Freda Porter
Mathematician
Freda Porter

Freda Porter (b. October 14, 1957)
Freda Porter was born and raised in Lumberton, a tiny town in North Carolina. Growing up on a farm where her parents were tobacco sharecroppers, she found unlikely opportunities to work with numbers. “Math has always come naturally to me,” she said in one interview. “My dad once said that he could sense that I looked for ways to make the hard work on the farm easier. He always relied on me to help him pay his workers, so early on I thought it was exciting to be part of a solution.”

That love of numbers led Porter to earn a B.S. in applied mathematics from Pembroke State University in 1978. She then interned at IBM and got her master’s degree in applied math from North Carolina State University. In 1991, after 10 years of commuting to Duke University while raising a family, she received her Ph.D. in applied mathematics and computational sciences. Adding “Dr.” to her name was no small feat. A member of the Lumbee tribe, Porter was at the time only one of 10 Native American women to hold a Ph.D. in math.

After getting her Ph.D., Porter taught math at Pembroke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and studied ways to use mathematical models in the study of groundwater contamination. In 1997, she left academia to lead a consulting firm, Porter Scientific, Inc. Her eponymous company specializes in hardcore dirty work—transporting and disposing of hazardous materials, emergency response and sewer construction management, among other environmental, engineering and technology services. And to ensure that more Native American girls—particularly those on reservations and in rural areas—have access to science and math education, Porter co-founded the UNC-Pembroke chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and she serves on the board of Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.