The Magazine of the University of Minnesota Duluth

Volume 18, No.1, Winter 2001

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Five with Drive
Kathryn A. Martin shares her thoughts
about her first five years as UMD’s Chancellor.

Last December, UMD Publications Director, Cheryl Reitan and Art History Professor, Robyn Roslak sat down to talk with UMD Chancellor Dr. Kathryn A. Martin about the last five years at UMD. The following article is based on that interview.

Roslak and Reitan perused the room as Chancellor Martin stepped away to take a phone call. A sculpture by faculty member Tom Kerrigan hung on the wall of her office, a colorful painting by visiting artist Rudy Autio hung next to it. On the table rested the award-winning Tweed Museum of Art Exhibition catalog designed by graphic design faculty member Janice Kmetz. On the shelves sat three white construction hard hats, from the UMD Library, the Weber Music Hall groundbreaking, and the Soft Center/Technology Village in downtown Duluth. Just below the hard hats was a framed photograph of the 2000 Women’s Hockey Team after they received the WCHA championship trophy. It was signed by all the players. Roslak and Reitan didn’t wait long, Chancellor Martin walked in and the interview began.

“Make no mistake about it, building the new library is the single most significant event at UMD in decades,” said Martin in response to the first question. “That isn’t to say it just happened overnight. It took precise planning, hard work, winning over key players, and going around those who said we would never get a library funded.

“I have studied the history of the growth of UMD, in particular the publications by Robert Bridges. I learned that throughout its history, UMD has had to fight for every building and improvement. Nothing has changed.

“I needed to gather people together who would confront adversity and be willing to take risks,” Martin continued. “We convinced people that UMD couldn’t grow without a new technologically sophisticated library that was accessible for students and the community. Then it got easier. The legislators and the regents worked hard for UMD. They bargained and fought. We also had incredible support from our alumni. They made their presence known and people across the state realized we weren’t going to give up.” Chancellor Martin went on to say, rather nonchalantly, “And now we have a marvelous place for our students. There is not another library like ours in the country.”
Reitan asked about the other building projects. “Were you able to keep that synergy going and continue to improve the campus?”

“Yes, the Weber Music Hall came next. Last spring, our students performed on stage at Carnegie Hall in New York City. That tells you what a great music program we have.” Martin believes that UMD deserves the new Weber Music Hall. “Our Music Department has never had an adequate space, or space they could even call their own. They often had to find a location to perform by hit and miss and happenstance.”

“A music performance facility has been a documented need for 20 years. A year ago, 300 students on 11 buses traveled to the state Legislature to lobby for the building. I was told it was the largest student delegation to ever lobby the Legislature. It was remarkable. The students worked hard, they were informed and they knew what they were talking about.

“That day turned out to be a most important day, the turning point,” she went on. “After that day, I felt confident we would receive funding for the building. Then Ron and Mary Ann Weber, both UMD alumni, came forward with extraordinary support. Their gift made it possible for us to contact Cesar Pelli, a world-class architect, and he designed a world-class music facility.”

Construction will begin this summer and UMD plans to dedicate the Weber Music Hall in the 2002-2003 school year.
Barely catching her breath, Chancellor Martin said, with a big smile on her face, “And there is more! UMD has a third new building in its future. A $33 million science building is the highest priority of all facilities on the University legislative agenda. It is the first time UMD has been first on the list of University legislative requests.”

When Reitan asked about the factors that ensured the favorable attention for funding of the building, Martin responded, “First, as I already mentioned, it is a high priority in the system. To grow and meet the needs of today’s science students, we must have a new science building. Second, we have an effective Northeastern Minnesota legislative delegation that has a deep appreciation for the value of education. They will work hard on behalf of UMD. And third, a $7.5 million gift to build our science facility was given by the Swenson Family Foundation. That extraordinary gift gave the project awesome momentum. I am already thinking about new lab equipment and scientific technology teaching tools.”

