Wed | Mar 20, 2019

New Fairmont State University president had long journey from Cuba

Published:Sunday | December 31, 2017 | 12:50 AM
Mirta Martin



Mirta Martin's journey to West Virginia has been long.

She was recently named the next president of Fairmont State University. But before that, she escaped from communist Cuba, lived in a Spanish convent and immigrated to the United States without her parents.

"I believe that education is transformational," Martin said recently. "I'm the oldest in my family and, because I went to college, they went to college. 

Because we went to college, our children went to college. I want to be part of the lives of students where I can be part of the building blocks for greater success for our students."

Martin said she hopes her unique background will help the students of Fairmont State to help underserved people to access higher education.
Fairmont State's Board of Governors unanimously selected Martin for the job in October. She will replace Stephen Jones, who has been interim president since former president Maria Rose retired at the end of June.

Martin secured a two-year appointment, through the end of 2019. During that time, she will have an annual $270,000 base salary, with benefits. She also may secure bonuses by increasing the school's fundraising efforts and the number of students enrolled and by improving the school's retention rate, according to a copy of her appointment letter obtained by the Gazette-Mail.

When Martin was just 6 years old, her grandmother was able to escape from Fidel Castro's communist regime. She took Martin and her sister with her to Spain, to wait for a chance for Martin's parents to also escape.

For eight years, the family lived in a convent there.

After years of waiting and hoping for the parents to be able to meet them in Spain, Martin and her grandmother once again packed up their lives. They moved across the globe once again, this time to the United States.

"My grandmother always said that education is the one thing that people can never take away from you. When I graduated from college and was married, she said to me that I need to continue in my education. You don't say no to your grandmother."

Martin hasn't always worked in higher education. The beginning of her career was in the banking industry — where she rose through the ranks to be a senior vice president. Most recently, she was the president of Fort Hays State University, the third-largest university in Kansas.

Before that, she was a dean at Virginia State University, a special assistant to the chancellor of the Virginia Community College System and was an education consultant.

"When we arrived — my grandmother and my sister and me — we didn't speak a word of English, like most immigrants," Martin said. "And like many families in America today, my grandmother worked two full-time jobs. I went to school full-time and worked a full-time job during the week.

"On Sundays, we'd get up and go to church, and then after, we'd go and clean houses," she said. "It was that money that put food on our table. My grandmother instilled in us a sense of pride in what we did, because we lived in a country that allowed us to be free."

- Information from The Charleston Gazette-Mail