Dr. Mirta M Martin attended a reception in her honor, courtesy of the Great Bend location of Farmers Bank and Trust and bank president William R. Robbins. It was her first official function on her first official day as the first female president of Fort Hays State University. When Dr. Martin took her turn at the podium, she talked about her journey as a refugee from Cuba, at the age of five, to Spain, where she lived for five years before she immigrated to the United States with her grandmother.
“I’m thankful to be part of a growing community and I’m thankful to be part of what now is my new family,” she said, her accent sounding both Southern and Cuban, thanks to many years working and living in Virginia and from the country from which she immigrated. That sense of family is what Dr. Martin said drew her to Kansas.
“We are all bound together by a sense of pride, by a sense of pioneer work ethic, by a sense of family and it is those familial values that will stay true at FHSU.”
When she arrived in America, she knew no English. Eight years later, she graduated at the top of her High School Class, could speak four languages, and was ready to start college. She also worked full time in order to help support her family, to which a few more members from Cuba had been added. All the while, the words of her grandmother guided her.
“Education is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you,” she said.
Dr. Martin entered the field of banking in which she worked until 1995, starting as a teller and working her way up to an executive. A passion and commitment to the power of education to change lives drove her decision to transition into higher education leadership.
She shared her vision for the university, where student and faculty, working together as a university family, could achieve greatness. She will work to ensure FHSU is the preeminent destination for the world’s researchers, faculty and students. She called upon alumni to become ambassadors of the college.
“At the end of the day, FHSU is one great big family,” she said.
If the performance of the man who came before her is any indication, this is possible. Robbins, an FHSU alum, shared his memory of a similar occasion 27 years ago when outgoing president Ed Hammond said, “I’m coming to this university, and I’m going to electrify it.”
He put computers in every dormitory, in the library, everywhere.
“We are going to become the first university for unification in the computer arena,” Hammond said. And according to Robbins, he succeeded.
Along the way, the University grew from 4,200 students at the start of Hammond’s presidency to today’s student body of 13,500. Of those, 5,000 are on campus, 5,000 attend on campus in China and another 3,500 attend through satellite locations mostly in Kansas. Robbins also recognized Hammond’s economic development initiatives, one of which is the Kansas Wetlands Education Center at Cheyenne Bottoms in Barton County.
Hammond talked about his experience getting to know Dr. Martin as they work through the leadership transition together.
“The future of FHSU is in excellent hands,” he said of Dr. Martin. “She may appear to be a diminutive, sweet lady, but she is one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever known. She is a tiger, and she doesn’t lose.”
Martin plans to spend the next six months meeting and visiting with and listening to alumni, community members, students and faculty, what she refers to as the FHSU family.
“Once I learn your dreams--our dreams--I will create the strategies to put them into motion,” she said.