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Weekly Wisdom 6/1/21: Transcript of Conversation With Harold L. Martin, Sr., North Carolina A&T State University Chancellor

Weekly Wisdom 6/1/21: Transcript of Conversation With Harold L. Martin, Sr., North Carolina A&T State University Chancellor

1) 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.
2) This transcript is intended to serve primarily as a guide to the full conversation. We apologize for any inaccuracies and encourage you to listen to the podcast.

Click here to access our summary, along with helpful links and audio from this episode.

Harold L. Martin:
And increasingly, if we’re going to talk about enhancing wealth disparities, addressing those in significant ways, addressing some of the areas of disparities in employment, healthcare, and education, creating these opportunities and making our graduates more and increasingly aware that opportunities that are available to them and the investments that are being made available to them are going to be critical to the role we play.

Bridget Burns:
Welcome to Innovating Together, a podcast produced by the University Innovation Alliance. This is the podcast for busy people in higher education who are looking for the best ideas, inspiration, and leaders to help you improve student success. I'm your host, Bridget Burns.

You are about to watch another episode of "Start the Week with Wisdom," which, for those of you at home, if you have not seen this before, these are our weekly episodes where we conduct an interview with a sitting college president or chancellor, and we want to talk to them about how they are navigating the challenge of this moment. We are in a really unique time, and we want to focus on their leadership and unpack how they are making decisions, how they are navigating, and hopefully it will leave you with a sense of optimism, a bit inspired, and give you a bit of hope.

If you normally join us, you might know that this is “Start the Week with Wisdom.” We typically would do this on a Monday and it is designed to have a conversation with a sitting college president or chancellor to inspire you for the week ahead. However this week is different because we think you need some extra motivation, some extra inspiration and it’s a very special week for my organization, the University Innovation Alliance, because on Monday, we announced an update on our goals and our achievements, but most importantly we announced that we have two new members. So on Monday, you got a chance to meet one of them and I am so delighted that you’re getting a chance to meet our second new institution in the UIA.

Doug Lederman:
We’re joined today by the longtime chancellor of the largest historical Black college in the country, and that’s Harold Martin, who is the chancellor of North Carolina A&T State University in part of the North Carolina system. Chancellor Martin, welcome. Thanks for being here.

Harold L. Martin:
Thanks very much, Bridget and Doug. Delighted to be with you today.

Bridget Burns:
So happy to have you. And Chancellor Martin, most importantly, thank you and welcome to the UIA. We have been – this has been a secret we have been keeping now for almost a year and so excited to share a bit more about that and part of why we’re so excited, but I guess I would start with asking you why are you most excited about joining the alliance?

Harold L. Martin:
Thanks very much. Great question. We’ve been engaged in this incredible work for a long time, and as you know, this is difficult work. Recruiting bright and talented students from very diverse groups, inclusive of low-income students, first-generation students, and the challenges of ensuring that we are affording these incredibly bright students the same kind of 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 be able to share in these experiences, share 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.

Doug Lederman:
So you obviously benefit in certain ways from being in a system in ways that a lot of institutions that are sort of solo practitioners and out there on an island by themselves don’t, but we’re increasingly at a moment where institutions on their own are going to have a hard time achieving what they want to achieve. So I assume becoming part of another kind of sort of system of or loose kind of alliance gives you some strengths and some resources and some assets that maybe you don’t have otherwise.

Harold L. Martin:
Yes, the University of North Carolina system has created an incredible framework for our university and all the public universities in North Carolina. We collaborate quite extensively across a variety of ways, but we also compete as well for resources, we compete for the population of students in North Carolina to drive our enrollment targets and the like.

So there’s an incredible balance there. Often times while we are very good, have high regard for one another in our U.N.C. system, 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 also are looking for a more global perspective as well. Institutions who are in some ways are ahead of the game and working together in significant collaborations, focused on this specific area of need, growing and increasing success in graduating students in increasingly larger numbers of minority students as well as first generation college students. That creates another group of excellent innovative institutions with whom we are excited to be working with.

Bridget Burns:
I like the shout out from Todd Simmons there, and also I’m wearing my [Aggi] colors today but –

Harold L. Martin:
We appreciate that very much, actually. Thank you.

Bridget Burns:
I appreciate the reference to the system versus alliance collaboration, so what I’m interested in is, we’re in a really hard moment. We just came through a really hard moment as a country, and I’m just wondering about whether you see a different type of need or why a collaboration might be either more essential now or less, because it felt to me like during the pandemic institutions became a bit more insular. Part of it is because we’re all stuck in our houses, but I’m just wondering if you see any particular challenges that you’d like to team up with institutions on as we’re coming out of the pandemic?

