EMU educational leadership doctoral student 'hurdles beyond the limits'

By Linda Hass | Published November 4, 2015

Jeff Porter (MA11) doesn't run away from barriers—he hurdles them with a tenacious drive that has propelled him to lofty heights academically and athletically.

"My motto is to hurdle beyond the limits—to go beyond what was thought possible," says the Eastern Michigan University graduate student. His track record is a testament to that motto. In 2007, he captured the NCAA title in the indoor 60-meter hurdles while attending the University of Michigan, and in 2012, he represented the USA at the Olympic Games in London, among other accomplishments.

Flexible courses

When Porter decided to pursue a graduate degree in higher education, he met another barrier—finding a top-notch school with a curriculum flexible enough to accommodate his full-time day job. But the track star was able to sail past this hurdle as well, thanks to EMU's Office of Study Abroad, which offers weekend, online and evening classes.

"Working during the day can present a barrier on the path toward pursuing a degree. Eastern's evening classes helped me overcome that barrier," says the 29-year-old, adding that he also was attracted to EMU's practitioner-based curriculum. Porter earned his master's degree in higher education/student affairs from EMU in 2011 and is on track to earn a doctorate of philosophy in educational leadership from EMU in 2017.[1]

Research support

"Eastern's faculty is outstanding," Porter adds. "Professors are invested in the success of each student and have a keen interest in teaching as well as research, which helps students get the best of both worlds. It was a no-brainer to stick with Eastern for my doctorate."

Eastern also helped him research and ultimately co-author a chapter in a book published by Emerald Group Publishing in 2014. The book, "Bringing an End to the School to Prison Pipeline in the Age of Post-Racialism," is designed to show how students of color would benefit from educational reforms and economic policies that target the most financially strapped communities.

"The book's editor, former EMU professor Eboni Zamani-Gallaher, taught some of my master's classes. She believed in my abilities as a student and encouraged me to explore the ‘school to prison' pipeline for the book," he says, referring to policies that critics claim push at-risk school children out of the classroom and into the criminal justice systems.

Porter says his contributions to the book and his education at Eastern in general have honed his skills as a researcher, presenter and critical thinker. Ultimately, he hopes to combine those skills with his love of athletics to pursue a career as an athletic director at a Division 1-A school.

Growing demand

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook, 2014-15 edition, demand for athletic directors is projected to grow about 15% through 2022, faster than average. Graduates are often employed at colleges and universities, sports facilities and public relations firms, and can expect a median annual salary of $99,585.[2]

At present, Porter enjoys his work as one of two full-time staff members running the University of Michigan's Office of Alumni Engagement. "I love my work. Athletes are some of the most passionate fans I have ever met; they have phenomenal stories," says Porter, who earned his bachelor's degree in kinesiology, sport management and communication, from U of M in 2007.

EMU Professor of Educational Leadership James Barott believes Porter will excel in whatever he does. "He's been in several of my classes and he's a great student. He thinks clearly, has excellent analytical skills and a great personality. Whatever he chooses to do in the future, I am sure he will make positive contributions," says Barott.

"I feel well prepared for my career," adds Porter. "At Eastern, educational experiences are more than theory. I can't tell you how many times I've taken what I've learned in class and applied it immediately in my career."

Porter and his wife, Tiffany, a U of M alumna, track and field Olympian and world and European title holder, reside in Canton.

Learn more or donate

For more information, visit the K-12 Administration Program's webpage.

To make a difference in the lives of future educational leadership doctoral students, donate to the Educational Leadership Doctoral Scholarship Fund, or contact Christa Reid, COE Director of Development at [email protected].

  1. As of October 9, 2015, degree is now offered as a doctor of philosophy in educational leadership. Students may apply for graduation starting with the fall 2015 graduation cycle.
  2. Visit the "Sports Management Salary and Job Outlook" article on the All Business Schools' site for the source of these statistics (see section under “How do sports management salaries compare?”).