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Place matters in Martin County

Martin County is home to just more than 24,000 residents. Many North Carolinians might associate the county, and the county seat of Williamston, with Sunny Side Oyster Bar or the Cypress Grill right outside of town. Others might think of Martin County as the place they drive through on their way to the Outer Banks.

During a recent visit to Martin Community College (MCC), lifelong residents and leaders from the area shared how they are working diligently to expand opportunity and transform the area. 

Helen Davis, chairman of the board and a member of the Martin County Board of Education said, “My whole career began at what was then Martin Tech. They imparted on me a love for education and students which shaped my career. I retired as a principal and now serve on the Board of Education.”

In a period where the idea of consolidating our 58 strong community college system comes up periodically, one theme was the importance to the community of Martin Community College remaining a locally-led institution. Davis concluded her opening remarks by saying, “Our students and our community need a strong Martin Community College.”

Interim President Ken Boham spoke about his successor, President Paul Hutchins. Boham was the President of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute when I was growing up in Caldwell County and he has taught me a lot about the community college system over the last several years. Boham pointed out that for all of his hard work as interim President, he was not embedded in the community.  With President Hutchins arrival, he said, MCC would have a leader who, “goes to church in Martin County,” and a leader who represents an “essential something” for the psyche, morale, and future of the county.

During our travels to community colleges in recent months, a common theme which has surfaced is the uniqueness of the institutions. They all offer a variety of common courses, but they also have offerings that are special to them. For Martin, their unique offering is the equine curriculum which includes equine business technology and equine training technology. As we walked the campus on an unusually warm February day, we were led over to the barns which sit to the right of the main campus in order to meet Cash. Cash, or Big Money as he is sometimes called, is the prize colt of the Martin Community College stable. He represents one of the unique elements of the institution.

MCC representatives also spoke about the importance of local leadership and local ties within the economic development continuum. One Martin leader outlined the strategies they have applied towards economic development which include employer advisor committees and commissions which help them plan and support employer needs within both soft and functional skill development.

MCC faced well-publicized challenges under the previous leadership, but current leaders are committed to turning of the page to a brighter future for the school. They outlined specifically the ways in which Martin County uses the school as a key piece in the economic development pipeline.

And, according to Student Governmental Association President Amanda Vick, this development, “helps the community feel like this institution belongs to them.”

Vick has overcome a challenges over the course of her life to be on Martin’s campus, but more than just being there, Vick has made the campus her own by running for SGA President when the SGA reconstituted.

For lunch, Boham drove us a few miles from campus to the famous Cypress Grill which is open for roughly 10 weeks every year during herring season. As we dined on fried herring and chocolate pie, we were all stuck by the local stories that had been shared throughout the day. Martin County, like Martin County Community College, has been dealt challenges throughout recent decades, but young people like Amanda Vick, and community leaders like Helen Davis, seem determined to make the most of the opportunities in front of them and their community.

Place matters. Home matters. And Vick seems determined to make sure that Martin County is a place that her children will be proud to call home.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the director of growth for EducationNC.