The scholarship will support second-year PSAA students pursuing research in the field of sustainability.
The Bush School of Government and Public Service is honored to announce the creation of the Dr. Kent E. Portney Endowed Memorial Scholarship in remembrance of the late Dr. Kent Portney. Marilyn Santiesteban, former assistant director for career programming at the Bush School and Portney’s wife, has generously provided initial backing for the scholarship.
As Santiesteban prepared for her retirement on February 28, 2022, she reflected on the best way to honor her late husband.
“Kent valued education above all things. He knew that it was the ticket to a better life and security, and he loved learning for learning’s sake,” said Santiesteban. “It made sense to help another Bush School student who had the same level of interest and would do research in the areas Kent was interested in.”
The scholarship will support a second-year student in the Bush School’s Department of Public Service and Administration who demonstrates research interests in sustainability, broadly defined.
Portney passed away unexpectedly in June 2020. The Bush School mourned his loss.
Portney came to the Bush School in 2014 after teaching at Tufts University for over 30 years. He was director of the Water and Research Program at the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy (CIERP) at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He received his doctorate in political science from Florida State University, his master’s from the University of Connecticut and his bachelor’s from Rutgers University. Over the course of his career, Portney served as author or co-author for more than 120 scholarly articles, and his 1993 book with Jeffrey M. Berry and Ken Thomson, The Rebirth of Urban Democracy, earned two awards from the American Political Science Association.
While Portney’s research interests ranged widely, he demonstrated a remarkable ability to integrate diverse research projects under a general theme of the politics of urban sustainability. Portney pioneered the field of urban sustainability, leading to his appointment in 2016 as the director of the Institute for Science, Technology, and Public Policy (ISTPP) at the Bush School.
Bush School professor and current ISTPP Director Dr. Arnold Vedlitz credited Portney with incorporating issues of urban sustainability and the water-energy-food nexus into the ISTPP’s research scope, as well as expanding ISTPP’s network of contacts across Texas A&M University.
“He was a wonderful director, starting new initiatives and making connections across campus. He was an expert at how urban areas work to maintain stability over time when they’re under threat by things like hurricanes. How do you protect yourself? How do you improve your infrastructure in order to keep your people safe and how to keep your economy going? He was a pathbreaker in this regard,” said Vedlitz.
In recognition of his accomplishments, Portney was named a Texas A&M University Presidential Impact Fellow in 2017 and the Bob Bullock chair in Government and Public Policy at the Bush School in 2018.
Dr. Portney played a role in integrating the diverse research at Texas A&M University, a Tier 1 research institute, and taking full advantage of its resources and high-caliber academicians. He also lifted the careers of faculty and students at the Bush School.
“He helped to nurture and train our staff. He had a lasting effect. His techniques of research that he taught to our staff and student helped them think about complex ideas so we still benefit from that today,” said Vedlitz. “He had great enthusiasm, sense of humor and spirit, and he was a great team person. All of these things we still carry with us at the Institute today.”
A senior faculty member when he came to the Bush School, Portney served as a mentor to younger faculty. He took on as many student interns as he could and connected them to jobs at the EPS and similar agencies.
“He was incredibly generous with his knowledge, with his time, with mentoring, for any student,” said Santiesteban.
“He was so, so dedicated to social equity and the things he wanted to do for the whole world to make sure that we would be safe, that our future would be safe.”
According to Santiesteban, Portney’s concern for equity stemmed from his own experience as an underserved youth. The Higher Education Act of 1965 made funds available for Portney to realize his dream of higher education.
“He really had to work hard to put himself through college,” said Santiesteban. “He paid a lot of attention to any of our students who looked like they needed some extra help financially.”
Santiesteban hopes the scholarship will mitigate financial concerns for the recipients, allowing them to devote more energy toward their studies.
Anyone who wishes to honor Portney’s memory and legacy at Texas A&M University can do so by making a gift to the endowment online.