Martin Talks College’s Vision

Martin standing next to the mountain  in her office she calls a daily reminder of her vision.
Martin standing next to the mountain in her office she calls “a daily reminder of her vision.”
Kyle Markowitz

In the late winter before the Spring 2023 semester, Mirta Martin joined as the interim president.

October 27, 2023, Martin became the thirteenth president of Ferrum College.

“The interim title had nothing to do with anything,” Martin said. “I was hired to do a job, and for me it was mission.”

Now, Martin said she has identified what went well and what challenges she faced in her 10 months as interim, and has new goals for what direction she wants the college to go in.

“The first thing I want to bring to the college is unity and belief,” Martin said.  “I’d like for every faculty, every staff, every student, to come together as one–Forged as One–to tell the story of this college and to believe in its magic and rightful role for higher education for students who seek a superb education, taught by second to none faculty and extremely dedicated staff.”

Wasting little time, Martin’s biggest goal going into next school year is the Road to 500.

“The reality is we are an institution set up for 500 students more than what we currently have,” Martin said.  “We have an initiative to bring in 500 freshman next year.

Ferrum’s number of incoming freshman and transfer students this school year has been higher than previous years.

“Over 90% of students have a job after they graduate, and after six months 100% have a job,” Martin said.  “We have the second-oldest environmental science program in the United States.  You could go down the line with all of our programs, and this is why we need to spread the word.”

Short term, Martin is focused on the Road to 500, and getting the total number of students to 1,500.

Long term, Martin sees Ferrum as the destination of choice.

“I see us as the North Star for students who seek a second to none education,” Martin said.  “I see us as being a provider of choice for industry leaders who seek, not only men and women of strong character with strong skills and strong education, but just as important strong character and strong values.”

Martin and staff have submitted a request to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to be the first college in the United States to award college credit for what has been historically not been given credits, like an electrician, HVAC operator, construction management, or computer mechanic.

“We, higher ed, are the provider of an educated workforce to industry.  If an electrician spends 1,500 hours learning his trade, couldn’t that be worth 15 or 30 credits?” Martin said.  “At Ferrum College, we acknowledge the world has turned, and we are forward thinking and ready to embrace those changes and lead the change that is necessary.”

A change however was necessary for Martin a little more than 10 months ago when she told her previous employer at Fairmont State, she wasn’t going to renew her contract.

By this time, Martin had been away from her husband, John, for 11 years.  He had a third-generation family business, and when she went to West Virginia, she would see him once a month for a day and her children only four to five times a year.

“Family and faith are important, and I felt like I needed to be closer to my family,” Martin said.

Before meeting with the board, Martin said she wanted to come to campus early to make sure it felt like home.

“We got in the car, drove here, and as I came down 40 and saw the cross on top of the bell tower and turned right into the college, I felt like a sense of peace just came over me,” Martin said.  “I remember looking over at my husband, and I didn’t say a word.  He turned to me and said, ‘You’re home, aren’t you?’  I shook my head yes because I couldn’t explain it; it has felt like home and now is my home.”

Although Ferrum felt like home to Martin, she describes her time as interim as a mission.

A success came early when Martin said she wanted industry badges, and the college now has 150 of them.

“Now, not only do you take that management course, but when you finish you also have an Office 365 micro credential you can put into your e-portfolio, so a potential employer can see you’re a three-dimensional individual,” Martin said.

Martin’s goal was to see the college become a family; she believes they’ve done a lot to fix that.

“When I came here there was fear.  I believe we’ve begun to put the college on the map and have gone national,” Martin said.  “We’ve had a couple secretaries (Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Agriculture) come in and be here, the TV stations are attending our press conferences when before they weren’t, and we have the Day of Service, which is great to have the entire family out and can draw unity and pride.”

The successes however have come with some challenges.

“The challenges are always there; they are the challenges that are throughout higher education,” Martin said.  “Declining demographics, we are all making sure that we are telling a story to attract that student.  You come onto campus, and you can’t not feel the magic.  We just need to spread that word.”

But Martin is no stranger to challenges or defying the odds of adversity.

At Fairmont State, where Martin previously served as president from 2018-2022, she helped a 20.5-million-dollar positive turn around in the university’s financial condition, and an increase in its composite financial index from 0.76 to 5.69.

“All I did is what we are trying to do here.  We contained cost, learned to live within our means, but then to grow ourselves out of the financial situation we found ourselves in,” Martin said.  “Often times companies that are not where they want to be, it’s not that we are in great big trouble, but like every other institution in the United States, we have declining demographics, the pandemic and everything else, people are questioning the value of higher education.”

Even Martin questioned the power of higher education or if it was even attainable.

Martin arrived in the United States at 15 not speaking a word of English.  But she worked hard and was good in school.

One of her high school teachers took notice in a time where Martin’s grandmother kept telling her she was going to go to college.

“I kept thinking, we don’t have enough money to put food on our table, how on God’s green earth am I going to go to college?” Martin said.  “She taught me how to apply, look for scholarships, and talked to me about the value of higher education.”

Martin’s teacher then wrote the check she attached to her application to Duke University, where Martin was accepted and graduated with degrees in psychology and political science.

She then received a Master of Business Administration from the University of Richmond, and a doctorate with an emphasis in strategic management and leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University.

“I want to be that person like that teacher was to me.  She is the reason why I am here and started my journey,” Martin said.  “She is the reason why every college or university I have served has never had an application fee because I remember what it was like to want and not have a pathway.”

Martin’s background has also led her to fight for food insecurities.

“My grandmother worked two full time jobs, and I worked a full-time job while going to high school.  On Sunday’s we would get up and go to church, and then we would go and clean homes,” Martin said.  “The money from cleaning those homes would put food on our table, sometimes not enough food, which is one of the reasons as I’ve grown older and throughout my life, I have fought food insecurities because you can’t study when you’re hungry.”

This winter, the residence halls stayed open because Martin says as long as she’s here, no child and no person will go hungry.

Martin is the first in her family to go to college and said she knows the cost of higher education.

That’s why as her first order of business after being named the thirteenth president of the college, Martin dropped tuition costs by $10,000 starting in the 2024-25 school year.

“I’m aware of how sensitive our students and their families are about the cost of higher education,” Martin said.  “At a critical time when the next generation of leaders need to go to college, the reality is they’re not.”

This is why Martin preaches standing firm and proud of Ferrum College’s heritage and tradition, but needing to be bold and embrace a future others couldn’t imagine.

“We were forged out of creativity, innovation, pride, courage, and heart.  That’s still present today,” Martin said.  “We are not copycats; we forge our path just like we did 110 years ago when the women of the United Methodist Church envisioned a college of opportunity in Virginia, when they couldn’t vote, and most people didn’t look at them as viable.”

Martin has a vision and identifies there is a mountain to climb to get to where she wants the college to go.

That’s why she has a mountain hung up in her office to remind herself daily of the vision.

“I envision, we envision, something better for you, for the next generation of leaders, and we are going to do it right here at Ferrum College,” Martin said.  “The mountain is there, but we are going to get to the mountain top, which is why I finish with onward and upward the best is yet to come.”

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    AnonymousJan 24, 2024 at 2:16 pm

    I BELIEVE that Mirta Martin will surely take Ferrum College to the top of the mountain. Her character and goals are a great asset to the college. Most of all her personal care and support for all those around her is “Majic”. The Editor did a fantastic job focusing on all of her qualities and leadership.