Harold L. Martin:
Absolutely. We as a university, as a little history, have tended to be much more insular than many universities overall, and I think that’s characteristic of some institutions, and we were one of those. We were protecting our history. We were protecting our mission. We were protecting our turf so to speak as an H.B.C.U., and quite honestly in today’s age and growing opportunities for demands for our graduates, increasing interest in our university.

As well as looking at the growing demands globally for increased talented graduates who are critically important for the corporate needs, employment needs of our graduates. I think employers have realized an increasing new set of skills required by their employees as increased teleworking has been critically important for their ability to continue to be successful from the corporate sector to government agencies to non-profits. We have seen that in conversations with a variety of organizations. As American organizations seek to be even more competitive on a global scale, we’re hearing often from our business leaders locally, regionally, and nationally that these are some of the new and emerging skillsets we need graduates to have upon graduation.

These are some of the areas emerging as new technical skills that we also need from college graduates as well. So this creates a tremendous opportunity for us to be less insular, more innovative, and the more collaborative we are with institutions who are committed to some of the similar kinds of goals and objectives we are, build stronger collaborations and partnerships and opportunities to think – I hate to use an old cliché, but outside of the box around areas where we can be increasingly more successful and unapologetically be more successful in graduating more students of color, increasing number of first generation students is very intentional, 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. Not all institutions have been committed to deploy resources in this space. 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 us. That excites me, quite honestly. But I am particularly interested in 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 to help these organizations be more successful and enhance their competitiveness, and we take that very seriously as part of our land-grant mission, and so the innovation is key to our DNA.

Doug Lederman:
This is obviously a moment where the federal administration here in D.C. is choosing to really prioritize higher education generally in part to pursue all the goals that you were just talking about, but with a particular focus on or at least support for historically black institutions, and I’m curious – there’s obviously lots of money being talked about, we’ll see how much of it materializes in what continues to be a very divided Washington, but I’m curious what does the additional resources for a place like N.C. A&T create the possibility of? What do you think you could deliver with additional funds for research and for infrastructure and all sorts of other things above and beyond what you’re doing now?

Harold L. Martin:
The work that we’re engaged in, the University Innovation Alliance is engaged in, is complex. It’s expensive. Excellence is expensive. It requires a broad array of additional resources, provides support to the incredible students we recruit into our universities as a collective group, staffing to provide the kinds of tutorial, advice and counsel, destination employment experiences and motivations to ensure that these students are on track in areas that are most important to their skillsets and their interests as well. Now, 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.

We have seen the evidence of a commitment by this Congress, as well as the administration as evidenced through the deployment of the CARES Act, the H.E.E.R.F. Funds, the Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds. Higher education has received a significant level of investment as part of the CARES Act dollars, but additionally, 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 in our universities as well.

Being innovative and creating new degree programs and collaborations to ensure that we are adding value to those collaborations are critically important as well. I’m particularly excited about the fact that this administration is elevating the important conversation around science and the importance of science, the value of science, the importance of investing in our nation’s infrastructure and the role that institutions will play in creating innovation in science and science research and involvement in deploying solutions and developing better solutions for enhancing our infrastructure for our nation as well. 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, quite honestly. Low-income students, first-generation students are excited about these topical areas as well. They’re very in tune to the importance of climate change in our world, and they have a passion for being involved and creating solutions in this space but interested in educational opportunities in this space.

So the additional federal dollars being talked about and instances such as the relief funds are actually being deployed to our institutions are critically important to aiding in our universities, H.B.C.U.s, minority-serving institutions, tribal institutions to also step into this incredible area of opportunity. H.B.C.U.s are doing remarkable research. Our university is third in research among the U.N.C. system campuses. When I often have this conversation with our board of trustees, our leadership team, and our incredible faculty is what are we doing with this research? How innovative are we? What is the innovation that is emerging out of the remarkable research of our faculty and our students? How are we patenting this research, and how are we exploring opportunities to commercialize the technologies that are emerging out of the innovation of our faculty and our students?

That in my mind 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.

