Deborah Porter earns Roane State’s highest student honor

By Bob Fowler
Roane State staff writer

Deborah Porter says winning Roane State’s highest student honor, the President’s Award, is the “most amazing experience I’ve had in my life.”

“There are no words to describe the emotions behind even being considered,” said Porter, a 47-year-old Powell resident and mother of three grown children.

The award includes $1,500 and a trophy.

Porter, who just graduated with an associate degree in anthropology, has made the community college part of her long-term goals: “My intentions are to make Roane State proud of what I do. My end game would be to become a Roane State professor.”

“Deborah is one of the most exceptional students Roane State has ever known,” said Roane State President Dr. Chris Whaley. “Her limitless energy and organizational skills are matched only by her desire to see people’s lives transformed by access to higher education.”

“It is my honor to know Deborah, and it has been an incredible blessing to have her as a student at RSCC,” said Whaley, who won the President’s Award when he was a Roane State student in 1989.

Growing up, Porter’s life wasn’t easy. Her mother struggled with mental health and couldn’t afford much-needed medicine. Porter recalls tending to her when she was just three years old and saving her from going into insulin shock.

It was her mom, shortly before her death, who suggested she go to Roane State. “She was so proud,” Porter said. “She told anybody who would listen that I had enrolled.”

Porter said she had “weak legs and butterflies” when she went to Roane State’s orientation for her first semester but was quickly reassured she made the right decision.

“I was treated with compassion and respect. You’re never treated like a number.”

It wasn’t long before Porter made a name for herself at Roane State. She became president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, was named a student ambassador for the Roane State Foundation and was vice president of the Roane State Student Government Association. She also served as a tutor at the community college’s Learning Centers.

Favorite RSCC teachers were Associate Professors Jessica Dalton-Carriger and Claudia Cummings, and Professor Maggie Bouldin.

Porter said Cummings “pulls the very best out of you. She’s always setting the bar and helping you reach it. She won’t accept you being a failure.”

“Claudia has been the most inspirational person to me and was the driving force behind any successes I have had at Roane State,” Porter added.

Bouldin “went out of her way to see that you do well,” she said. Under her tutelage, Porter said she “went from a very insecure writer to a published writer.”

Dalton-Carriger, her anthropology instructor, “knows so much about the field. She’s forgotten more than I could ever learn.”

Porter, who maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average at Roane State, intends to go to the University of Tennessee in the fall and major in anthropology and sociology. She said her daughter Maggie, 23, has been accepted into Roane State’s nursing program.

Her other children are Jesse Porter, 24, and Tyler Smith, 26.

Overall, Porter said her Roane State experience has been “one miraculous, overwhelming, stellar experience after another.”

Porter spoke to her fellow graduates at Roane State’s commencement ceremonies in early May. Video of those ceremonies and her speech can be found at

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