Michele Martens cares. The Grossmont College Classified Senate President cares about students, she cares about fellow classified professionals, and she cares about the college that changed her future.
“We’re here to make a difference,” Martens said. “I’m just trying to do my part.”
She’s doing more than her part. Besides sitting on the Grossmont College Student Success and Equity Committee, serving as a catalyst for the Random Acts of Kindness initiative, and volunteering as a Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent book study facilitator, Martens plays a critical role in ensuring the voice of Grossmont’s classified professionals is heard. Among the Classified Senate’s latest efforts: the formalization of a 9 + 1 policy guaranteeing classified professionals equitable participation in nine critical areas plus “other matters that impact classified professionals.”
Her position as Classified Senate President has forced Martens to step outside of her comfort zone. “I was painfully shy growing up, and I’m still painfully shy and uncomfortable speaking in front of people.”
Like many of the students she serves, Martens’ journey to Grossmont College has included an abundance of challenges. Living what she called a “Leave It to Beaver” life with her mother, father, and three siblings until she was 10, her world was suddenly rocked when her parents divorced. Her father, who owned an insurance company – took custody of the two older siblings and kept the house. Her mother took custody of the two younger siblings – including Martens – and moved to San Diego where she worked multiple low-paying jobs just to scrape by.
“We lived in squalor,” Martens said. “If we had mayonnaise for our sandwiches, it was a good day. But at the same time, I was suddenly living in an area where not everyone was white, not everyone was Catholic, not everyone was like the people in Port Huron. It opened my eyes to other cultures. It showed me a world that I didn’t even know existed. It helped me grow and put me on the anti-racist journey I’m still on today.”
Life remained difficult. By Martens’ count, her mom moved 10 times in eight years. Along the way, Martens and her younger sister made the best of a series of trying situations. “We’d use the bowed floors at one place we lived as a skate ramp,” she said. “We did whatever we could to make our lives as normal as possible.”
That meant taking on various jobs when she turned 15 and working two or three jobs at a time after graduating from Madison High School in San Diego. After a brief marriage, she moved with her infant daughter and shared a friend’s home in Santee. It was while she was driving around to explore her new environs that Martens made the discovery that would change her life.
“I happened to drive by Grossmont College, stopped, looked around, and decided, you know, I love writing, I love reading, why not enroll in an English class?”
Martens landed a job first as a teaching assistant and then as an assistant to the English Department chair. Before she knew it, Martens was working full time, going to school full time, and raising a daughter full time. Employed at Grossmont College since 1990, Martens has been serving as an administrative assistant in the Learning & Technology Resources Division for the past decade.
She also remains close to her daughter, Kristina Michele Martens, who was recently elected as the first Black woman to sit on the Bellingham, Washington, City Council and who has played a pivotal role in empowering marginalized communities.
Martens remains hopeful about the future of Grossmont College and is laser focused on building a stronger Classified Senate. “Just in interacting with President Whisenhunt, you can see she is very supportive of our classified professionals, and I’m very encouraged. I firmly believe we can affect change.”