It’s the way he was brought up.
And, it’s the message he’s shared with countless thousands of students, parents, and others during his lifetime — the importance of education.
Dr. Ken Martin, president of the Navarro College Ellis County campuses, is very much a “boots on the ground” kind of guy.
Spending time with him this week at the Waxahachie campus of Navarro College, Martin enthusiastically greeted students in the hallways, and shared stories of student success and continued growth of the college.
Martin’s path to his present-day post was guided at an early age by supportive parents — parents that believed in education.
“They really, really pushed academics,” Martin said.
His South Dallas beginnings saw him play sports in high schools, but he knew that it would take more than athletic skills to succeed in life, and set off to get his college education.
“I would say I’m very proud of that,” Martin said. “Out of the number of people that finished the high school I came from, not a lot of us attended college.”
Martin first pursued engineering at UT-Arlington, but later transferred to El Centro College, then to Texas A&M/Commerce (East Texas State University at the time) where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Education.
“I realized at that point, in order to really move up in our society you needed more education, ” he said, focusing on counseling, earning his master’s degree in Personal Guidance and Counseling. He is to this day a Licensed Professional Counselor. He would go on to earn his doctorate in Community College Education from Baylor University.
It was a fraternity brother that shared with him news of a job opening that brought Martin to Corsicana and Navarro College, working with the CETA Manpower program as a coordinator for the employment training program, serving youth and adults.
He would go on to serve the college in several capacities, including Dean of Counseling, Assistant to the President, Vice-President of Student Services, Vice-President of Academic Affairs, and eventually to the role he plays today in Ellis County.
During his years at the college, the continued development of special programs — in addition to traditional academics — have made the role of the community college a vital one, one that has led to changed lives and careers, Martin said.
And those programs, along with the college’s physical expansion in Waxahachie and Midlothian, have been factors in the college’s growth from 3,000 students to over 10,000 today.
Helping guide students through the various offerings and career paths available to them remains an important part of what today’s educators do, Martin said.
Seeing the results of those efforts is rewarding, Martin added, when people share with him the influence he had on their lives.
With the advent of new technical programs and dual-credit offerings gaining in acceptance and popularity throughout the Navarro College District, Martin said today’s youth enjoy more opportunity than ever.
And counseling, he said, leads the way to success in those opportunities, including such community outreach efforts at Navarro College’s “Opening Doors to Success” program for first-generation, first-time students.
Martin shared the story of a young man from Ellis County that attended Navarro College through the Opening Doors program that went on to get an engineering degree from the University of Texas, and came back to thank him for his help and guidance.
“You couldn’t help but to ‘tear up,’” Martin recalled. “Just to see those kids going through from a program you started.” Over 1,000 people have benefited from that program alone, he said.
Helping people take advantage of those opportunities begins with four important steps, Martin said.
“Making good decisions, being ethical, being fair, and being honest — it is so, so important,” Martin said.
Family is of utmost importance to Martin. He credits the support of his wife Connie and their two daughters Angie and April, as a source of personal pride. Connie Martin is a retired educator, having spent 37 years in the classroom herself. Martin also has three granddaughters, who are already talking about where they will be going to college.
“I am so proud of my girls,” Martin said. “And I’m listening to them telling their kids about (education) ... they are building that into them.”
Of his rise through the college leadership as an African American, Martin said he’s been asked over the years about his reaction to “firsts” in his life.
“I really don’t look at it from that standpoint,” Martin said. “I feel like I was qualified, that if given the opportunity, I could make a difference,” he said.
Looking to the future and what it may hold for him, Martin, who is 60, said he’s still focused on growing educational opportunities for Navarro College.
“I’m really enjoying what I’m doing,” Martin said. There are still a few things he wants to accomplish, he added.
“You ask ‘what’s next?’ — I’ll fill it when it comes.”
Editor’s note: In observance of Black History Month, the Daily Sun will feature profiles of leaders in the community who themselves benefited from the guidance and counsel of those whom they admired.