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CSUMB graduate Julio Martinez gains strength from sister’s accomplishments, brother’s death
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Salinas >> Perhaps 12 is too young to become intrigued about the meaning of life, but that’s exactly what happened to Julio Martinez after his older brother died.
But if it was his older brother’s death that led Martinez to choose a career — biology — it was his sister’s determination to stay in school that gave him the strength to continue. And it was not always easy.
“I’d think, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, I want to give up.’ Then I’d read (about her) and it would give me the motivation to continue studying. That’s what got me through college,” he said.
Martinez, 23, will be among the nearly 1,900 candidates for graduation during Saturday ceremonies at CSU Monterey Bay.
For Martinez, the ceremony will be a way to honor those who believed in him.
“I feel privileged and grateful to my parents for their many sacrifices,” he said. “Sometimes, deep inside of me, I feel that my brother guided me to my mentors.”
Martinez came to the United States from Mexico with his parents and siblings when he was 11, three months shy of ending the sixth grade. He didn’t speak English.
Learning English during middle school would be complicated by the death of his older brother, Antonio, who perished in a swimming accident the day after Martinez turned 12.
That accident became Julio’s impetus to try to understand one of life’s greatest mysteries.
“Biology is the science of life and I was really intrigued about life after my brother passed away; studying that would give me a better perspective about life. And it did,” Martinez said. “Now I see life as something amazing. Everything has to be in place in order for life to exist.”
Martinez enrolled in CSUMB with the idea of studying biology, but it was extremely challenging. He had not taken chemistry at Salinas High School, since he still wasn’t sure what he was going to do after graduation. He felt so unprepared he almost dropped out.
“It felt like everybody was just ahead of me,” he said. “I began at CSUMB with the lowest math, the lowest English, the lowest science (skills). I was not prepared.”
It didn’t help that Martinez had to work to help his family’s financial situation.
“While he was in my class, Julio worked as a waiter and busboy at a Mexican restaurant in East Salinas,” Crystal Gonzalez, his chemistry professor, said in an email. “I noticed that he would often come to class tired, had trouble concentrating, and sometimes turned in assignments late. … In fact, the reason why Julio struggled in the early part of his education was because he was trying to work too many hours to help his family out when his mother fell ill.”
But just as Martinez had found inspiration in Antonio, he also found it in Karen, his second sister. Karen earned a William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement in 2010 when she was a sophomore at CSUMB. An article about her appeared in The Herald and the clipping became one of Julio’s sources of strength.
Martinez’s parents don’t speak English and both continue working in agriculture, his dad harvesting lettuce and his mother in a packing company.
Future earnings were also part of the consideration. Martinez didn’t know how he would earn money in the sciences, so he was considering a change of major or just completely giving up when Gonzales convinced him to stay.
“Julio … was very good with hands-on projects in the laboratory,” she said. “This is why I suggested him as a candidate to work with Dr. Arlene Haffa, who was looking for competent, hardworking students for the USDA project in Salinas. I felt Julio fit the bill perfectly, plus I really wanted him to be exposed to research projects and laboratory work, so he could see the benefits of continuing with his education.”
Haffa, a microbiology professor, helped him get involved in research work. That led him to become part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center Program.
“He has an excellent work ethic, is a very hard worker and a pleasure to be around,” Haffa said. “When I met him he wanted to work in the lab … and I asked him if he could apply for a scholarship. At that point, he was thinking about dropping out of college. Now he’s a rising star.”
Getting his first research grant was the hardest one, Martinez said. After that, everything fell into place. Eventually, he conducted research with Carolee Bull at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, something that helped him merge his interest in helping people and studying agriculture.
“He really is the kind of scientist we would like to see among our ranks,” Bull said. “This young man has great potential and he has potential not only in science but has an ability to bring different groups together because of his wide interests.”
Just as Martinez was getting nervous about his job possibilities, he was offered a position as a lab technician at a USDA research facility in the San Francisco Bay Area. That’s where he’ll work before and after a pre-doctoral program at UC Berkeley this summer.
Martinez dreams of becoming the first in his family to earn a doctorate degree. And of coming back home to Salinas to help his community.
To read the complete article please click here on the link below: http://www.montereyherald.com/article/NF/20160519/NEWS/160519788