I’ll give an example. When I finished my education as an undergraduate student at our university some 40 years ago or more, the opportunities to create my own company or capitalize on investment opportunities to build the capital that I would need to do so were not as readily available for me as a graduate from our university at that time as they are today. Increasingly, if we’re going to talk about enhancing wealth disparities, addressing those in significant ways, addressing some of the areas of disparity and employment, healthcare and education, creating these opportunities and making our graduates more and increasingly aware of opportunities that are available to them and the investments that are being made available to them are going to be critical to the role we play, the innovation that will emerge out of our partnership and collaborations with exceptional colleagues as part of the UIA excites us, quite honestly, and creates a high level of excitement and enthusiasm that we think are going to create other areas of innovation that allows us to continue to create even more successes for our universities, for our faculty engagement, and importantly for the graduates we produce.

Bridget Burns:
That’s wonderful. So I feel like we’re going to record that. I’m going to start having you give the UIA pitch for me then. Right. This is great. So I want to just shift talking about you and that you’ve led A&T for a very long time and you’ve had tremendous experience with the system prior. I know that as we’re in this space right now where there are a lot of new opportunities opening up and people are looking at becoming chancellors or presidents, I’m guessing a lot of them come to you and ask for advice. And what I would like to know is what is the advice that you most frequently give someone who is thinking about the presidency or chancellorship?

Harold L. Martin:
I have been at this for a long time. I have been very fortunate and quite blessed to have incremental opportunities for advancement in my career. And along the way of those incremental advancements in my career, department head, dean, provost, long before I became a chancellor, were areas of opportunities that allowed me to expand my leadership skills and experiences to explore innovation, to explore pushing the envelope of new opportunities and experiences, managing change and leading teams through change in organizations. And so those experiences are what I share with many very bright and talented young people who want to see themselves being a chancellor or president of a university in the future.

What I encourage them to do is not be so impatient, to take the time to gain the experiences along the way. Don’t look for quick titles and with shallow experiences and opportunities to lead organizations and make tough decisions, get involved with the critical hard work along the way, and demonstrate your understanding of the organization that you have responsibility for, and devise ways of building teams, recruiting top talent, and deploying strategy that makes the organization better than when you inherited the organization. And then use those experiences to seek the next opportunity for advancement of your career. What I’ve seen evidence of is far too many bright and talented young people want to cut quick corners and get ahead in the advancement opportunity, and miss those critical opportunities to build the experiences they will need to make the tough decisions when they reach the pinnacle of chancellorship or presidency.

And ultimately then, the tough decisions they will have to make, they’re not as prepared to make. They don’t have the gravitas, if you will, to attract the top leadership teams that they need to build, and they don’t have the experiences of saying, "I’ve seen this challenge or problem before. In a prior experience, those are the solutions that work then. I’m confident that it will work today by scaling up those experiences to meet the bigger challenge today." Those are the examples that I share with young people in my experiences and as I mentor them in a very significant way. Experiences are far more important than additional compensation quickly, or a new title with limited exposure and opportunity.

Bridget Burns:
Especially this year.

Harold L. Martin:

Bridget Burns:
So I guess the last question we’ll end with is what’s the best advice that you received that helped you in your career?

Harold L. Martin:
Well, I think from my experiences growing up in a household with uneducated parents so I was the first-generation college-going student as well, along with my older brother and sister. 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. That was critically important. So what I see as challenges here as well though as we look to the future and we think about – 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.

That’s been as valuable as the experiences I’ve brought to this role as well, because we have found far too often that the challenges with far too many of our universities is the instability of leadership in our institutions where we don’t have the opportunity to build infrastructure, build leadership strategy, build success plans that allow us to sustain the momentum that we create in our universities today. And we believe today for our university, as an example, from our observation of those most successful institutions of higher education in America, the institutions have valued their mission, they have recognized the importance of continuing to have a very sound, strong board of trustees that provides the oversight and governance and critical leadership within the institution that has communicated extensively with this constituency, alumni, friends of the institution, business leaders of the organization as well, so that the momentum is sustained across leadership changes in the organization.

So we believe we have built that kind of leadership structure and governance for our institution that values who we are, builds trust in the various constituent groups, and has set a very significant path for the future for our institution that we will continue to build on across leadership changes within our organization of which we’re excited about.

Bridget Burns:
Well, great. And so thank you so much, Chancellor Martin for spending this time with us. We really appreciate it. Especially overcoming all the technical challenges that happen if your name has innovation in it. It’s just going to be a thing. So Doug, always wonderful to have you as a co-host, and for those who are watching at home, we have another episode featuring Tim Renick from the National Institute on Student Success that will be on Thursday. So thanks everybody, and we will see you then. 

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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