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Professor emeritus of geography endows scholarship for future students

As a first-generation high school and college graduate who grew up in a working family of Slovakian immigrants, West Virginia University Professor Emeritus Ken Martis is grateful for the life-changing opportunities sustained to him through higher education.

Ken Martis, professor emeritus of geography

To show his appreciation for what WVU has done for his life and career and because of his love of geography, Martis established a scholarship to provide support for future geography students.

“The citizens of West Virginia have given us an incredible institution. We have a large university in a small state that has a significant impact on our community, our state, the region of Appalachia, the nation and world,” Martis said. “I come from a family of modest means, and my wife comes from a rural West Virginia county. We are very grateful for WVU and what the people of West Virginia have done for this University and done for us and our careers. The thought of not giving back is pretty incredible to us—we want to share our appreciation.”

Martis is a political geographer known for mapping and documentation of American electoral history. His published series of political atlases began with “The Historical Atlas of United States Congressional Districts: 1789-1983,” the first book in American history to map every congressional district for every election while also cataloging all state redistricting laws.

In addition to publishing seven award-winning books since 1982, Martis is a 40-plus year member of the National Council for Geographic Education. Much of his research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts, which regularly provided Martis the funding to hire student researchers.

Always following the mantra “positive geography,” Martis’s trademark teaching style featured engaging storytelling, vivid photos and student encouragement, leading him to receive the 2007 Carnegie West Virginia Professor of the Year and WVU Foundation Teaching awards.

“In geography, you talk about global warming, famine in Africa, ISIS. These topics can be very depressing—they may even cause feelings of hopelessness,” Martis said. “Positive geography is an opportunity for empowerment and hope for the future. But we are not hiding the truth. Positive geography is about acknowledging what’s happening in the world and offering prescriptions for how to fix it.”

The Kenneth C. Martis Undergraduate Geography Scholarship fund is supported in multiple ways—by gifts in honor of his 2012 retirement, his own personal gift and a planned gift. The multifaceted gift not only establishes the scholarship but also supports it long term.

“Professor Martis’s investment in our students reflects our shared belief that the generation of students in our classrooms right now have the potential be innovative leaders who transform this state and push forward the understanding of what drives us as humans,” said Gregory Dunaway, dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. “I can think of no better way to sustain his great dedication to his students than through this gift.”

Joining the faculty in 1975, Martis demonstrates there are different ways for long-time WVU faculty and staff to realize their philanthropic goals.

“Private giving is important for those who have been at WVU a long time, both faculty and staff. You can leave a legacy in many different ways,” Martis said. “I heard this phrase one time: ‘In life there are three stages. There’s the learning stage, there’s the earning stage and there’s the returning stage.’ You want to give back to the institution that has given you so much.”

The WVU Foundation, in partnership with the University, is currently conducting A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The goal of the largest fundraising effort in the history of the University is to raise $1 billion by December 2017. For more information on the campaign, visit