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Gadsden State president reflects on life, career prior to her Sept. 1 retirement

Gadsden, Ala. – Dr. Martha Lavender, president of Gadsden State Community College, has had an impressive career in nursing, academia, government and consultation that has spanned over 45 years. Now, she’s excited for the next stage in her life – retirement.

“I am ready to enter a new season of life that centers on family, hobbies, home and community service,” she said. “My priorities became clearly evident as we faced the new world created by the coronavirus.”

Lavender will officially retire on Sept. 1.

“I am retiring from a job I love but I have solace in knowing the College will continue to grow under new leadership,” she said. “I am confident in the skills, creativity and abilities of the current administrative cabinet to take Gadsden State to the next level and to achieve greater accomplishments that serve our students and communities.”

Gadsden State has been an important part of Lavender’s life since she graduated from Hokes Bluff High School. She was a first-generation student and enrolled at what was then Gadsden State Junior College.

“My parents loved and supported my sisters and I, and we were encouraged to pursue an education and a job skill beyond high school,” she said.

She earned an associate degree in nursing and at the urging of Sue Griffith, one of her nursing teachers, she immediately enrolled in general education classes required for a baccalaureate degree.

“This experience has been the foundation of my story to students – a beginning similar to many of our students who face challenges, not with collegiate coursework, but with having adequate resources, time and support to be successful,” she said. “Encouragement from family, teachers and friends is one of our keys to success. I learned to pay it forward and help others.”

Lavender earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Jacksonville State University and a Master of Science in Nursing and a doctorate degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She has a long history of success both in the nursing and educational fields. She once held administrative and faculty positions with the Lurleen B. Wallace College of Nursing and Health Sciences at JSU. She served as a visiting professor at the UAB School of Nursing, and she has worked in administrative posts with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Anniston.

Lavender came to Gadsden State in 2008 when she accepted the position as Assistant to the President under the leadership of Dr. Renee Culverhouse. She went on to serve as the campus director at Gadsden State Cherokee and then dean of Health Sciences.

“I began working with nursing and other health science programs that redirected by focus to my first love – nursing and health care,” she said.

She retired from Gadsden State in 2011 but returned in 2014 to serve as the interim president.

“I was excited to serve in a capacity that was not only a challenge but a wonderful opportunity to serve the college that had been the springboard of my nursing career,” she said.

In October 2015, Lavender officially became the president of Gadsden State.

“For almost six years, I have worked with talented and highly-motivated leaders, faculty and staff who are dedicated to serving students and our communities,” she said. “It has certainly been a rewarding experience.”

As the college president, she had oversight of instructional programs, workforce development and adult education.

“I have worked with a team of forward-thinking leaders who are willing to make difficult decisions that benefit the students,” she said. “Our faculty and staff are among the best in higher education. They are sharply focused on students and want to see them succeed.”

Throughout her impressive tenure as president, Lavender has accomplished many far-reaching goals. Her biggest accomplishment? She said it’s improving the infrastructure at Gadsden State with new buildings and extensive renovations.

“We have completed multiple projects, including the construction of the Science Building on the East Broad Campus, the addition to the Cheaha Center on the Ayers Campus and the renovation of Allen Hall on the Wallace Drive Campus,” she said. “Our goal has always been to create inviting spaces for student learning and socialization.”

Other major projects include the creation of the Comprehensive Student Center at Inzer Hall; repurposing the natatorium to the Beck Conference Center; a landscape project at the Wallace Drive Campus Quad; and renovations to Fowler Hall, the Wallace Hall Performing Arts Center, Bevill Center, East Broad Administration Building and the Valley Street Student Center. She also was a major player in the partnership with the City of Gadsden to create a public recreation complex for youth and adult sports, a project that’s still in progress.

Many veteran educators say technology has been instrumental in major changes within the educational system. Lavender is of the same opinion. She said the world has become more complex and technology-driven, which makes collegiate-level work more challenging than ever.

“College employees are now required to engage students in new and different ways, form strong and trusting relationships and assist students in time management and balancing multiple responsibilities,” she said. “We have reconceptualized what is needed for student success… and it is some of the most important work we do.”

Now, Lavender’s “most important work” will be to enjoy retirement. She said she will spend a majority of her time with her husband, Tim; mother, Zell Griffith; and grandsons, Cade, 6, and Nash, 3.

“Family time comes first and retirement will allow me to dedicate more time to those who mean the most to me,” she said.

She said she will stay active in various organizations in Calhoun, Cherokee and Etowah counties, and she plans to enjoy traveling, biking, cooking and gardening with her husband.

“Quite honestly, I am most excited about having ‘Grammy School’ for my grandchildren,” she said.