Matthew Martinez’s guiding principle has always been to "give back." That’s what spurred his enlistment in the Marine Corps, his current work on behalf of veterans, and service as a city councilor in Monte Vista, Colorado.
The 2013 political science graduate feels fortunate to witness the fruits of his efforts both on campus and in his community. He will be recognized for that work as Adams State’s 2017 Exceptional New Alumnus and will receive the award at the Alumni Banquet and Awards Ceremony during Homecoming, October 20. For reservations and tickets, call the ASU Alumni Relations Office at 719-587-8110.
Martinez enrolled at Adams State in 2009 after completing his second deployment with 2nd Battalion 1st Marines, which was in Iraq during Operation Defeat Al Queda in the North II. "I was part of the last major operations in Iraq, supporting the Army by Mosul and helping the Iraqi citizens. It was fulfilling when we turned over control of the area to them," he said.
After just a year at Adams State, Martinez helped revitalize the campus veterans club, now known as Veterans at Adams State. That led to creation of a Veterans Center initially operated by students. After graduation in 2013, Martinez was named Coordinator of Veterans/Military Affairs. The center now has two staff members and two Americorps volunteers. The center helps vets access their benefits through the Veterans Administration and connects them to additional resources in the community.
"We give them a safe space to vent and deal with challenges so they can relax and focus on their studies. You can see them grow in this environment," Martinez said. The center recently received a $10,000 grant to expand its services. "I do this because I enjoy seeing changes in vets’ lives as they make connections to the civilian world. It makes me happy every time a vet graduates. This is now such a successful program. We went from having no veterans services to providing a place where vets can come together and have a chance to address problems and struggles. We’ve helped vets who otherwise may not have graduated." The peer-to-peer mentorship offered is invaluable, he said, because "In the military, there’s always someone with more experience to turn to."
Recently, Martinez was also named interim director of ASU’s Correspondence Education program. It serves incarcerated students, among others, including 200 incarcerated veterans.
Two-thousand-thirteen was a big year for Martinez. Following graduation, he married Chelsea McNerney-Martinez ’12, started his new job at the Veterans Center, and successfully ran for a seat on the Monte Vista City Council.
"I’m able to find ways to improve the town and help the place where I grew up. I enjoy it deeply," he said. In that position, he has managerial duties (the council supervises the city manager) and a role in establishing ordinances.
Although progress doesn’t happen overnight, Martinez is proud of several advances his town has made. When the local movie theater was forced to close, the owner donated it to the city, which reopened the theater, upgraded equipment, and now operates it with volunteers.
As a result of the Great Recession, Monte Vista suffered from business closures. Martinez said the town developed an incentive package that has successfully encouraged new businesses and has replaced almost all the businesses that left downtown. The town has also begun to upgrade its water and sewer infrastructure.
Martinez credits his grandfather with setting an example of community service and demonstrating the value of higher education. "Coming to Adams State is one of the best decisions I’ve made ever. Doing all these things has come from being at ASU."