Dr. Gretchen Starks-Martin is joining some rather select company – even if it took a little extra time to make it happen.
Starks-Martin, an adjunct assistant professor of education at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, will be honored as a Council of Learning Assistance and Developmental Education Associations (CLADEA) Fellow during the Association of Colleges for Tutoring and Learning Assistance Conference at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 22, via Zoom.
She is joining an elite group of only 58 educators who have been recognized with the honor since its inception in 1998.
But the COVID-19 pandemic twice delayed the induction of Starks-Martin, who was actually tabbed for the award in 2019. Although she said the delay has not been bothersome, she did miss out on two trips that would have meant a lot to her.
“The first (conference) was going to be in San Francisco. I have family out there, and it would have been sort of like a family reunion,” Starks-Martin said. “The next one was to be in Cleveland at the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA) conference, which is where I served as an officer and an executive assistant. It’s where most of my professional friends are.
“But it’s going to happen this time. It’s just happening later,” Starks-Martin said.
A Fellow represents the upper echelon of the practitioners, researchers, teachers and administrators in the learning assistance and developmental education fields. A Fellow has made outstanding contributions, introducing innovative ideas and practices, and their contributions have been highly visible and shared with colleagues, through lecturing at national or regional conferences.
The Fellow represents the highest level of performance as compared with recognized leaders in the field, and is a person to whom colleagues turn for ideas and advice in respect to teaching, program development, evaluation, research or theory.
Starks-Martin was asked what the award means to her.
“Well, this is going to sound odd, but what it means to me is that it confirms that I have been a team player in my field throughout my career,” she said. “I say that because I would never have received this honor without a community of mentors and colleagues that I was able to work with on different projects, publications and research.
“It’s also a confirmation that my students are learning, because my students at Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s twice now have presented at professional conferences – a national conference in St. Paul, and a statewide conference in Duluth. They were accepted to present, and the rooms were packed with professionals in my field who gave wonderful evaluations with lots of questions. That just makes me feel great.”
Starks-Martin teaches two classes at CSB/SJU, Efficient Reading and Teaching Reading in the Middle/Secondary Classroom. She has an ongoing project with www.howtostudy.org where CSB/SJU students contribute to a juried website. She has taught reading at the middle school, high school, technical college, community college and university levels in Minnesota and New York, and is a professor emerita at St. Cloud State University.
Starks-Martin was president of the Minnesota Post-Secondary Reading Association, and treasurer and executive assistant of the CRLA. She has served as a certified online evaluator for Quality Matters and as evaluator on numerous quality enhancement plan teams for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
She is the co-author of “Critical Reading, Critical Thinking: Focusing on Contemporary Issues,” (2008, Pearson Education, now out of print after four editions).
Despite her vast catalog of professional work, she is especially proud of three volunteer opportunities she undertook.
In spring 1990, she volunteered at the University of Western Sydney in Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia.
“My purpose there was to set up a learning support program for adult women returning to college and for Aboriginals. Why I was proud of that is because at the time, Australia was on the British system, where you had to take entrance exams for college. Often Aboriginals and women left right after high school and did not take the exam for college entrance. I set up an academic support program so that they could enroll students on a provisional basis at the University of Western Sydney.”
Her second volunteer opportunity came in the fall 2004 at Dine Tribal College, a Navajo college in Tsaile, Arizona.
“I went there to teach a reading and an English course, as a volunteer teacher. I have to say that the Navajo faculty and students taught me more than I taught them,” Starks-Martin said.
Finally, in January and February 2011 she received a Fulbright Specialist Scholarship to Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
“I set up workshops for Black students at that university for academic support,” Starks-Martin said. “I got there, and my bucket list was to meet Nelson Mandela, but the week I got there, he got sick (in February, Mandela was briefly hospitalized with a respiratory infection).”
She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Michigan, a master’s degree in reading from Western Michigan University and an Ed.D. in adult education and higher education administration from Syracuse University.
“I love teaching,” Starks-Martin said. “The students here at Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s are so engaging, and they think on a really high level. I really like them.”