Martha Hill didn’t originally set out to be a teacher, but almost 31 years later she is retiring from Hinds Community College’s Landscape Management Technology program that she helped start from scratch.
Hill of Clinton is this year’s recipient of Hinds Community College’s 3E award. The 3E, which stands for Emphasis on Excellence and Enrichment, is the highest award the college gives. The award was a surprise announcement at the April 28 annual Employee Awards Event.
“Martha has a great love and passion for Hinds,” said Vice President Dr. Chad Stocks. “She has been an outstanding instructor, department chair, mentor and friend to all. She has served the landscape community of this state to the fullest and has the utmost respect from its constituents. Martha’s dedication and hard work spills over into her interaction with students and fellow employees. She is a true icon for Hinds and will be greatly missed.”
Through the years, she received many honors, including the Associated Landscape Contractors of America, ALCA Education Foundation Educator of the Year Award in 2003, the Hinds Community College Lifestar award in 2003-2004, her selection as the faculty representative for the annual legislative HEADWAE awards in 2006 and her selection to the Class of 2014 Lawn and Landscape Leadership Awards featured in the Lawn & Landscape Magazine.
“Martha Hill supported the entire college, not just her program. She has always volunteered to help others in any way that they needed,” said Jackie Granberry, executive director of the Hinds Community College Foundation. “Some people just take from the college — Martha always gave back.”
Hill served on the curriculum advisory committee in 1985 when Hinds was exploring adding the program and then was asked to interview as the instructor.
“My degree in Landscape Architecture from Mississippi State University did not include any education classes,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of a large landscape design/build/maintenance company, much like the company I had co-oped with while in college, The Brickman Group. Teaching at Hinds turned out to be an even better opportunity to work with MANY great companies in helping our students find the right fit for their careers. ”
In the early years of teaching, vocational education faculty had to earn continuing education units to maintain their teaching certificates. Hill took classes at the University of Southern Mississippi and Jackson State University to meet those requirements.
“I modeled my teaching style after the great professors I had in college and even some from high school. I tried to give students hands-on experience, which was the best teacher from my co-op experiences; learning by doing,” she said.
Hill’s legacy is her personal involvement and hands-on approach with the students in her program. Throughout her career, she has taken students to numerous conferences and shepherded them through spring plant sale fundraisers, chicken dinners and other activities.
“Seeing the light bulbs come on in my students’ eyes when they realize how vast the landscape industry is and then get excited and passionate about the industry – that’s the most rewarding thing,” she said.
As part of the Centennial, Hill recently hosted a reunion celebrating 30 years of the landscape program.
“Student after student talked about the impact that she had on their lives. One older African American gentleman had most of us in tears telling about his being the only person in his family to get a college degree and how it would not have happened without Martha,” Granberry said.
“He also told about getting to go to Washington, D.C. for a landscape conference and how he had never been out of Mississippi. It was obvious that Martha had done more for him than just teach him about plants.”
On behalf of her program and students, she has also maintained relationships with numerous equipment companies and landscape businesses, including those owned by her former students.
Hill has been an active member of many professional organizations and is often asked to speak at various meetings and conferences. One in particular is the National Association of Landscape Professionals, NALP, the leading national professional organization of landscape contractors and lawn care professionals. The relationships she formed have paid off in many ways, from equipment donations to guest speakers visiting her classrooms.
“I know if I need anything, I can pick up the phone and make my request and those industry leaders will do whatever they can to make it happen,” she said.
Hill plans to continue recruiting for the program after retirement. “I believe in this program and this industry and I want to support it until I die,” she said.
Hinds Community College is celebrating its 100th year of Community Inspired Service in 2017. Hinds opened in September 1917 first as an agricultural high school and admitted college students for the first time in 1922, with the first class graduating in 1927. In 1982 Hinds Junior College and Utica Junior College merged, creating the Hinds Community College District. Today, as Mississippi’s largest community college, Hinds Community College is a comprehensive institution with six locations. Hinds offers quality, affordable educational opportunities with academic programs of study leading to seamless university transfer and career and technical programs teaching job-ready skills.