ASU alumnus earns Alan Shepard award

ALAMOSA — Inspiring young students for a fascination with science and the endless possibilities in STEM careers comes naturally for Adams State University alumnus Diego Martinez. He was selected by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation (AMF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Space Foundation as the recipient for the 2018 Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award.

As a young boy being raised by a single mother, Martinez had to overcome natural obstacles to follow his path. “As a seventh grader attending public school in Denver the cops knew me by name. I was in trouble, and I was flunking school. I knew that when I was doing well in school my life felt better and more manageable. Yet, when I tried to read or study, I couldn’t.”

Advice from his older brother, Caesar, provided the guidance needed. “Caesar introduced me to 'Study Technology' developed by L. Ron Hubbard. It took minutes for him to explain it to me. I still struggled, but I had a tool. It’s been a tool I have used since I was 12. My brother saved my life by sharing this with me.”

His challenges didn’t end there. “Being raised by a single parent and being a first generation college student, the sciences are a hard business to get into. Many of my peers had parents who were science/engineer professionals; help was a phone call away for them. For me, I used what I learned from Study Technology. I vowed that if I earned my chemistry degree I would become a teacher and help Valley students overcome the struggles of study and pursue STEM careers.”

Martinez, currently a Science Mastery Specialist for Delphian School, located in Oregon, graduated from Adams State in 2007 with a major in chemistry with an emphasis in secondary education. Pictured in a photo courtesy of Diego Martinez, he and his students at Delphian School in Oregon prepare for glider flight lessons.

What were your college years like? Were you a traditional student?

My college years were great, and I was not a traditional student. I married, had children, worked several jobs, and had renovated and built a few houses, and built a grid-tied solar system by the time I graduated. I had to be doing things, so I found projects I was interested in. It’s funny because I am working at exactly what I am good at, “Empowering Projects Coordinator.”

You mentioned Adams State Aaron Abeyta (professor of English) and Marty Jones (emeritus professor of chemistry) as favorite teachers. Can you elaborate on why they were – do you model your teaching style after them?

Aaron is a great professor and was/is a great role model for me and many people. He got me interested in reading and patiently taught me to be a better writer and life-long learner. In fact, I remember writing an essay in a very angry tone, and he didn’t give me an “F” or tell me to fix my tone or take out the curse words. He let me express myself. I am also a huge fan of his work. His work is about the Valley, so when I am homesick, I can pick up “Colcha” and it takes me home. When our family is together on a Sunday morning after church in Capulin, my wife and mother-in-law sit and read parts of “Rise, Do Not Be Afraid.”

They would take turns reading and talking about glorious baseball games between the ASU team and locals from Antonito and La Jara. The stories are a part of being a Valley native and they will survive because of Aaron’s poetry and books. That makes him a special asset to ASU and positive role model for our Valley youth and leaders.

Doctor Jones, now retired, is another great friend that has been part of my story at ASU. He was the epitome of professionalism. He stated during his classes that if he makes more than three mistakes he would cancel class. This helped us pay attention while learning the intricacies of O-chem. Class was only canceled once in my years at ASU. I have always tried to emulate his level of excellence. He has produced many great chemists and earned friendships. He used to do, “molecule of the week.” Some molecules we could taste, touch and experience. I thought it was so valuable that I modeled my own “Science Fiction Friday” after his example.

There were other professors at ASU that helped to prepare me for a career in teaching math and science like Mike Trujillo. I still work with him. We recently worked on curriculum at the NASA Astronaut Training Facility Neutral Buoyancy Lab just last summer. Dr. Benson (professor of Earth Science), Erwin Romero (Upward Bound) and programs like Upward Bound which invested in me and gave me tools to be successful in college.

How did Adams State prepare you to become an exceptional teacher?

It was the professors that cared and gave me encouragement to do my best. Their patience and personal attention kept me from losing interest and dropping out. I feel like ASU fostered my need to do projects and continued to be a resource, not only for me, but also my students even after I graduated. That network helped me to be a successful math and science teacher.

Would you encourage current SLV high school students to attend ASU?

Of course. I can’t begin to tell you the opportunities ASU has provided for me and the students I have taught over the years. There is such personal care that students receive from professors and the opportunities are plenty. Adams is a great university because it doesn’t have the distractions that other campuses have. It’s a treasure with its many dedicated staff.

What does receiving the Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award mean to you?

Well, initially, my wife screamed and shouted and cried for me. Her response to the announcement captured pure emotion. If you see the video of the announcement you feel it. I got an email from the Space Foundation that said, “there wasn’t a dry eye in the room after seeing the announcement.” I thought it was really cool, but a couple of days later it really hit me in a flood of emotions while sitting on my couch.

The award is great, but even better is the platform that it gives me to help education. I will be working with aerospace companies to help channel resources into programs that help education. Most of these companies recognize that their most important asset is the future students being trained right now. This award is important to me because it’s an opportunity I’ve been fighting for to make education better for teachers and student alike. My goal is to make more hands-on project based, self-paced, individualized programs that help students master their ability to learn. With a world of information in the palm of our hand, our biggest obstacle is getting the information from our devices to our minds.

What grade levels do you teach? Are they general science or specific topics?

My current title is “Empowering Projects Coordinator” at the Delphian School in Sheridan, Oregon, I work with all ages as well as teachers. I still teach and direct high school science fair. My main job is to help students to apply what they have learned. I help them create projects or find out what they are interested in and point them in the right direction; I also find out what is needed at the school or in the community, and let students know what projects are available. Projects work really well since students are on individual, self-paced learning guides. This method greatly accelerates their education because it is their personal education plan. It’s above and beyond anything I have seen in other schools. You really have to see it to believe it. The students call it “their beautiful education” and it really is because it’s customized for them and their interests.

The culture of the school includes the planning and responsibility of the student to create their path, and we don’t have grades because it's mastery based. In most schools time is the constant and learning is the variable. At the Delphian School, learning is the constant and time is the variable.

Are you an AHS graduate? What year?

I graduated Alamosa High School in 1997. I’m a Mean Moose! I’m a local boy who grew up playing a lot of basketball on the other side of the tracks in Alamosa, cruising Main, working at Sonic, and listening to Tupac and Biggie!

What other schools did you work at before Delphian School?

I did my student teaching at Sargent High School and started teaching in Antonito High School in 2007-2010. I taught at Center High School from 2010-2016.

Have you received a master’s degree? If so, from where and in what?

While teaching at Antonito High School, Daniel Newmyer, now director of Education at Space Center Houston, encouraged me to apply to the Space Foundation for a unique set of classes that would help me earn half my masters. My master’s in education with an emphasis in Space Studies from Regis and a Master in Art in Curriculum and Instruction from Adams State are near completion.

Is your wife an ASU grad, Valley native?

My wife, Gail Martinez, is a San Luis Valley native and ASU grad. She grew up in Capulin. We actually ran into each other a few times in high school and had many of the same friends. We helped each other through college, got married and started a family. We lived at 3b Faculty Drive, “the bricks.” Great stories do start at Adams.

The Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award is given annually in recognition of creative and innovative use of technology by K-12 educators, or district-level education personnel. The award, named for Mercury and Apollo astronaut Alan Shepard, will be presented during the 34th Space Symposium opening ceremony on April 16 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. The opening ceremony is cosponsored by Northrop Grumman, and the award presentation will be followed with a by-invitation reception honoring Martinez, co-hosted by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation.