Harold L. Martin

Electrical Engineering
Class of 1980, Ph.D.

When Harold Martin was the newly appointed Chancellor of Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) in 2000, no one appeared to be a stranger to him. He knew the waiters by name at the local restaurant. His gnarly-looking mechanic retained his own key to Martin’s car. When the Chancellor motored slowly around campus, he was recognized by most of the drivers of the oncoming vehicles and they exchanged waves. He was never too engrossed in his own world to miss saying “Hello” to the janitor or to a faculty member.

Martin’s colleagues in higher education describe the charismatic man as a taskmaster who will do anything to get a job done. They consider him to be an excellent listener, often quiet, but always well prepared with a depth of reasoning. They also recognize him to be a politically savvy individual and one who has contributed greatly to the university system in North Carolina.

This combination of charm, know-how, and hard work helps to account for Martin’s reaching the position today of senior vice president for academic affairs for the 16 institutions of higher education, as well as the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, the nation’s first public residential high school for gifted students, that comprise the University of North Carolina system.

In 1971, North Carolina’s Higher Education Reorganization Act placed these state institutions of higher education under one governing board to foster the development of a well-planned and coordinated system of higher education, to improve the quality of education, to extend its benefits, and to encourage an economical use of the state’s resources. The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics was moved under the umbrella of the U.N.C. System in July 2007.

Among his new duties, Martin leads the development and implementation of the academic mission of the university system, including teaching, research, international programs, and student affairs. He advises the president and provides leadership for the president’s council. Martin advises the board of governors on academic affairs issues of university-wide importance; leads strategic academic planning and the implementation of resulting policies affecting the system; works closely with campus chancellors and chief academic officers on university-wide academic initiatives; works to maintain the focus of the missions of the campuses, and implements the academic portion of the long-range plan.

Martin started his career in 1980 in the traditional role as an assistant professor in the field of electrical engineering (EE) at North Carolina A&T State University. He leapfrogged to tenure status in an amazing four years. Martin’s dossier from the early 1980s shows that as an assistant professor, he brought in an exceptionally high $500,000 to $750,000 in research contracts and grants annually to A&T. His work was in the areas of high-speed computing, integrated circuits, and fault tolerance systems.

“At North Carolina A&T, we were not playing at the same level of competition I was used to at Virginia Tech, where I was an instructor for a year while I was earning my doctorate,” Martin explains. The teaching position at Virginia Tech allowed the young Ph.D. candidate to participate in faculty meetings. “I learned about faculty politics and the importance of research and publications. I learned that decisions regarding space needs were made on the basis of research.” Consequently, he used this knowledge to his advantage as a promising new A&T faculty member who was on a fast track.

Martin’s reputation began to spread in the North Carolina higher education system. “I recall that the faculty at North Carolina State really sought Harold as a research partner. He had distinguished himself at Virginia Tech and he was very active in North Carolina in education,” says Larry Monteith, a former Chancellor of North Carolina State. “Harold was at an historically black institution, and A&T had an engineering program that was very important to our region. Harold proved to be an extraordinarily capable leader and he took on an aggressive statewide responsibility in the development of engineering graduate programs.”

Martin’s real opportunity to excel in an administrative role occurred when circumstances in 1984 allowed him to become the EE department head. The incredibly rapid move to administration in just four years was a true turning point for the rising star of the A&T faculty. “Many people cautioned me against the change to administration, saying it was too early in my career and might prove to be a mistake. But when people caution, I tend to work harder,” the engineer says.

To develop his management style, he drew upon several people he had regarded as mentors while he was pursuing his doctorate at Virginia Tech. He mentions Gail Gray, his former adviser, who “was unbending in his expectations.” Another mentor was Bill Blackwell, the former EE department head, who made it possible financially for the young graduate student to study at Virginia Tech. Paul Torgersen, the dean of Tech’s College of Engineering at the time, and later the university’s president, and Wayne Clough, Torgersen’s successor as dean and now the president of Georgia Tech, “provided me with a sense of style and a certain confidence. They systematically went about building strong programs,” Martin recalls.

Martin did the same, with one achievement leading to another. Every four or five years, he would successfully compete for a new position at A&T, moving from the department headship into the deanship of the College of Engineering, and ultimately to Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at A&T.

One of his accomplishments as dean was the institution of a doctoral program in engineering. At A&T, a number of discussions were held to encourage this effort, but the approval from the U.N.C. Board of Governors “never occurred until Harold moved into the dean’s office,” says his colleague Lonnie Sharpe, who succeeded Martin in this position.

“As vice chancellor at A&T, I realized there were far more things in an institution than engineering. Engineering was the kingpin, and it had to be kept strong, but the rest of the academic areas had to be elevated,” Martin says.

“The rubber meets the road at a university in the academic affairs position. To be able to balance all of the competing interests is a tough job. A&T really prospered with Harold’s leadership,” Monteith confirms. “Harold is very insightful in his actions, yet tactful.”

At WSSU, his main goal was to build the campus into a highly recognized regional and national institution. And he did. While at WSSU, he guided its reclassification from a baccalaureate I to a master’s II institution, created a School of Graduate Studies and Research, established seven master’s degree programs and enhanced the quality of overall academic programs. While he was at WSSU, the university’s enrollment doubled, giving WSSU the fastest growing enrollment in the University of North Carolina system by 2006.

How did Harold Martin develop his sense of work ethic? As a young boy growing up in Winston-Salem, he spent his summers, as well as his weekends during the spring and fall, at his grandparents’ farm in Axton, Virginia. But the trips were never a vacation. The 150-acre property was planted primarily in tobacco, wheat, and corn. His aunts and uncles and more than 100 first cousins would join his immediate family, and they all pitched in to help his grandparents.

“We would don our straw hats, take a jug of water, and be out in the fields working all day,” Martin recalls. “We became accustomed to hard work and developed a great sense of work ethic, but we all agreed it was not something we wanted to do the rest of our lives.” And with the exception of only two or three of his cousins, everyone did go to college to pursue a less physically demanding profession.

The farming experience also provided the young Harold, the son of a Primitive Baptist minister, with his exposure to engineering. “I was always around my uncles as they repaired farm equipment. We had few tools and we always had to be creative in our repairs. We took a lot of pride in our ingenuity.”

His ingenuity also got him a bike. In the sixth grade he had hoped to get a two-wheeler for Christmas, but was extremely disappointed when the 25th of December came. Not caring to dwell on his feeling of “devastation,” he and his brother trekked off to the dump in search of parts. “We built my bike, and it was among the best. And I began to recognize that I had mechanical skills.”

The second event to raise the future engineer’s confidence was the attention his teachers paid to him in the classroom. “My fifth grade teacher pulled me aside one day and told me that I was the fastest student in the class in math. My teacher then worked with me to develop my skills, and so did the ones in later years.”

At his alma mater, Martin has served as chair of both the college and the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Advisory Boards. He is a member of the Committee of 100. He is a member of Tau Beta Pi, the National Engineering Honor Society, and Eta Kappa Nu, the International Honor Society for Electrical Engineers.

Martin is married to his high school sweetheart, Davida, and they have two children, Harold Jr., now studying at Yale Law School, and Walter, a student at Hampton University. Davida, a lawyer, currently serves as the Forsyth County attorney.

Class of: 1980
Year Inducted into Academy: 2008

Dr. Harold L. Martin