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New Mexico State University

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New department head joins NMSU engineering family

With an extensive background in administration, teaching and research, and knowledge in a variety of disciplines from traffic modeling to highway construction, Peter Martin is expected to bring much to the table when he begins his new position as department head of civil engineering at New Mexico State University.

Martin, who is originally from South Wales, said he was drawn to engineering because of his love of physics and math.

"I love being able to build big things," he explained. "Most of my family went into nursing, but I faint when I have an injection. I hate hospitals and I knew I was never going that way."

After graduating from the University of Wales in 1975, Martin spent 10 years working as a civil engineer in England. He then went back to school to earn his master's and doctoral degrees.

In 1993, he accepted a position as a visiting professor at California Polytechnic State University. A year and a half later, he joined the faculty of the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Utah. In June, he left the position to continue his career at NMSU.

"I knew quite a bit about [NMSU's] College of Engineering," he said. "I knew it was a good solid land-grant institution, and that it had a very well-deserved bridge and pavement inspection reputation. I knew that environmental engineering was strong and that water resource engineering was important to the arid southwest."

Asked how his international background will assist him in his new position, Martin compared and contrasted Great Britain to the United States, stating that Great Britain is somewhat like "the 51st state."

"The differences are striking, but it is very easy to emigrate from the U.K.," he said. "The post-war education I went through was elitist and selective - typical of the European model. Coming to the U.S., I see much more open access to higher education opportunities for all."

"From a teaching perspective, it's more of a challenge because the net is cast so wide. But it's the right approach because America needs engineers as never before."

As he begins his position as department head, Martin said, he has three goals. The first is simply to "do no harm." He would like to develop the curriculum in response to contemporary needs, as well as nurture and support the research culture of the department.

"My leadership style is characterized by communicating as well as possible; respecting everyone; exercising fiscal responsibility, ethical behavior and trust; and making decisions consistently and transparently," he said.

"[Martin] is a very nice guy," said Jeffrey Beasley, department head for engineering technology, and head of the search committee that recommended Martin for the position. "He's very successful in his work with transportation, so he brings that to the university, which is a great benefit to the college. He was an excellent, well-recommended candidate."

Before moving to Las Cruces, Martin and his family had never visited New Mexico.

"It's hot," he said, laughing. "I have a T-shirt that says something like 'I find this place to be not new and not really Mexico.'"

"The Native American history is fascinating. This city has a wonderful old feel to it. It's very Hispanic; much more diverse [than Utah]. It's similar to how I was raised."

Already trying to immerse himself into the Las Cruces culture, Martin said he has taken a few Spanish lessons and will encourage his Spanish-speaking students to help him improve.

Martin is joined by his wife and youngest son, who will be attending high school in Las Cruces.