STORY BY COURTNEY FISHMAN
Earl F. Martin had more to celebrate than his birthday when he received a call from Drake University’s Board of Trustee’s Chair Larry Zimpleman.
The Dec. 16 call was an unorthodox gift and the start of a new chapter for Martin as he accepted the title of Drake’s 13th President.
“It was a wonderful birthday present, and I haven’t stopped smiling since then,” Martin said.
From his current role as Executive Vice President of Gonzaga University to his eight years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, some say the President-elect’s robust background set him apart in the selection process, but Martin is ready to settle down and make a home at Drake.
“This is such a wonderful position that offers so many opportunities to lead and serve that I can see myself doing this for the rest of my career,” Martin said. “But that sense of optimism, enthusiasm and that kind of sense of adventure, those are things I hope people will see in me.”
Enthusiasm doesn’t stop with Martin. The Drake community has extended a warm and eager welcome to him since the presidential announcement on Jan. 12.
“Drake is a special place that needs a special leader,” said Zimpleman, Board of Trustees Chair and CEO of Principal Financial Group. “The more time I spend with him, the more impressed I am.”
But after the push for a diverse candidate pool was touted around campus, some are frustrated with the selection. Selchia Cain, a senior and student-elected representative for the presidential nominating committee, addressed the campus concern.
“I was more concerned with someone who has the mind to understand how diversity fits in our institution, and understands the importance and longevity of our institution,” Cain said. “I understand the frustration that students, and faculty and staff might be expressing, but I’m hoping once they get to talk to him, experience him, they’ll see it’s so much more than that. It’s so much more than a face that needs to represent diversity.”
Martin focused his efforts on increasing diversity at Gonzaga, and he plans to continue this effort at Drake.
“Diversity has been a priority to me, and it will remain a significant priority of mine,” Martin said. “That goes for the student body and the faculty and staff population because we need that employee base to support the students to create that welcoming, supportive environment.”
Boosting Drake’s retention and overall morale for the athletic program are two areas Martin hopes to pay particular attention to as he transitions to president this July.
“Drake already has a very strong retention. I think it averages between 87 to 88 percent, but it would be wonderful to push it to 90 to 91 percent, and that most certainly can be done,” Martin said. “We also want to continue on the success of the athletic program, and make sure it is all it can be.”
Martin’s eagerness to jump into the Drake community can already be seen with his visits to campus this week said Zimpleman.
“That tells you a lot when someone is willing to giving up their personal time and family time in order to get to know the Drake community better,” Zimpleman said. “I’m very, very impressed with his excitement, his commitment. If he could start tomorrow I know he would.”
President David Maxwell is equally impressed with Martin’s early commitment to Des Moines and Drake and has played a supportive role in the presidential hand off.
“The biggest transition for any new president is learning. Learning Drake, learning the culture, learning the community, learning Des Moines,” Maxwell said.
He remained calm and collected as he spoke about the future of the university. “Martin doesn’t need my advice. He’s ready for the ride,” Maxwell said.
“We’ve developed a very comfortable and mutually respectful friendship,” Maxwell said. “It makes me all the more comfortable that after investing 16 years of my life in Drake University. I’m really excited about who gets to get it next, I’m happy he’s the person we’re handing it off to.”