June 6, 2018
When MCLA added the Community Health Education major last fall to address a growing demand for health care educators both locally and nationwide, the addition brought Dr. Nicole Porther to campus. A specialist in public and community health, Porther joined the campus not only as an assistant professor of biology, but also as the new program’s coordinator.
As a student, Porther excelled at all of the sciences. However, “I simply enjoyed biology more, as it just clicked for me. Biology is such a broad field and reminds us of our interconnections with other life forms and the abiotic environment. It is fascinating that it requires an understanding of all the other sciences.”
Community Health, the study and improvement of health disparities among specific populations via education and health promotion, she explained, is a subset of public health. “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the outlook for community health educators and workers is positive, with a 16 percent increase in employment over a 10-year span. “Is it a viable field? Yes. Is there a need? A resolute yes,” Porther said.
She decided to teach at MCLA for several reasons. First and foremost, she enjoys teaching, and MCLA is a teaching institution. However, she also will continue to pursue her research on the cultural, social, and environmental barriers and inequalities involved in the prevalence of renal (kidney) disease, as well as molecular markers of renal disease. However, she also will conduct research with her students. “That is the beauty of a small institution like MCLA,” Porther said.
“Also, very few institutions would value my training and experience in two areas – biology and public health – and MCLA does. I did not have to choose one or the other,” she explained.
Porther greatly enjoys guiding her students to that “aha!” moment when “all the puzzle pieces fall into place.” And, teaching in higher education, she explained, allows her to interact with individuals who are on the cusp of making life-altering choices.
“Many students are entering or just entered adulthood,” she explained. “While it is an exciting time, it is also a daunting experience given the expectations thrust upon these students as they transition from an environment where they were systematically told what they should think and do, to a place where they should automatically ‘get it together.’
“I perceive my job as a facilitator as I provide the tools for students to grow and flourish as they learn how to be resilient, socially aware, independent critical thinkers,” she added. “The college environment traditionally has been a safe place for individuals to discover themselves, whether it is discovering new political views, challenging familial ideologies, or the societal status quo.”
What does she most hope that her students will learn from her? Porther said her answer is twofold: “One, that learning never stops and it takes many forms. I do not pretend I know everything, and I tell my students that it is a lifelong process, no matter how many degrees you may earn.”
Secondly, she wants her students to learn to have respect, not only for themselves, but for others, important values, and more. Porther said her MCLA students were “a pleasant surprise.” Previously, she taught at two private institutions. “I am blown away at the humility and gratitude students demonstrate at MCLA.”