Columbia Basin College has tried for several years to give Wayne Martin its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award. He’s always been too busy.
But Martin retired from his job as an environmental research scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and took emeritus status in December, slowing down his schedule enough to be at CBC today to receive the 25th annual award.
“He’s a scientist, an educator, just a champion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math),” CBC President Richard Cummins said. “He’s just an amazing individual and the kind of person the college is thrilled to recognize.”
Cummins considers Martin, who was on CBC’s board when he was hired, a mentor.
But Martin, 59, of Kennewick, said he was surprised to receive the award honoring the slain civil rights leader.
“The person who they honor, Martin Luther King, now I’ve got an honor that’s related to that guy?” he said. “It’s very humbling. I’m quite appreciative of the honor.”
The award will be presented at a ceremony at the Gjerde Center on CBC’s Pasco campus, 2600 N. 20th Ave. The event begins at noon with an outdoor bell-ringing ceremony at the Martin Luther King Jr. statue on campus.
Martin came to the Tri-Cities in 1978 with degrees from Washington State University and the University of Washington. He served in several capacities at PNNL, including as a program manager and the director of the project management office.
He’s received a number of honors for his work, including the 2003 PNNL Fitzner-Eberhardt award for outstanding contributions to science and education. And in 2004 he was named among the “50 Most Important Blacks in Research Science,” by Science Spectrum magazine and Career Communications Group.
But Martin is just as proud of his contributions to the Tri-City community. He helped establish CBC’s Office of Diversity, which increased the number of Hispanic students at the school and allowed it to be classified as a Hispanic Serving Institution. That meant it could qualify for millions of dollars in federal grants.
Martin credits former PNNL lab director Bill Wiley with teaching him the value of giving back.
“He got me involved in a lot of national programs to engage with young black Americans, and show them the value of education,” Martin said.
Martin focused on showing underprivileged youth the value of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, he said.
He went from CBC’s board, where he served from 2000-10 to the State Community and Technical Colleges board, where he has been a member since 2012.
“When you look at the folks who really need to get engaged through education — those folks who are not as well off — the community colleges are one of the very first places that provide access to education,” Martin said. “That’s why I like to support community colleges.”
Martin also has served on the board of Kadlec Health System.
“Health obviously has become a big issue,” he said. “It’s a great avenue for good jobs. For people with a good STEM background, that’s a good place to go.”
Martin, who grew up moving around the country as an “Army brat,” wants to inspire others to give back.
“There are a lot of places in our community that need volunteers,” he said. “They need people to step up and help.”
He was honored in 2010 with the Community Stewardship Award from Battelle, the operator of PNNL.
Martin has long been a tremendous role model for area youth, said current PNNL Director Michael Kluse. The Spirit Award is “perfectly suited” to him.
“Wayne methodically worked his way up through the laboratory system, earning his doctorate, taking on more responsibility and eventually serving in one of the lab’s highest posts,” Kluse said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Wayne outside of the laboratory as he invested endless hours while giving back.”