Because she received one of the first faculty small grants, Roslak was interested in hearing Martin’s opinions on faculty development.
“Faculty development is a critical area in higher education,” Martin responded. “I remember when I was seven years old, a ski instructor told me, ‘If you quit falling, you quit learning.’ What I mean is, success in the academic community is a result of continued educational opportunities, experimentation and risk. If the academic environment doesn’t support faculty willing to take risks, then we have a problem. We can’t stay the same; we as teachers are obligated to continue to learn. That is why I initiated the small grants program. I started it the first year I came to UMD.”

Roslak agreed. “It was a wonderful experience for me.” The first year there were only five applicants. Martin commented, “In recent years, we have had more faculty apply than we can accommodate.”

UMD’s technology camps are another good example of innovative faculty development. These camps help faculty learn by using technology as a teaching tool. “The technological support for the faculty is right here on our own campus,” Martin explained. “Helping faculty adapt to the technological change is an important part of keeping the classroom learning experience relevant for the student.
“We used to get questions from people wondering if UMD was technologically current. Now that the library is open, our laptop initiative for selected programs is entering its third year, and faculty are learning how to use technology to become even better educators, we don’t often get questions like that anymore.”

The past five years have brought some thrilling moments but they have also brought a lot of difficult work. An important part of Chancellor Martin’s leadership has been planning. “We have stuck pretty close to the comprehensive plan that campus leaders put together in 1995. That plan gave people confidence in the system. It served us well, but now it is time for another five-year plan. The old plan looked at technology and other campus needs. We are right on schedule in those areas.

Not everything is the way Martin would like for it to be. “I do wish we had more resources so we could provide the deans with a discretionary fund enabling them to bring about needed changes in their collegiate units. They are doing a good job without much financing; they are being very creative, but they need more support for their visions.”

One of the ideas that Chancellor Martin would like to initiate is an undergraduate honors program. “Every year UMD enrolls between 50 to 65 students ranked first in their high school class. This means we already have a core of students who may elect to participate.” An honors program is the next logical step for UMD in cultivating a more successful academic profile.

UMD has already implemented some programs for students at other academic levels along the curve. Seminars and the Introduction to College Learning class for first-year students, coupled with better student advising, have helped students succeed. “We are always going to have students for whom the collegiate experience is more challenging, at least for the first year,” Martin said. “An interesting consequence of this additional assistance to first-year students is a marked increase in student retention.

Martin thinks that a solid support system for students is necessary. She shared a story from her college experience to make her point. “I attended a splended college, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute, Indiana. It was a small women’s college with a graduating class of about 100. I had wonderful, bright young women as classmates, and I was especially fortunate to have a strong faculty.” Her instructors mentored her in ways that were not dictatorial. “I thought I was very self-motivated. I see now that I was actually being guided. For example, I had a literature teacher who said to me, ‘Why don’t you read Gertrude Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas?’ As I read it, I talked to her about it. Next, she told me to get a book of Picasso’s artwork and study that. Then she told me to look at Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein.” That tutorial taught Martin about thinking, about art, and about writing. “I’ve stayed in touch with many of those faculty members,” she said. Each year similar stories come to Martin’s attention in the UMD faculty awards process. “It is delightful to hear how appreciated our faculty are.”

“Most people don’t know that you have an academic appointment as a full professor in the UMD Theatre Department,” Roslak said, “Do you miss teaching?

Martin said, “I miss teaching because I really enjoyed it, but what I miss most is directing. I love directing children’s theatre and children’s opera. I miss the rush of watching little kids and their imaginations come alive. Children are wonderfully honest. Kids will boo if it doesn’t work. I love the challenge of children’s theatre and I would like to do that again someday.”

Martin finds that administering is similar to directing. “It is consultative, but you are constantly trying to sort out the motivations of the characters. I moved into administration more by happenstance than design. I was on the faculty of a small college theatre department in Indiana and I was asked to be the chair.” From there, Martin went on become the Fine Arts Dean at the University of Montana, the founding Dean of the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts at Wayne State and the Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts at University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign. She learned the ropes of university administration.

