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Kean University

Kean Q&A: Vice President Susannah Porterfield, Ed.D., Research Advocate

Susannah Porterfield, ed.d., vp for research

Kean Vice President for Research Susannah Porterfield, Ed.D., joined the University in April after working for 20 years at Johns Hopkins University, including as senior associate vice president for research. Porterfield has experience in developing research programs and facilities; recruiting top faculty; securing grant funding; and more. Porterfield recently answered questions from Kean News about her new role at the University.

1. Can you tell us about your background?

I was at Johns Hopkins for 20 years and worked under the provost for the last nine. I wasn’t looking for a new career opportunity, but I learned about the position at Kean. As I went through the search process it solidified – this is exactly what I was looking for. It’s a way to take 20 years of skills and experience to help build a program, which is what I enjoy doing the most.

My doctorate is in organizational leadership from Stockton University, here in New Jersey. I earned my master’s in human resource management at Towson University in Maryland, and my bachelor’s degree in business management and psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.

2. How do you envision research at Kean as we work toward designation as an R2 research university?

We are emerging from a period of time in which we were forced apart by a pandemic. I want people to rediscover research in a collaborative way, to create serendipitous opportunities for students, faculty, and colleagues to get together and start a conversation. Discovery and knowledge rely on us interacting and discovering alongside each other. Who is to say a historian can’t do research with a biologist?

We recently held the first Faculty Research Day at Kean. I told the attendees that if they found a potential collaborator and wanted to continue the conversation over lunch, I’d pay. I’m trying to get people outside of their buildings and disciplines, outside of their comfort zones. External funding agencies don’t want to support the same research they have in the past, they’re more excited when an engineer steps into the clinical world and says, “I can provide a device that will help a cancer researcher look at things in a different way.” 

I also want to do whatever needs to be done to make our faculty’s pursuit of their research mission easier, reducing the administrative burden and removing structural barriers. I want to be an advocate for the researcher. The work doesn’t end with the R2 designation, we need to keep prioritizing research. My job is to take us from the point we reach R2 designation and continue moving us forward.

3. What is Kean’s role in New Jersey as the state’s Urban Research University?

Kean is already using its capabilities to benefit the region. But we want to become an anchor institution, connecting community work with academic work to improve quality of life. One example is mental health and student wellness. There are high-need school districts nearby where there aren’t enough mental health professionals. We recently received funding to strengthen that pipeline. I think we do a really good job of supporting New Jersey. 

4. What are your initial impressions of research at Kean?

We had an incredible turnout for Research Days, held the week I arrived on campus, from undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, leadership and administrative staff. I was impressed by the quality of research and the students I talked with. I would have liked to incorporate the faculty research symposium that week as well; we’ll work on that next year. I also want to showcase research throughout the year, not wait until the end of the semester. We should celebrate research all year long and share all the great things people are doing right here at Kean.

5. What are your immediate priorities?

People need to better understand what it takes to be a successful research university. This will involve partnering with teams like purchasing, finance, HR, and student affairs. It takes a very knowledgeable team to stand behind the faculty. I’m taking the entire ORSP team down to the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA) meeting in August to take courses, attend webinars, and bring back new knowledge and tools to do their jobs better. Finally, we want to expose as many Kean students as we can to real-life research questions and experiential learning. We are currently developing a process for broader student engagement. 

5. What brought you to Kean? What do you like best about the University?

My husband (Tobin Porterfield, Ph.D., associate dean, College of Business and Public Management) joined Kean back in May 2020, the same time that the campus had shut down due to the pandemic. I visited campus after it reopened and even attended some events. I got to experience the culture of Kean firsthand. The campus is beautiful and the people are open and friendly. People often stop me if I’m out walking, and we’ll just have a conversation. I also appreciate that leadership is accessible and always willing to listen to my ideas. I’m thankful to have been given this opportunity. Kean is on an upward research trajectory, and I want to help our Kean Cougars climb higher in any way I can.