Here To Serve: Don Martin Starts Fast | Teachers College Columbia University

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Here To Serve: Don Martin Starts Fast

Don Martin is making TC a better place for students -- fast.

Don Martin is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but the energy he brings to his job can only be described as pure New York City. Maybe that's because Martin - named last year to the newly created post of Associate Dean for Enrollment and Student Services (OESS) - had to fight to go to college himself.

"If it was up to others who had control, I would never have gotten a college education, let alone a Ph.D.," he says. "So it's very rewarding for me to be able to help others to realize their educational goals and dreams."

"Don has been a tremendous addition to TC," says Darlyne Bailey, Vice President and Dean, who created Martin's position. "He's a warm, committed person who is all about helping other people."

Since arriving from the University of Chicago, where he was Associate Dean for Enrollment Management in the Graduate School of Business, Martin has helped develop an ambitious plan to do just that - and he's implementing it, quite literally, five steps at a time.

Step one is improving the student experience at TC, from the moment prospect applicants learn about the school to the day they leave to enter the workforce. On the broadest level, Martin is working to establish a customer service mentality in all the functions he oversees -- marketing, admissions, financial aid, the registrar, international services, services for students with disabilities, student activities and career services -- even instituting customer-service training sessions to ensure his staff has up-to-date skills and knowledge. His office has also extensively surveyed students, sending 1,350 questionnaires to new students about Orientation and their perceptions of his Office. (More than half were answered, and Martin read every response.) Martin is also reevaluating the job descriptions of all who work for him to make sure their positions are configured to best meet students' needs.

Next Martin wants to get word out to the public about what TC is and does. "We have many best-kept secrets," he says. "There's such an incredible variety of career options available here, and we have so many successful graduates in different fields." In addition to expanding direct-mail efforts and creating a new prospectus, Martin has revamped the line up of admissions events, moving some from weeknights to Saturdays so that people can come from further away and explore the city. He's also created events in 10 other cities - including eight outside the U.S. - and issued a new recruitment video. All of which seems to be working: applications to TC are up seven to 10 percent from last year at this time.

Third, Martin wants to convince a higher percentage of admitted students to attend TC.    "In my opinion, we're the best in the world, and we're not attracting as many admitted students as we need to," he says. To that end, his office is communicating more with admitted students and offering them more opportunities to visit the College. "We want to bring students here so that they will feel like they're a part of our community."

Of course, the bottom line for prospective students in any field - but perhaps especially so in education - is often the bottom line.

"We really need to improve what we're offering in scholarship assistance," Martin says. "I'm happy to say that it's very much a high priority for our division and for the College." He has given reports on the issue to the administration and trustees and met with "incredibly positive responses from all concerned."

Lastly, Martin wants to strengthen communications with current students. He himself serves as an advisor to the Student Senate, and his office recently held a town meeting open to the entire student body. Martin and his assistants, Iraida Torres-Irizarry and Mora Sorial, also have regular open office hours to field student concerns.  Mora Sorial, Manager of Student Advisement and Staff Development, estimates she's worked with more than 150 students this year alone.

Working at TC has been challenging, Martin acknowledges, but an overwhelmingly positive experience.

"When it comes to social justice and educational equity, people here really match their words with their actions," he says. "I think that focus has gotten lost at some other institutions, but here it's preeminent."

Published Friday, Apr. 29, 2005