Dr. Curt Porter sat back in his chair, his index fingers propped against his chin and his eyes peering toward the ceiling of his Hawkins Hall office.
“It’s been a good trip,” he said after a few moments of thoughtful silence.
Porter was honored on Jan. 31 with a retirement reception, celebrating his departure from full-time service, which became official at the end of 2017. And while the past month has provided many opportunities for reflection on his nearly 47 years of service to TROY, it also has prepared him to step into his new, part-time role with the University – senior international officer.
In his new capacity, Porter will focus on development and maintenance of the University’s international partnerships.
Porter arrived at TROY in 1971, fresh off completing his Ph.D. in history at Vanderbilt University, to teach Russian history.
“I’ve taught in six buildings and had 12 offices – 10 of them with windows,” Porter said, chuckling.
Porter always had an interest in internationalization, but that interest would begin to truly blossom in 1989, when Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr. became TROY’s chancellor.
“The first time I met Dr. Hawkins, he asked what my vision was of TROY 10 years from now, and I sort of went blank,” Porter said. “I was sure it would have something to do with international but I had no idea how open he would be to that.”
Those early conversations led to Porter being named dean of international programs.
“Dr. Porter was a fine scholar in our History Department,” Dr. Hawkins said. “We began to have conversations, and he made the mistake of telling me that he wanted to become involved in international programs. The next day he became the dean. At the time, we had about six dozen international students here. On Jan. 1, 1996, Dr. Porter became dean and things began to happen.”
From there, the University’s international relationships began to grow, eventually leading to TROY becoming the prototype for the 1-2-1 Sino-American Dual Degree Program. Through the program, students from partner institutions in China spend their first year at their home institution and then continue in their second and third years at TROY before returning to their home university for their final year of study. Upon graduating, those students receive diplomas from both their home institution and TROY.
“We were forming and developing that program just before 9-11 occurred,” Dr. Hawkins said. “After 9-11 occurred, the program almost died because we couldn’t get students visas to come to the United States. It was in the summer of that next year that Dr. Porter voluntarily went to China three times in six weeks to enable us to begin that program. From there, we began to build relationships in so many places, particularly China. Today, we have 135 partner universities in 31 countries.”
In 2007, the University signed an agreement to become home to the state’s first Confucius Institute, another effort Dr. Hawkins says can be attributed to Porter’s leadership.
“In 2007, another great development occurred that brought us Dr. Iris Xu, and that was the establishment of the Confucius Institute. At that time, we made the bold proclamation that it was our goal to have the best Confucius Institute in the world, and twice in the last five years, our Confucius Institute has been named among the top five in the world,” Dr. Hawkins said. “That too has taken a lot of effort and a lot of collaboration. At the heart of that has been Dr. Curt Porter.”
Dr. Hawkins credits Porter for his role in helping to change the culture of Troy University.
“We have changed as a University. Our culture is so much different than most and it is certainly different than it was when this gentleman assumed those responsibilities,” Dr. Hawkins said. “The way we view world is different, the way we view each other is different, and this man has made a huge difference in changing the culture of Troy University. I can think of no greater compliment one can receive than to say they have helped to change the culture for the better, and that is exactly what Dr. Curt Porter has done here at Troy University.”
During the retirement reception, Dr. Hawkins announced that the conference room located in International Programs would be named in Porter’s honor.
Porter said his service to TROY has been “fun.”
“There has been such interaction with different members of the faculty and it has been a wonderfully, diverse opportunity,” Porter said. “There are so many pieces along the way, beautiful little pieces that make up this incredible journey. Within the immediate family, we have 10 TROY degrees. The institution has served the whole family in so many ways. I can’t imagine a richer life; it has just been great.”