Glass Breakers 2017: Shelly Martin
From dropout to dream follower, Martin has overcome serious obstacles to forge a successful professional and personal life. She holds two degrees from Ohio State, is the patient transport manager for The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and is an inspirational Glass Breaker.
Shelly Martin, a 2017 Glass Breaker, overcame a variety of obstacles to forge a successful personal and professional life. She is now patient transport manager at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Martin returned to school after many years and earned two degrees from Ohio State while she balanced the challenges of having a career and caring for a large, close-knit family.
What prompted your journey into higher education?
“I started at the medical center as a patient care associate. While I was working there I was offered the opportunity to teach some classes in the education department for orientation. A couple of my coworkers mentioned ‘why don’t you go back to school?’ I didn’t think at that time it was something I could or would want to do but I started to ponder it, and I said ‘why not?’
So that’s when I applied to Ohio State, and I got denied to the Columbus campus. Going to another campus wasn’t an option due to the distance. So I initially thought maybe this isn’t for me now.
But a friend of mine suggested that I speak to someone from the Office of Continuing Education, and a counselor offered me guidance and hope and they helped me step by step. I initially took one class at a time as a non-degree-seeking student, and eventually applied to the university and was accepted.
It took six years as an undergraduate to receive a Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Comparative Studies and three years to earn a Master of Arts in Education in Work Force Development.”
How do you balance career and family?
“My family is quite large and very close. I talk to most of my children every day. My husband, Alonzo, and I have eight children and 24 grandchildren and several adult children who consider us their mom and dad who are not biological. We have three senior parents that we care for and two brothers who are very sick with sickle cell.
Balancing career and family can be challenging. One thing we do is to commit to holidays and birthdays. We want our children to realize they’re very important to us.”
How did your background prepare you for where you are now?
“Several things helped me prepare. My parents were working middle class African Americans. My father worked seven days a week. My mother stayed at home, taking care of not only us but all the neighbors’ children. From them, I learned hard work and loving others.
My degrees have equipped me with the knowledge and ability to teach diversity and cultural awareness and to facilitate numerous women’s conferences. Being a seven-year victim of domestic violence created within me very low self-esteem, which was later replaced with a high level of confidence.
Having to raise five children on little or sometimes no income teaches you patience, endurance and how to survive despite the circumstances. When I was in one of my lowest places in life — a time of abuse, homelessness and fear — I learned to pray. When the pressures of school and life did arise, I resorted to what I knew best, prayer. There is a scripture that has helped my journey: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’
I believe that, despite obstacles, if you can see it, you can achieve it. I don’t believe there is anything I can’t accomplish, if I work hard and pray. I believe God knew I would one day be faced with the ‘glass ceiling,’ so he started my conditioning a long time ago."
What are some of the challenges and obstacles you faced?
“Just being a high school dropout, teenage mom, survivor of domestic violence, being a part of the foster care system. All of these were obstacles I’ve had to overcome.
I faced health challenges. I had a tumor in my head as an undergraduate, and I ended up with paralysis on the whole side of my face for over six months. While in the master’s program, I had breast cancer.
A significant challenge has been work inequities. I’ve been required to do more work than my peers, and not being equally compensated or valued. I’ve been denied advancement or promotion without explanation. I’ve worked to find ways to challenge inequities in the workplace in an effective way.”
How do you motivate those around you?
“I believe I motivate others by being as transparent as I am. People need to know your story because they could be going through something similar. If you’re open with them about what you’re going through and where you’ve been, you can ask them the same questions others have been asking you. Giving them the encouragement that is necessary.”
What tips would you give to women in hopes of following their dreams?
“Find a mentor, especially one who looks like you that can understand the unique challenges you face.
This might seem challenging, but I can still remember when I first reached out to Joyce Beatty, who was the senior vice president of outreach and engagement and is now a U.S. congresswoman. I just sent her an email and asked if I could meet with her and it went from there.
Network and invest in yourself. Always keep coffee money in your jar — you never know when you’ll be able to ask someone to coffee for a conversation. Remember, every opportunity is an opportunity.”
What were your goals? How did they change over time?
“Initially, I just wanted to get a job that made enough to purchase a home big enough for my kids to have a place that’s safe for fellowship and hospitality.
After my degree, I wanted to work as a chief diversity officer and impact diversity and change. To help people to understand that we have more in common than not in common. To help to promote a sense of inclusion versus exclusion. I wanted to teach diversity and be part of the diversity initiative.
I also wanted to find a way to impact the city of Columbus through public service and volunteerism.
My goals really haven’t changed, I still want my house. I see every day, men and women who look like me who want more and don’t know how.
I’m from a community of people with low socio-economic status, little or no higher education. Schools with poor graduation rates. Women still dealing with gender and racial inequality. My goal is, however necessary, to be a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves. I look for those opportunities that I can make a difference in the community and for the community of people that I live with.”
What does it mean to you to be recognized as a Glass Breaker?
“First, it’s an honor for me and all the women who walk with me. For the university to recognize and highlight my journey and accomplishment means a lot. A lot of times our push and press go unnoticed and breaking through has been an ongoing process for women. It’s an honor to be recognized for breaking through a barrier that women before me were often unsuccessful in doing.
A win for me is a win for us.”
Read more about Shelly Martin's career path to the leadership position she holds.