Marty Watkins loves his work as a building environmental service technician at Appalachian State University, but it’s much more than just a job to him.
Watkins maintains and cleans 10 academic buildings across campus.
“I love cleaning. I love making the environment healthy for people, but I also just love being around people,” Watkins said. “Different kinds of people, different cultures of people.”
Getting to interact with students on campus is the most rewarding part of what he does, he said.
For Watkins, every day is another opportunity to encourage a stressed student who is worried about an exam, or to congratulate an excited student who did well on one.
“It’s like a family around here,” Watkins said, and he treats every student just as he treated his daughter when she was a student on campus.
“I’ll never forget – when we decided this is where my daughter wanted to go – a friend of mine who graduated from Appalachian said, ‘Wow, she’s going to become a part of the family,’” Watkins said. “And ever since then, that’s what we heard: the Appalachian family.”
Before coming to Appalachian in 2008, Watkins worked as a supervisor at Tyson Foods in Wilkesboro for 20 years. Now, ironically, he said, his daughter Brittany works at Tyson Foods as a biologist after having graduated in 2011.
Watkins’ involvement in the Appalachian community extends beyond his work hours. He serves on the Black Faculty and Staff Association as well as the Physical Plant’s Safety Committee.
In 1960, when Watkins was 2 years old, he and his family moved from Columbus, Ohio, to Wilkes County, N.C.
As an African American boy growing up in the 60s and 70s, Watkins was always aware of how it felt to be treated differently – for all the wrong reasons.
“I remember when I went and saw ‘The Jungle Book’ we weren’t allowed to sit down at the bottom of the theater,” Watkins said.
He grew up in a racially mixed neighborhood where he learned to accept different people and ways of life.
“Color was there. We had to see that. But I looked beyond that. I saw a person, and I see people. And that’s what I’m all about,” Watkins said.
The way Watkins was treated, both in youth and adulthood, has shaped his character and personality and made him very aware of how he treats others, he said.
“The position I’m in, students could look at me as a janitor – someone below or beneath them. But I’ve come to find that if you treat people as equals, that particular barrier is gone,” Watkins said. “That’s what I try to do with the students. I treat them as equals.”
So, no matter a student’s background, religion, skin color, age, sexual orientation, weight or height, Watkins will be waiting for the chance to offer a friendly smile, “hello” or “good luck” because, to Watkins, family shouldn’t be treated any other way.