News & Events

Scholarship helps Informatics student balance school and life

James Porter

Family is important to James Porter. It’s a big part of the reason he chose to attend the University of Washington. He wanted to go to the best school in the state, but he also wanted to be close to his family in the Seattle area.

Porter has found a new sense of family since coming to the UW, where he is studying Informatics. Porter is a recipient of the Information School Students First Endowed Scholarship, which provides need-based assistance to iSchool students to help them attend the university.

Porter grew up in and around Seattle with his mother and six siblings. It was a challenge for his mother to support her family by herself.

“I think she’s the strongest woman I know, for her to do what she’s done on her own,” he said.

She raised her children to care about others and she was always supportive of him.

“She believes in me. She believes that I’m going to do something one day,” he said.

Porter is the first in his family to go to college, and he’s thankful for his mother always supporting his love of education, even when times were hard.

Porter excelled at Mount Rainier High School. He was admitted to the UW and planned to study electrical engineering. He’d always been good at math and science and had thought engineering would be a good path. He quickly found out, however, that it wasn’t right for him. He wasn’t enjoying the classes, he said, and started looking for another major that might suit him better.

He spoke to his adviser, and she suggested that he might enjoy INFO 200. He didn’t know much about the class, and was a bit skeptical of it. But he went ahead and took it over a summer quarter when he needed an extra class.

Once he was in INFO 200, he quickly realized he’d found a new area of focus.

“It showed me that you can create technology for people who need it,” Porter said. “And that’s what I really wanted to do.”

He applied for the competitive Informatics program and was put on the wait list. He was disappointed, but persisted. He reworked his application, got some help from his mentor, tried again, and was admitted to the program.

One of Porter’s favorite classes has been INFO 343 Client Side Web Development, taught by iSchool lecturer Michael Freeman. Porter said he really appreciated the effort Freeman and other teachers put into helping him not only learn the materials, but learn how to be a better learner.

“I went to (Freeman’s) office hours a lot and he just worked with me. He helped me learn how to help myself,” Porter said. “If I wasn’t getting it, he asked questions that helped me learn how to ask the right questions and learn myself. … His goal was for me to get better as a learner and as a student.”

Porter says the small class sizes in the iSchool and the focus on working on projects as part of a team create a strong sense of camaraderie among the students.

“We get to know each other and our own strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

In addition to the sense of family he has found in the iSchool, Porter has found support and fellowship on the University of Washington boxing team and as a member of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity.

He’s excelled in boxing, winning the NCBA national championship in his weight division. He was also selected to be team captain by his teammates, which he said was a great learning experience for him.

“It’s more than just a team, it’s family,” said. “The team motivates you to be a better you.”

He’s also made a group of strong friends and further improved his leadership skills with Zeta Beta Tau. He was voted vice president in his senior year, which he said has been a powerful experience.

“I was able to be an example for others and lead my new brothers,” he said. “I like learning about people and having lifelong friendships.”

While Porter has enjoyed his time at the iSchool and UW, affording college has been a challenge. He’s had to carefully balance his studies with his extracurricular activities and working to ensure he had the money he needed to live. He said he was happy to earn this scholarship because it gave him space to work less and focus more on school.

“My head was clearer,” Porter said. “I felt like there were people out there looking out for us, for people who can’t afford college.”

Porter is looking ahead to the future now. He’s set to graduate in June. He’s looking forward to his Capstone project, hunting for jobs or internships and checking out career fairs. He’s been looking mostly for web development or software engineer positions.

Someday, once he’s established in his own career, he wants to give back. He’d like to be able to help support a program that helps high school students achieve, and then helps them pay for their college tuition, just as he received help to afford his own college education.