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Anthropology student receives prestigious Fulbright to UK

Anna Porter is the second UB student in two years to win a prestigious summer Fulbright scholarship to the United Kingdom. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CHARLES ANZALONE

Published May 18, 2015

“I always have difficulty when I try to pinpoint specific passions because I feel that’s the whole idea of how I live my life.”
Anna Porter, summer Fulbright recipient

A UB anthropology student just finishing her freshman year will take her passion for the “connections through time” to Durham University in Great Britain, one of three 2015 UB Fulbright Scholars poised for world travel and instant academic honor as they complete their semesters.

Anna Porter, who recently turned 19, will travel to England as part of the Fulbright Summer Institute, widely considered one of the most selective and prestigious summer scholarship programs in the world. Porter will spend four weeks on a major archaeological project, studying on site at the northern edges of the Roman Empire in Britain and exploring the culture and heritage of the United Kingdom.

For Porter, whose whirlwind freshman year has ended with acceptance at two of the three major summer fellowships she applied for — she’s also going to New Mexico as part of the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates — it’s another step on an intellectual journey powered by a concept she calls “connectivity.”

Asking her to explain what that means brings out vintage Anna Porter: a clear, patient but multi-layered interpretation of a way she can make sense of the world around her. Connectivity is a paradigm, if you will, that would sound wise and perceptive and intellectually liberating for anyone twice her age, much less someone who is still a teenager. It’s proof that despite all our differences, humans are united by certain things, connections — the need to believe in a higher religious power, for example — that surpass the barriers of time and cultures.

Porter says she first came to truly understand her own quest for connectedness while reading Henry David Thoreau. It may be ironic, she wrote in her Fulbright personal statement, that Thoreau — famous for isolating himself from society — shows how this connectivity can be found in many forms. But that’s how intellectual discovery goes sometimes.

“Through writing,” Porter wrote, “Thoreau was able to share with others the truths found in solitude, a seemingly insurmountable feat. His book, ‘Walden,’ didn’t just show the power of nature. It showed the power of reading and writing, and the importance of connecting with others.

“The fact that Thoreau’s work still impacted me years after his death demonstrates that leaving writing behind can result in the transcendence of time and space.”

It’s this transcendence of time and space, and the awareness or intellectual excitement of communicating with other people in different eras and cultures that drives what educators approvingly describe as a curiosity, or thirst, for knowledge. That’s Anna Porter, something that becomes clear within a few minutes of talking to her.

For Porter, anthropology wraps this idea of connectivity in an all-encompassing and cerebrally exciting package. She loves literature, which speaks to the Fulbright Summer Institute because she gets to communicate with people who were expressing their thoughts in another time and culture, through words.

“I’m passionate about it because I like to read a lot,” says Porter. “But when I’m reading, I get to communicate with people who were expressing their thoughts at other times.”

But she says she also feels drawn to art for the same reason she loves immersing herself in the consciousness of a great book. It’s just that the medium is different.

“Again, it’s just goes with everything else I like,” Porter says. “With art, it’s expressing yourself in a certain way, and your ideas come out. And you can also convey a message to others. I just really like that.

“I enjoy literature a lot, but I like how anthropology includes the cultures of people, which is very humanistic,” she says. “However, anthropology also incorporates scientific methods to explain some of the things that make us human; it looks at everything from the physical characteristics of humans to the writing and artifacts left behind. And I think that’s very interesting.”

Once again, Porter’s intellectual roots return to that idea of connectivity.

“I like how you’re able to find the connectivity along different cultures and humans, and how people have these unifying things that make people human,” Porter says, “even if they’re very different. So that’s why I like anthropology, because it’s like the whole picture.”

Just don’t try to pin Porter down to compartmentalize her intellectual interests. She doesn’t feel passionate about one thing or another, she says. It’s more than that.

“I always have difficulty when I try to pinpoint specific passions,” she says, “because I feel that’s the whole idea of how I live my life.”

Porter, whose hometown is the Syracuse suburb of Manlius — she’s the daughter of Andrea and Thomas Porter — is another example of a UB student who competes and excels competing against the top students at any university, says Elizabeth Colucci, coordinator of fellowships and scholarships for UB.

“Anna participated in UB’s fellowship and scholarship development program called ‘Spark.’” says Colucci, whose program has enjoyed a particularly successful year finding UB students national and international fellowships.

“During this program, she learned about an exciting opportunity for freshmen and sophomores to travel to the United Kingdom with the prestigious UK Summer Fulbright Institutes. She had a chance to hear from UB’s first UK Summer Fulbright winner, Dylan Burns. So Anna is UB’s second student to win this prestigious award and I anticipate that more freshmen and sophomores at UB will become Summer Fulbrighters.”

And Porter is another student more than willing to tout the advantages and resources of UB, even if the opportunities and encouragement caught her a little by surprise.

“I’m really very surprised at how much I’m enjoying UB,” she says. “I’ve met really great people and there are so many more opportunities than I thought there would be. I didn’t know about the Fulbright Summer Institute until I came here and people here pointed it out.”

It’s all part of a freshman year that surpassed all expectations, even without both prestigious national fellowships on which she is about to embark. It’s allowed her to follow that intellectual intuition that makes her think she is on to something authentic, strictly her own and maybe more universal than she realizes.

It’s all happened so quickly and fluidly that she hesitated when asked how old she was.

“Wait. I might be 19. I think I’m 19. I just turned. Yes. I should probably know that.”