Fairmont State President Mirta Martin spoke to student leaders from the campuses of West Virginia’s public two- and four-year colleges and universities on Monday, at Jackson’s Mill. The keynote was part of the annual West Virginia Student Leadership Conference.
More than 60 student government leaders participated in the annual conference aimed at discussing issues facing higher education in West Virginia and at respective college campuses.
As the first Hispanic president in higher education in West Virginia, Martin shared her powerful story of her American dream. Born in Havanna, Cuba, Martin grew up in Madrid Spain and then immigrated to the United States.
“I’m living my American dream and it’s now my time to pass it forward. It’s now my time to help others live their American dream,” said Martin.
Transitioning into the core of her speech, Martin focused on the importance of diversity in higher education.
“The diversity we need – the diversity that allows us to build an innovative and entrepreneurial culture, one that differentiates us and creates the best programs and services on a world-wide scale—must include people who reflect a broad spectrum of demographics and people who reflect a broad spectrum of experiences and ideas.”
Re-envisioning of diversity creates an institution where very different people are encouraged to contribute their unique perspectives – one that promotes the free exchange of ideas, one that recruits and maximizes talent from all walks of life, and one that fuels and supports high performance.
“Unfortunately, many in higher education still view diversity as an imposed cost of doing business in a politically correct world. This needs to change. Diversity must be seen as a valuable strategic asset; a competitive advantage, a growth enabler. Diversity is about people; about their thoughts, their experiences.”
Martin reminded the students that a commitment to diversity must start at the highest level. At Fairmont State, this vision has transformed from Martin’s vision to that of the whole campus.
“…it’s because of the ‘we’ attitude that so much has been achieved at Fairmont State University in the last five months… and as I often say, just hold on and see… because the best is yet to be.
Together at Fairmont State, a culture is being created that will ensure everyone is heard; a culture that makes it safe to propose new ideas, give team members decision-making authority, share credit for success, give actionable feedback, and implement change.
“And that’s why we’ll succeed – because of the diversity that is now part of the fabric of our institution. We must remind the nation that it is only through education that we will protect, promote and provide that American dream for the next generation of leaders.”