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Mirta Martin: Shaping Tomorrow’s Leaders through Accessible Education

Mirta Martin

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Mirta M. Martin, Ph.D., has a life story that demonstrates resilience, determination, and a strong commitment to education. She came from communist Cuba, where she left everything behind with her grandmother and sister in pursuit of freedom. They arrived in the United States when she was 14 years old. Facing the challenges of a new country and language, Mirta worked tirelessly, juggling a full-time job, high school, and College to support her family.

She achieved higher education through hard work, sacrifice, and scholarships. This transformative experience fueled her dedication to promoting opportunities for anyone with the ambition to pursue a post-secondary degree. After a successful banking career, Mirta switched to education, driven by a desire for flexibility to instill family values and a deep understanding of the need for increased diversity and accessibility in higher education.

Mirta has a diverse corporate background, ranging from a branch manager trainee to a senior vice president in one of the largest U.S. banks. She transitioned seamlessly into academia, where she has held pivotal roles as a faculty member, executive vice president, foundation executive director, dean, and trustee for a Community College system. Her leadership journey encompasses three presidencies at different Colleges and universities.

Dynamic Leadership in Higher Education

As the College President and Chief Executive Officer of Ferrum College, Mirta has a multifaceted role with a central focus on servant leadership. She is the foremost advocate for the institution’s mission, students, alumni, faculty, and staff. She collaborates closely with the Board of Trustees to spearhead the strategic direction of the College and oversee the implementation of key programs and the institution’s overall strategic plan.

Mirta also ensures the fiscal accountability and stability of the College, a vital responsibility for the institution’s sustained success. She cultivates relationships and partnerships with diverse stakeholders, including business, academic, and government entities. As a “friends-raiser” and fundraiser, she actively seeks support for the College and its students, contributing to the financial well-being and growth of the institution.

Additionally, Mirta is actively engaged in student recruitment and retention efforts. She serves as the chief cheerleader for students, supporting their academic pursuits, athletic endeavors, artistic expressions, and service initiatives. Her leadership embodies a holistic approach that goes beyond administrative duties. She emphasizes a commitment to the well-being and success of the College community across various domains.

Evolution of Ferrum College

Ferrum College, founded in 1913 by the Methodist Women’s Missionary Society, stands as a testament to their visionary efforts. They established it as a Christian training school. The College evolved from a graded elementary-secondary institution in its early days to a Junior College in 1940 and then to a four-year baccalaureate institution in 1974. Rooted in a mission to provide educational opportunities for the youth of Southwest Virginia, Ferrum College has continually upheld its commitment to being a beacon of learning for those with limited access to formal education.

Today, Ferrum College proudly maintains its identity as Virginia’s College of Opportunity. It has one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation, comprising individuals from Virginia, the United States, and over 40 countries. Ferrum College offers a broad spectrum of over 80 programs of study, certificates, minors, and four master’s degrees, ensuring a comprehensive educational experience.

Vision for Community Engagement and Educational Excellence

Mirta plays a pivotal role in taking Ferrum College’s mission and vision to the community. She fosters a strong connection between the institution and the broader public. Mirta showcases the incredible talents and successes of students, faculty, and staff. She not only highlights the achievements within the College but also strengthens ties with the surrounding community.

Moreover, Mirta emphasizes cultivating a culture of innovation and excellence. She aligns this with providing a superb education at an affordable price. Her strategic leadership focuses on creating an environment rich in hands-on opportunities, comprehensive academic support, and the development of in-demand job skills. This approach enhances the educational experience for students. It also ensures that Ferrum College remains relevant and responsive to the needs of both its students and the evolving job market.

Crafting a Unique Support Ecosystem

Mirta has implemented a comprehensive approach at Ferrum College to provide extensive support services. She recognizes the evolving needs of today’s diverse student body. Mirta also acknowledges the amplified challenges resulting from the pandemic. She has strategically addressed both academic and emotional preparedness through a range of resources.

The College’s commitment to holistic support is evident in the diverse services it offers. They span tutoring, writing, math, career guidance, and mental health and wellness centers. Mirta has fostered a robust mentorship program that enhances the overall student experience. It provides guidance and support beyond the academic realm. Additionally, the College integrates service opportunities and internships into the College experience. They offer students a competitive advantage as they transition into the professional world.

Transformative Initiatives for Accessible Education, Affordability, and Workforce Readiness

Mirta recognizes the pressing issues in the current education system, especially College preparedness, cost, and value. She has implemented transformative initiatives at Ferrum College to address these concerns directly, acknowledging the growing questions about the affordability of a College degree.

She launched the PANTHER PROMISE, a tangible effort to make education accessible. It provides free tuition for qualifying Virginia residents. This initiative, along with additional out-of-state grants, reflects a commitment to welcoming students from diverse backgrounds and addressing financial needs.

Moreover, in a strategic move to better align with the evolving needs of industry and the aspirations of today’s students, Ferrum College expanded its academic framework from three to six distinct schools, each offering specialized programs for a diverse student body: School of Arts and Humanities, School of Business and Technology, School of Nursing and Allied Health, School of Science and Agriculture, School of Education and Behavioral Sciences, and School of Graduate and Online Studies.

Mirta also took a bold step to confront the cost and value challenge by lowering 2024 tuition by $10,000. This strategic move aligns with Ferrum College’s mission as the “College of Opportunity.” It emphasizes a commitment to providing a superb education that is both proud and affordable.

To ensure graduates are well-equipped for the evolving demands of the workforce, Mirta is actively expanding and redesigning the curriculum. She aims to provide students with not only knowledge but also practical skills and experiences sought by industries. Additionally, she introduced stackable workforce certificates for non-traditional students. They award College credit upon completion and further align with the College’s commitment to meeting the diverse needs of its student population.

Balancing Passion and Purpose

Mirta balances her work and life by embracing her genuine passion for her role as a College president. She acknowledges the demands of the job, but she finds fulfillment in expanding opportunities for students and advocating for the transformative power of a College education. The adage “if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life” rings true for her. It alleviates the challenges associated with the often 24/7 nature of the role.

Mirta actively engages in other interests to infuse joy and variety into her life. She cherishes moments spent around students, attending their agricultural fairs, poster presentations, theater and music performances, and sports events. She is the loudest voice in the crowd when cheering them on. This reflects not only her dedication to the institution but also her genuine connection with the student community.

Mirta prioritizes personal interests such as traveling to learn about different cultures, indulging in her love for languages, music, and art, spending quality time with family and friends, enjoying the company of animals, and basking in the beauty of the ocean. Her multifaceted interests serve as outlets for relaxation and rejuvenation. They contribute to a well-rounded and balanced lifestyle.


Find a place to call “home;” a place with like minds that share your dreams, your hopes, and your vision.

ALSO READ: The 10 Inspiring Education Leaders, 2024



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