Note: This interview in the Weekly Wisdom Series originally aired on June 1, 2021 as part of the University Innovation Alliance’s Innovating Together podcast, appearing live on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
As Executive Director of the University Innovation Alliance (UIA), I'm honored to be in our second year of the Innovating Together Podcast, created in collaboration with Inside Higher Ed. My co-host is Doug Lederman, Editor and Co-Founder of Inside Higher Ed, and for the 6/1/21 episode of Innovating Together's Weekly Wisdom Series, we welcomed back Harold L. Martin, Sr., Chancellor of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. We spoke with Dr. Martin last year, but the latest development is that North Carolina A&T recently joined the UIA. In our conversation, he shared his wisdom about the unique benefits that our new partnership brings to his already unique institution.
A New Alliance
Chancellor Martin spoke about why he was so energized by North Carolina A&T's decision to join the UIA. "This is difficult work," he acknowledged. "Recruiting bright and talented students from very diverse groups – low-income students, first-generation students – and the challenges of ensuring that we are affording these incredibly bright students the excellent educational experience and support they deserve to continue to be successful is complex. And having access to exceptional colleagues leading some of our nation’s most innovative research universities, and being able to share in these experiences and best practices is a great opportunity for us and for me personally. So I’m excited about the collaborations that emerge from these discussions and being in the midst of great colleagues to share some of their very best ideas, ask tough questions, so that we’re all successful together."
While the U.N.C. system already provides his school with a set of external assets, Chancellor Martin admitted, "We also compete for resources, for the population of students in North Carolina to drive our enrollment targets. So it is important to sometimes step out of that environment and build new relationships, new collaborations, and while we benefit and value these relationships at home, we are looking for a more global perspective as well – institutions who are in some ways ahead of the game and working together in significant collaborations, increasing success for larger numbers of minority students as well as first-generation college students."
Opportunities and Commitments
Collaboration is always a positive thing, and Chancellor Martin believes that it's more important than ever as higher education reassesses and rebuilds after the challenging year of COVID-19. He began with an observation about the unique position of historically Black colleges and universities (H.B.C.U.s).
"We as a university have tended to be much more insular than many universities," he explained. "We were protecting our mission, our turf so to speak, as an H.B.C.U., and in today’s age and growing opportunities for demands for our graduates, increasing interest in our university. As American organizations seek to be even more competitive on a global scale, we’re hearing often from our business leaders that teleworking skills are some of the new and emerging skillsets we need graduates to have upon graduation. So this creates a tremendous opportunity for us to be less insular and build stronger collaborations and partnerships where we can be increasingly and unapologetically more successful in graduating more students of color and first-generation students, because students who are first-generation low-income have substantially more financial need to go to college.
"We have to make commitments to make those investments," Chancellor Martin continued. "That’s what makes the University Innovation Alliance so critically important as well, because the alliance has committed to a common set of strategic goals to be more successful in graduating more graduates, but in particular first-generation, low-income, students of color as well. So that excites me. But I am particularly interested in this as a competitive land-grant institution. Land-grant institutions were created to address the critical needs of industries and government organizations to produce graduates and deploy applied science, so the innovation is key to our DNA."
Outcomes in a Post-Pandemic World
We asked Chancellor Martin what kind of outcomes he hopes to deliver once N.C. A&T receives the increased federal funding currently under discussion in Congress.
"Excellence is expensive," he assured us. "It requires a broad array of additional resources. I’m excited about the increasing visibility that historically Black colleges and universities are receiving from this administration and Congress and the deployment of additional resources, as evidenced through the deployment of the CARES Act and H.E.E.R.F. Historically Black colleges and universities, tribal institutions, and minority-serving institutions have received additional dollars on top of those that are critically important to invest in academic programs, to enhance infrastructure, support of our institutions that accommodate the growing interest in students and their families."
Regarding specific outcomes, Chancellor Martin said, "I’m particularly excited about the fact that this administration is elevating the important conversation around the value of science, the importance of investing in our nation’s infrastructure, and the role that institutions will play in research and involvement in deploying better solutions for enhancing our infrastructure, and creating more and incredibly well-prepared graduates who are going to be necessary as we open more discussions about science, infrastructure, enhancements in climate change in the world. Low-income, first-generation students are in tune to the importance of climate change, and they have a passion for educational opportunities in this space. H.B.C.U.s are doing remarkable research in this incredible area of opportunity. Our university is third in research among the U.N.C. system campuses. That enables our university to continue to add value, have significant impact economically on our community, our region, our state as a whole, but it's also exciting and enabling a growing population of students arriving on our campus who are interested in entrepreneurship opportunities. They want to start their own companies, their own businesses. Many of our students arriving on our campus today from high school have already started companies and are wanting to expand how they themselves step into these growing areas of opportunity for this generation of incredibly bright students."
Circling back to how the UIA will benefit his institution, he added, "If we’re going to talk about addressing disparity, employment, healthcare, education, and making our graduates more aware of the opportunities and investments available to them, the innovation that will emerge out of our partnership with exceptional colleagues as part of the UIA excites us, quite honestly, and creates a high level of enthusiasm that we think will create other areas of innovation to create even more successes for our universities, our faculty engagement, and the graduates we produce."
Patience and Perseverance
When we asked Chancellor Martin about the best career advice he ever received and his most frequent advice to younger people setting their sights on higher ed leadership positions, we noted a clear theme running through both answers.
