Though Natasha Martin’s time as an American Council on Education (ACE) fellow at Cal Poly Pomona has come to a close, the leadership development and connections she gained during this experience will last a lifetime.
Martin, who is currently an associate professor of law and serves as the vice president of diversity and inclusion at Seattle University, began her ACE fellowship placement at CPP in July 2021, and it concluded at the end of June.
As an educator and university leader, she wanted to strengthen her skills to lead institutional transformation efforts and learn strategies to advance student success, which is exactly the type of experiences the ACE Fellows Program offers.
The program is known for preparing thousands of faculty, staff and administrators for senior positions in college and university leadership. According to its website, “of the Fellows who have participated to date, more than 80 percent have gone on after their fellowship to serve as chief executive officers, chief academic officers, other cabinet-level positions, and deans.”
As an aspiring university president, Martin knew the ACE fellow program was meant for her.
“I was looking forward to an opportunity that would provide me with not only exposure to mentors for my own success, but also an opportunity for self-study,” Martin said.
With nominations and encouragement from senior leaders, including the provost of her home institution, Martin applied for the program. She was ultimately selected as one of 38 members of the 2020-21 class of ACE fellows. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, their year-long fellowship was delayed until 2021-22.
Before her fellowship began, she was able to identify the schools that would serve as host institution for her fellowship year in partnership with the university president. Martin wanted to do her fellowship at a university that was completely different from her home institution.
“That kind of exposure really facilitates your growth, and you get to see what a different type of university looks like and how it operates,” Martin said.
Martin notes that CPP is an ideal example of that different kind of university she was looking for. CPP is a larger university compared to Seattle University. It is also part of a public university system whereas the latter is a private Jesuit university. She notes that though Seattle University is affiliated with the 27 other Jesuit colleges in the United States, it is not part of a system like CPP.
“Also, the diverse student body at CPP and the polytechnic dimension of the university was really attractive to me,” said Martin. “I was also drawn to CPP because there seems to be really intriguing, innovative, and transformative efforts going on.”
As a woman of color, and especially because there are not many universities with presidents who are women of color, Martin wanted her fellowship placement to be with a mentor she with whom she could identify.
“It’s been an incredible opportunity for me to learn from President Coley. I am inspired by her pathbreaking leadership in higher education and her passion for access and equity,” said Martin. “Learning about her vast experiences as an academic leader and former provost really presented an exciting opportunity for me to learn about achieving results for institutional transformation, which is what I’m interested in and is part of the work I do as vice president of diversity and inclusion at my home institution.”
Most of Martin’s engagement as an ACE fellow involve attending leadership development meetings with President Coley and her leadership team in-person during her periodic visits to CPP and on Zoom when she is not in residence.
She also had the opportunity to explore institutional transformation deeper through networking with Inaugural Associate Vice President for Academic Innovation Olukemi Sawyerr. She learned about Sawyerr’s work in community partnership and designing student pathways for future success and career readiness. In addition, Martin worked with the CPP women involved with the ACE Women’s Southern California Network, which was led by Sawyerr.
Martin shares that connecting with female leaders at CPP was empowering. Other women she networked with include Vice President for Student Affairs Christina Gonzales, who shared her information on how to ensure students belong and thrive. She also engaged with Chief of Staff Nicole Hawkes and Chief Financial Officer and Vice President for Administration and Finance Ysabel Trinidad, former Interim Provost Iris Levine, as well as new Provost Jennifer Brown as she began her tenure at CPP.
Martin also treasures the opportunities she got to engage with each member of President Coley’s leadership team.
“Their generosity in meeting with me and sharing their insights and experiences was truly priceless,” Martin said.
During her fellowship, she was also working on creating her own leadership philosophy with the aim of developing a stronger leadership narrative for herself.
“My favorite part about being an ACE Fellow was the opportunity to learn from such an accomplished and inspiring leader as President Coley and having the opportunity to have the time to reflect on what it means to be an authentic and effective leader,” Martin said. “For me, I think great leaders are cultivated, not necessarily born. I also enjoy the time to reflect on who I am as a leader and who I aspire to become.”