Photo by: Lluvia Moreno

Porter College celebrated its 50th anniversary the only way it could — artfully. Rock music filled the air as students and alumni mingled around food booths and craft stations, reminiscing on the last 50 years of Porter life.

Since its inception, the college has inspired generations of students to embrace their creative sides and develop curious minds. Its mission statement focuses on academic achievement in the arts, with an emphasis on creative  inquiry.

This focus is what drove Porter College first-year Ruby Mcquie to choose the college. Mcquie never considered following her artistic passions when applying to college. But when she got accepted into UC Santa Cruz, she found the idea of an arts college intriguing.  

“I make art more and more now that I’m here,” Mcquie said. “It’s honestly because of the huge community I found here. As an artist, it’s really inspiring.”

Porter College, founded in 1969 as UCSC’s College Five, was later renamed in honor of its main donor, the Porter-Sesnon family. Benjamin Porter sailed to California from the East Coast in the 1850s and founded County Bank of Santa Cruz. His daughter, Mary Porter Sesnon, born in 1868, was a socialite and artist who contributed to the local art scene into the 20th century.

One hundred and sixty-nine years after Porter came to California, on the college’s 50th birthday, members of Porter College’s original class gathered for a special Q&A session led by Porter Provost Sean Keilen. Alumni came to listen to the class share their stories with fondness and pride for the arts-focused college. Many shared their own experiences, discussing what has changed and the unique challenges new students face. 

Alumna Ziggy Rendler-Bregman — of Porter’s first graduating class — remembers how the paint on the walls was still wet when she arrived. There was no furniture in her room, only a spare mattress. In fact, the entire west side of campus was completely dark, with McHenry Library the closest building to Porter. 

In its early years, Porter College didn’t have a cafe, so then-student David Ingalls set up his own cafe and served coffee on a plywood table stuck between two rocks. 

Ingalls, a graduate of the class of 1969, said one of the biggest differences between now and then is the amount of financial pressure put on today’s students. With high rates of student debt, many students considering an art education have to decide between their passion and their pocketbook.

For Rendler-Bregman, belonging to an arts college was not only beautiful, but needed.  

“Today it’s important to have this connection to art, something tactile and deeply human,” Rendler-Bregman said. 

The Porter College curriculum allows students to explore a number of unusual topics and provocative ideas, said Porter Provost Sean Keilen. In addition to core courses for first-year students, Porter College offers courses that combine history and theory to show students how to conduct scholarly research and embrace their creative sides.

Porter College encourages students to pursue studies outside of mainstream ideas about what a college degree should be. Many students feel pressure to pursue up-and-coming fields in STEM, but Porter’s mission reminds them how valuable art can be.

“It’s a tremendously good thing that the college is here,” Keilen said. “Porter’s fortunate in having a lot of funding to spend in the arts on student and faculty-student collaboration projects. Not only is it a model for the whole university, Porter College also plays an integral role in education here.”