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Volunteer Spotlight: Melanie Porter, PhD


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Happy Volunteer Appreciation Week from PeerForward! Want to make a difference in the lives of students? Become a PeerForward volunteer and help students find their unique voice and stand out from the crowd in their college applications. Become a volunteer HERE. 


A woman in a pink shirt in a classroom addressing a room.
Melanie Porter, PhD, addressing a room at a PeerForward Workshop.

During the school year, Melanie Porter, PhD, is an Assistant Principal at a Fairfax County Public School, but every summer she transforms into a PeerForward volunteer. For years, she’s served as a PeerForward Writing Coach and College Coach, uplifting first-generation students from low-income communities with care and grace.  

Renowned for her beautiful, powerful reading voice that brings Peer Leader essays to life, her presence at workshops is always highly anticipated by PeerForward employees, volunteers, and Peer Leaders alike. Her dedication to PeerForward and our cause is remarkable, which is why she’s our Volunteer Spotlight. We reached out to Melanie to ask about her experience with PeerForward and what drives her to serve.  

What drives you to serve first-generation, low-income students? 

A group of teens with an adult volunteer smiling at the camera.
Melanie Porter, PhD, with a group of Peer Leaders.

My desire for service leads me to finding opportunities that allow me to give back my skills, talents, and learned life lessons. Serving first generation students and low-income students is a population I am drawn to because I want to be part of the journey that allows them equal access. Life is hard. When someone has disadvantages that are thrust upon their life just by way of birth position, I believe there should be ways others can help minimize or mitigate the risk, damage, disadvantage, or disenfranchisement. 

I am not that far removed from understanding disadvantage and disenfranchisement. I believe in the village responsibility towards youth, and I want to do my part to reduce the hardness of life’s burdens by providing whatever service I can that gives a young person viable opportunity and options for their future. 

Please describe the impact of the PeerForward/College Summit volunteering experience. 

My life has been tremendously impacted by the Peer Forward volunteer experience. I have cried joyous tears and smiled deliberately as I watched the transformation of the shy, unassuming young people that arrive on day one become accomplished and confident young adults. It is a beautiful experience and I look forward to it every year. It is the highlight of my summer. All year long I am in great anticipation of what that weekend experience will present for me to learn. 

In your opinion, why should low-income students pursue postsecondary education? 

The pursuit of higher education for anyone is about the ability to be armed with the critical knowledge that will give a learner options. Knowing the reality of life in America is extremely difficult without opportunity and access to financial stability given through career placement and mobility. Higher education gives individuals tools to compete in the global job market, space for innovation and entrepreneurship, and an audience with others that can develop or create opportunity. 


Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.