June 23rd, 2009

Inspiring African American Woman in Education: Barbara Porter

By
Porter_Barbara_L_Name: Barbara Porter
Hometown: San Antonio, TX
Education: BA - English, Southern Methodist University; MA - Organizational Management, Concordia University
Current Status: Assistant Dean for Student and Academic Affairs, Mayo Medical School

 When did you start work/school at Mayo Clinic? July 1992

How did you become interested in or hear about Mayo Clinic? My family moved to Rochester in 1991.  I had a good friend who asked if I wanted to work at Mayo and encouraged me to apply.  

What do you do here at Mayo Clinic? What is your area of specialty?  I am an Administrator at Mayo Clinic and currently serve in the role of Assistant Dean for Student and Academic Affairs at Mayo Medical School. 

Do you participate in any organizations, societies, clubs, memberships, professions at Mayo Clinic and/or Rochester community?  I serve as Secretary of the Physician/Scientist Diversity Committee, I am also past Secretary of the staff of Mayo Clinic Rochester; in the community I am on the boards of the Boys & Girls Club of Rochester, the Rochester Symphony Orchestra, the Rochester Area Foundation and the Women's Foundation of Minnesota.  I am active in my church, the Rochester Community Baptist Church.  

How does working at Mayo Clinic Rochester location differ from your hometown or where you attended school? Well, of course we must start with weather!  South Texas has a very, very warm and humid climate.   One of my family traditions is to attend midnight mass is our family church--there have been many times that we have gone to mass without coats on and in the morning the kids ride new bicycles outside on Christmas Day!  San Antonio is a very diverse community!  Hispanics make up over half (about 60%) of the population of the city; African Americans are about 7% of the community with whites being about 30+%.  The Mexican culture permeates the community and provides the basis for a wonderful and thriving tourist economy.  I love visiting my "hometown" as there is always a fiesta going on somewhere J  The city has grown to over 1.2 million people and I am amazed at the expansion of the city every time I travel home.

Do you consider yourself diverse?  I do consider myself from a diverse background on several fronts--one, I am an African American.  I am very proud of my culture and the rich history and legacy of African Americans in this country and around the globe.  I consider it my mission to help young people know and understand our history and why it is an imperative for them to strive to achieve and to be successful!  We all stand on the shoulders of so many outstanding individuals and it is unacceptable to be less than excellent in our own pursuits.  I am also a woman and I value and appreciate all of the wisdom and accomplishments of women in my family and whom I have encountered throughout my life.  I need not look too far for tremendous role models.  

What types of hardships or hurdles did you have to overcome to get your education or profession at Mayo Clinic? Did your diverse background have a role in these hardships?I graduated high school in center city San Antonio.  Neither my mom nor dad had attended college so there was no push for me to do so.  During my junior and senior year in high school, there was a woman who I now realize likely worked for one of the federally funded programs that were designed to assist minority kids in obtaining a higher education.  This woman worked with me and several others to help us understand the college application process, the process for seeking and applying for scholarships and financial aid, and all of the other things that my folks really had no clue about.  She was wonderful and her hounding us, and chasing us down to take SATs, and fill out this form and that form helped to insure that I had offers to go to college.  Because of a very generous benefactor (G.W. Brackenridge), I was able to attend Southern Methodist University on a full scholarship.  I often think about what might have been, if the advisor had not worked so hard to see to my educational success.  

How has being from a diverse background helped you succeed in getting your education or profession at Mayo Clinic? I don't know that my being from a diverse background has been the key to any success here at Mayo, but it is certainly what drives me to achieve.  I am used to being "the only" yet I don't want others to have to continually be pioneers here at Mayo Clinic.  I work hard to be the best that I can be, so that I am able to open doors for others from diverse backgrounds.  I think one of the most important things that minority staff, students and trainees can do is be successful--that makes it that much easier for those who control the gates to open them for others who look like us! Coming from a diverse background, do you feel that people treat you different at Mayo Clinic or Rochester, MN?  There are times when I feel a bit overwhelmed by being the only African American in the group, at the meeting, on the committee, on the floor, in the building, etc. but, I try to think about my ancestors who made so many sacrifices, to include giving their lives so that we could progress as a people, and then my own challenges seem small.  I know that there are times when people in the corridors or in meetings don't speak to me or fail to acknowledge my presence.  I always write their behaviors off and tell myself that their behaviors are their problems, not mine!!!  I refuse to own their unfounded behavior. 

Do you feel that diversity plays a role in the education you are receiving (grad/med school, IMSD) or as a professional at Mayo Clinic?   In the medical school, diversity is a priority for us.  We work hard to insure that our classrooms are full of diversity because we know it enriches the experience that all of our students receive.  We are proud of the fact that our school is consistently among the most diverse medical schools in the country and that is exactly what we want.  Achieving this kind of diversity does not come from a passive stance; the Dean is a champion for diversity and that impacts all of us as we each do our part to support the diversity goals of Mayo Medical School.  It is a great environment in which to work.

Do you think Mayo Clinic and/or Rochester, MN and/or your program is diverse? Does this affect you? Would you change it or leave it the same? If you would make changes, what would they be?    As indicated above, our school is diverse.  We are always seeking ways to enhance the diversity of student body and expose all of our students to diverse faculty, speakers and mentors.  It is my life's work and I feel blessed to be able to get paid to do it  🙂 As an Administrator at Mayo Clinic, I am challenged to have very few peers of color.  I am one of only 3 African American Administrators here at Mayo Clinic Rochester.  That is a very disappointing matter for me to look around the campus in 2009 and see that kind of void.  I am a part of our diversity network group that seeks to connect and support African American employees.  This is a helpful outlet for several of us.  I do feel that more should be done to insure we have greater diversity in the administrative and leadership levels of the institution.  When asked, I am always eager and willing to share thoughts and success strategies that we have employed in the school to enhance our diversity. Solution seeking is how I live my life and although we do have challenges with diversity at Mayo Clinic, I am awed by the commitment and passion of others here at Mayo and I am thus inspired to continue to do my part to help us achieve success in this area.  In the end, we will all win!

Interview taken by Brittany Alexander (Intern of Office of Diveristy ) and Jessica Silva (Blog Manager and Grad Student)

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