Emeritus and Retired Faculty and Staff Association

Mary Portis, PhD


Department of Health and Community Services

Mary Portis is the epitome of a faculty member committed to service, both as a means to enhance student learning and as a way to enrich the lives of community members.

Portis came to Chico State to teach theory-based public health program planning, implementation, and evaluation. In all her classes, students created new programs and implemented programs in the community. Some of the topics addressed were hypertension, diabetes, fire prevention, environmental health, nutrition, fitness, and mental health. The settings included preschool to high school, migrant farm worker camps, homeless shelters, assisted living facilities, blood banks, fire departments, and hospitals. The varied populations served had an emphasis on low income and diverse groups. For all the projects, Portis worked side by side with her students. Her style of service learning allowed her to model professional skills, keep her practitioner skills current, and have an accurate, authentic measure of her students’ skills.

Among Portis’ many grant-funded projects, the one she feels has made the most impact started with a grant from the California Wellness Foundation for work in Chico’s Chapman neighborhood. Started in 1997 and still ongoing, Leaders for a Lifetime (L4L) encourages Hmong high school, Butte College, and Chico State students to help others through service, cultural education, and performance activism. Every year, L4L youth help others understand cultural differences and how to make people’s lives more equitable. The college students learn to teach and mentor, while all L4L participants learn leadership skills, perform original theater, create museum exhibits, present at conferences, and participate in special events. After Portis retired in 2013 and the community went without L4L for one year, the high school students asked her if it could resume. Portis could not say no to students who wanted to volunteer their own time. So now, in retirement, she continues to assist high school and college students in activities that will help their futures while they help their community.

Professors Diana Flannery and Holly Nevarez, Portis’ colleagues in the health and community services department, said “It is no small task to describe the combination of dedication, ability, humanity, and creativity that is Mary Portis.” They emphasized that Portis’ enduring commitment to service as well as her love and appreciation of students is an inspiration to everyone she encounters.

Portis earned her master's degree from Cal State Long Beach and her doctorate in Public Health from Loma Linda University.

Portrait of Mary Portis, PhD