"I was the first-generation college-going student, along with my older brother and sister," he recalled. "But we had parents who were absolutely committed to ensuring that we had the discipline, the work ethic, and values to go on to college and get an education. It was a top priority for each of us. So what I see as our challenges, from a first-generation person's exposure and experience, is this is hard work, and we clearly need to ensure that we are committed to the duration of experiences. I’ve been very fortunate here to have been able to be in my role for a sustained period of time, to create stability in our university."
He's held his current position for 12 years, and his advice to aspiring leaders begins with a recap of his own path to the N.C. A&T chancellor's office: "Along the way of those incremental opportunities in my career – department head, dean, provost – were areas of opportunities that allowed me to expand my leadership skills and experiences to explore innovation, pushing the envelope of new experiences, managing change, and leading teams. What I encourage bright and talented young people to do is not be so impatient. Don’t look for quick titles and shallow experiences. Get involved with the critical hard work along the way, and demonstrate your understanding of the organization that you have responsibility for. Make the organization better than when you inherited it. And then use those experiences to seek the next opportunity for advancement of your career. Experiences are far more important than additional compensation quickly, or a new title with limited exposure and opportunity."
The Power of Stability
Although optimistic about the possibilities for his own institution and for higher ed in general, Chancellor Martin warned against precipitous change.
"We have found far too often that the challenge with far too many of our universities is the instability of leadership," he observed, "where we don’t have the opportunity to build infrastructure, leadership strategy, and plans that allow us to sustain the momentum that we create. Those most successful institutions of higher education in America have valued their mission, recognized the importance of continuing to have sound, strong oversight, governance, and critical leadership, and communicated extensively with their constituency – alumni, friends of the institution, business leaders – so that the momentum is sustained across leadership changes in the organization."
The UIA is grateful for leaders like Chancellor Martin, whose longer view and steady guidance can help a university better meet the needs of those underserved student populations who depend upon it the most.
Links Mentioned in This Episode
• North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (North Carolina A&T)
• Historically Black colleges and universities (H.B.C.U.s)
• Land-grant institution (as defined by the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities)
• CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, passed 3/27/20 by the U.S. Congress)
• H.E.E.R.F (Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, a provision of the CARES Act)
Bios of Guest and Co-Hosts
Guest: Harold L. Martin, Sr., Chancellor, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
Harold Lee Martin Sr., Ph.D., became North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University's 12th chancellor on June 8, 2009. His tenure has been distinguished by a focus on long-range strategic planning and tactical leadership, dramatically improving North Carolina A&T’s standing among the nation’s land grant, doctoral research universities, as well as historically Black colleges and universities (H.B.C.U.'s). Examples of his work include two strategic plans: A&T Preeminence 2020: Embracing Our Past, Creating Our Future and A&T Preeminence: Taking the Momentum to 2023. Under Dr. Martin’s leadership, the university became one of America’s top producers of African American graduates in engineering, mathematics, statistics, agriculture, journalism, visual and performing arts, marketing, and physical sciences. He played a significant role in Opportunity Greensboro, the city’s nationally acclaimed alliance between its seven colleges and universities and the business community. Prior to becoming chancellor, Dr. Martin served as Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs for the U.N.C, System; the 11th chief administrator and seventh chancellor of Winston-Salem State University; and in A&T administrative posts including Vice Chancellor for the Division of Academic Affairs, dean of the College of Engineering and chairman of the Department of Electrical Engineering. He was named an education and business thought leader in TIME magazine’s August 2020 edition of The Leadership Brief; honored by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund with the 2019 Education Leadership Award; and named America’s most influential H.B.C.U. leader for 2017 by H.B.C.U. Digest. In 2015, he appeared on the EBONY Power 100 list. Harold Martin received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from A&T, and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Co-Host: Bridget Burns, Executive Director, University Innovation Alliance
Dr. Bridget Burns is the founding Executive Director of the University Innovation Alliance (UIA). For the past decade, she has advised university presidents, system chancellors, and state and federal policy leaders on strategies to expand access to higher education, address costs, and promote completion for students of all backgrounds. The UIA was developed during Bridget’s tenure as an American Council on Education (A.C.E.) Fellowship at Arizona State University. She held multiple roles within the Oregon University System, including serving as Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Advisor, where she won the national award for innovation in higher education government relations. She was a National Associate for the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, and has served on several statewide governing boards including ones governing higher education institutions, financial aid policy, and policy areas impacting children and families.
Co-Host: Doug Lederman, Editor and Co-Founder, Inside Higher Ed
Doug Lederman is editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed. With Scott Jaschik, he leads the site's editorial operations, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Doug speaks widely about higher education, including on C-Span and National Public Radio and at meetings and on campuses around the country. His work has appeared in The New York Times and USA Today, among other publications. Doug was managing editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education from 1999 to 2003, after working at The Chronicle since 1986 in a variety of roles. He has won three National Awards for Education Reporting from the Education Writers Association, including one for a 2009 series of Inside Higher Ed articles on college rankings. He began his career as a news clerk at The New York Times. He grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and graduated in 1984 from Princeton University. Doug and his wife, Kate Scharff, live in Bethesda, MD.
About Weekly Wisdom
Weekly Wisdom is an event series that happens live on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It also becomes a podcast episode. Every week, we join forces with Inside Higher Ed and talk with a sitting college president or chancellor about how they're specifically navigating the challenges of this moment. These conversations will be filled with practicable things you can do right now by unpacking how and why college leaders are making decisions within higher education. Hopefully, these episodes will also leave you with a sense of optimism and a bit of inspiration.
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