigma Phi Vice President (Honors in Action Project), attended the Emily Griffith Symposium and founded ACC’s first student book club. Porter has also served on the President’s Student Advisory Council and Diversity Committee.

“My experience at ACC has been so valuable. The integrated, institution-wide support at the College has enabled me to establish not just my educational pathway, but confidence in myself,” said Porter. “The faculty and staff, as well as the opportunities, at ACC are amazing. My educational journey extends beyond just my life. ACC has helped change the lives of my daughters, who now have college aspirations.”

Porter has moved mountains at ACC with great fervor, and she approaches each challenge as an opportunity to expand her horizons. Her global voyages have since subsided, but her academic endeavors are well underway. She has been named ACC’s 2016-17 Student of the Year and will serve as one of three student speakers at the College’s 50th commencement on May 10 when she graduates with her associate degree in Business Administration. Porter, who plans to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees, wants to attain a career in higher education, serving as an advocate for aspiring female students both locally and around the world.

by Jeff Duggan, ACC Communications Coordinator

The Political Frontier of Free Community College

Transcript:

The members of Sigma Phi interviewed students and administration on the political frontier of free community college.

Why did you choose to pursue a community college education?

“So I decided to go to community college so that I could save some money and then transfer to get my four-year degree. It’s a lot cheaper.”

“Uh, save a little money because I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do after high school.”

“It’s a smaller class and you can really interact with teachers and professors.”

“I want to get a strong footing in order to pursue a four-year degree.”

How would the free community college initiative benefit you?

“It would make me want to go to community college more instead of taking out loans and paying more money for the rest of my life.”

“I would be able to cut my student loans.”

“It might take stress off of me in the future if I decide to have children and want to pay for their education.”

Joan Anderssen, Professor of Economics [at Arapahoe Community College]: “Last year, seventy-one percent of US college graduates had student loans to pay off with a whopping $33,000 in debt per student. Americans now have more collective student loan debt, 1.3 trillion, than any other kind of debt. Right, it’s more than credit card and auto loan debt. These high levels of student debt are also serving to perpetuate an even worse economic inequality here in the US, undercutting the opportunity and social mobility that higher education has for a long time promised.”

Do you think post-secondary education is a public or private good?

“Public, for sure.”

“I honestly think it’s both, actually. The reason why I think it’s public is because it is open for anyone of any age to really join. But I do see it as a private because it’s a choice.”

Dr. Diane Hegeman, Vice President for Instruction [at Arapahoe Community College]: “I believe that has a many-perspective response. But, bottom line, I do believe that everyone has the right to access post-secondary education, but I also believe the public has an accountability aspect to this complicated question.”

What are some obstacles you see in the free community college initiative?

“The first and foremost is how is it getting paid for, where is it coming from.”

“I think some people might try to take advantage of it.”

“I think the biggest obstacle would be market saturation.”

“I’m afraid some students will not try as hard.”

“Too many people filling the system and straining the resources of the community colleges.”

Dr. Lisa Mayte Edwards, Vice President of Student Affairs [at Arapahoe Community College]: “I do see capacity issues, making sure that the classes are available for student to take in a meaningful way and in sequence.”

Dr. Diana M. Doyle, President, Arapahoe Community College: “Well, certainly funding is going to be an issue. Someone has to pay for it. And that is going to be a complex resolution. Does that start at the federal level? How does it flow through at the state level? What is the obligation of the colleges themselves, both public and private? And then the students. I think accountability on the part of the students is important as well.”

What kinds of services do you need to succeed in community college?

“I really have benefited from the math lab and the Student Success Center.”

“A good library and good advising services.”

“I think that access to tutors…it’s crucial.”

“I think there needs to be good sources of technology that students can use.”

Rachel Weir, Assistant Director, Disability Services [at Arapahoe Community College]: “And I think to prepare, here at a community college in particular, we would definitely need to assess how we are managing our time. Where are we really invested in, and can we make a shift?”

Dr. Diana M. Doyle, President, Arapahoe Community College: “First is we are going to have to be more creative in how we advise students. We’re going to have to restructure our advising processes. Secondly, colleges need to rethink how we deliver education. The days of the traditional sixteen-week course are probably going to have to change quite a bit. These are all adjustments that colleges will have to make in order to accommodate an increased student population.”

Joan Anderssen, Professor of Economics [at Arapahoe Community College]:”Thomas Jefferson said, ‘An education is an all-important part to participatory democracy. This would help advance our democratic goals for our society.'”

Produced by the Members of the Sigma Phi Chapter and Phi Theta Kappa International Honors Society [at Arapahoe Community College]