“UMD is an incredible place to work,” Martin declared. Being an administrator agrees with her, especially when she is able to oversee fine programs and research projects. “Because of our aggressive, ‘ahead of the wave’ approach to undergraduate and institutional research, we filed nine patent applications last year.” Martin illustrated her point, “That is as many patents as the Academic Health Center filed on the Twin Cities campus. We do a superb job of blending teaching and research. Dr. Jim Riehl, our new dean in the College of Science and Engineering, came to UMD with an unfinished research project from his last position. He has been provided with a postdoctoral assistant in order to support his research here. Research is important to us. It feeds and strengthens the educational experience. We are a superb institution for the way we blend teaching and research. We have undergraduate research programs at UMD that I would put up against research programs anywhere in the country.”

UMD has the intellectual capital to make a huge difference in the region’s economy. UMD takes this responsibility seriously and places its departments’ resources in the arenas where they can have the greatest impact. Martin said that one of her jobs is to help determine what projects provide the most influence. “We are doing some extremely important work here. For instance, the research on water and natural resources by the Large Lakes Observatory, NRRI, and Minnesota Sea Grant will change all of our futures.” She is proud of UMD’s work on the environment, including the work on determining what air-born pollutants are contaminating Lake Superior. “The research is thrilling. The hybrid poplar tree developed at NRRI grows to maturity in half the time of a native tree. This innovation will make our forest industry and paper products companies competitive with the southeastern part of the United States.”

UMD has an impressive roster of involvement in the economics of the region. In order to keep up, Chancellor Martin needs to have knowledge about many things. “Whether it is how to extract chemicals from birch bark or the history of an exhibition at the Tweed Museum of Art, I have to learn about it,” she said. “The opportunity to learn so much about so many different things is what I like most about the job.” As Chancellor, she balances UMD’s role as a good corporate citizen and as an academic institution.

One area Martin wants to develop more thoroughly is the public image of UMD. “We haven’t launched a comprehensive marketing and advertising campaign like many of the schools around us because we already have record enrollment.” She is certain that UMD will be stronger in the eyes of the community if it can define and promote a clear image of one unified campus. “We have an expectation that students who attend UMD will graduate, we have a high rate of retention, we support research, and we have outstanding faculty. More people in the community need to know that.

The past five years have flown by, and to the bystander, the developments at UMD seem overwhelming. Martin said that it has been a group effort. “I was able to participate in some impressive advancements, along with many others, and we had some good times doing it. The
majority of the projects I helped bring to fruition came from people who have been here with me.” Everyone agrees, there has been a whirlwind of activity. Martin said, “I am here to help. Facilitating other people’s dreams is a major part of this job.” And facilitating dreams has made them come true.


Chancellor Martin has met with hundreds of alumni and donors. Reflecting on those encounters, she said, “One of the things that is true about UMD alumni, no matter where they are, is that they remember the people who mentored them.” At almost every gathering people tell stories about particular moments from their college days. “Jim Swenson and his wife Susan, for instance, are a spectacular couple. How gutsy they were to keep on taking risks in order to realize their dream.” The Swensons built a computer products business in California and presented UMD with its first $10 million gift. Martin recalled, “When I met them, they told me stories about people at UMD who were willing to spend time with them, and about people who singled them out to give them encouragement.” Alumni have taught Martin things that impress her about the campus. It doesn’t matter what vintage or era, alumni stories about faculty members who go the extra mile are legendary. “It is exciting to represent the campus because I can tell our alumni that there are still people like that at UMD,” she said. “I was told recently that Dr. Robert Franz, who, sadly, recently passed away, had waiting lists for his statistics class. They told me that students never took just one class from him. When you hear things like that about our faculty members, you know they are extraordinary.
Martin said that some teachers’ names come up over and over, like Henry Ehlers in Philosophy, and Bill Tezla in English. “I have heard many alumni tell me, ‘I think in a completely different way because I was in that class,’ or ‘I am a different person because one teacher took the time to make me learn.’ Former coach Jim Malosky made the football players go to class and maintain their grades before he gave them playing time. One alumnus said that he would have never made it through college without guidance from Coach Malosky.


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