Grad studies welcomes new Dean

By Kristine Semptimphelter
October 26, 2011

Martha Combs

For every undergraduate student that walks on campus, there are one and a half graduate students on campus. Martha Combs, the college’s new Dean of Graduate Studies, began her work at the college ready to share her passion for learning and eagerness for higher education.

Combs has been in education for over 40 years. She began teaching in the 1960’s and taught for 15 years with children as young as kindergarteners to sixth grade students, as well as working as a curriculum specialist. Her passion for teaching grew to wanting to share her eagerness for others to learn.

After receiving her doctoral degree, Combs was faced with a decision to become a principal at an elementary school or going into higher education. She began working with adults; helping them think about their work and how to better themselves, their education and their classrooms.

“Change is difficult,” Combs said.  “Especially while in a classroom. You always have bodies who need something.”

Combs then decided that she wanted to continue working in higher education.

“I thought it was challenging to help people think about their work and to think about how to improve what was happening for students.”

She began her work within higher education at Oklahoma State University where she stayed for six years. For the next 15 years, Combs worked at the University of Nevada, working with masters students as well as doctoral students and people who were trying to explore their teaching. Working with people  who were advancing their studies became a passion for Combs, instead of an everyday job.

In 2004, a friend of Combs’ working in Wisconsin asked Combs and her family to begin working to open the first doctoral program at Marian University. Like Cabrini, Marian is a small Catholic institution with a strong scene of what is socially just in the world. There Combs worked just with doctoral students.

“It makes you step back and think about what motivates adults,” Combs said. “Especially people who are changing careers or making plans to change careers.”

Combs strives to help students meet their goals to succeed in their careers, which is the heart of graduate education. Combs refers to these students as “stewards” of education. Students who are doing advanced work are learning to take care of the fields for which they are working.

After leaving Marian, Combs took another position near St. Lewis, Ill., where she only stayed for a short time period. Combs became hungry for the mission of social justice and became anxious for a position similar to the morals of Marian.

During November and December of 2010, Combs came across a position at Cabrini College, where she was instantly intrigued because of the social justice message. It became clear to Combs that like Marian, Cabrini had a strong sense of justice.

The challenges Combs faces is by thinking about what is it that people in the world around us need.

“How can we match our skills to the needs of people in the region.” Combs said, “Bringing together faculty to find out more about their skills and what they have to offer ,and in some cases it will mean reinventing ourselves.”


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Kristine Semptimphelter

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