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Civic Minded

DATE: Thursday, January 13, 2022

"I have always been someone who believes in leaving the world better than you found it, values instilled by my parents. While I do not do this work for the recognition, I also realize how important these awards are in reminding us that we are seen, valued and respected." – Prof. Vanessa Martínez

Vanessa Martinez gets ready to deliver her Commencement address to the classes of 2020 and 2021.

Holyoke Community College professor of anthropology Vanessa Martínez of Holyoke is the recipient of the 2022 Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award from Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education.

The award, presented in partnership with Brown University's Swearer Center, recognizes senior faculty who practice exemplary engaged scholarship through teaching and research. Recipients are selected on the basis of their collaboration with communities, institutional impact, and high-quality academic work.

"Holyoke Community College is incredibly fortunate to have Vanessa Martínez among its faculty," said Lisa Mahon, professor of English and service-learning coordinator at Holyoke Community College in a letter nominating Martínez for the award. "Her outstanding commitment to community-based learning, teaching, and advocacy has positively impacted our students, staff, and faculty, as well as the greater Holyoke community."

Martínez was recognized for teaching and scholarship that inspires students to take on leadership roles in their communities.

Through academic work that focuses on storytelling, culturally responsive instruction, and cultural humility, Martínez invites diverse groups of students to learn about community-based organizations, advocate and fundraise for community needs based on engaged research, and think critically about the role they play in their communities.

One example is the Women of Color Health Equity Collective, a Springfield-based nonprofit organization she co-founded to provide communities of color better access to maternal health, therapeutic services and support.  Through the collective, students learn about the social determinants of health and the role social inequality plays in health outcomes while researching community needs and developing advocacy plans to help create change.

"This is a wonderful and distinguished honor, and well deserved," said HCC president Christina Royal. "Professor Martínez continues to be actively engaged in our community and our region is better for it. It reflects positively for our students, who get to witness some exercising civic engagement beyond the classroom."

Martínez is also co-coordinator of HCC's Honors Program and co-leads a new community leadership certificate program at the college to give students formal training to continue work at community organizations and take on leadership roles. 

"I have always been someone who believes in leaving the world better than you found it, values instilled by my parents," Martínez said. "While I do not do this work for the recognition, I also realize how important these awards are in reminding us that we are seen, valued and respected. It means so much, especially given how difficult the pandemic has been on the world. Seguiré haciendo todo lo posible para hacer mi comunidad y nuestro mundo un mejor lugar para todos."

Born in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico, Martínez holds a bachelor's degree from Columbus State University, a master's degree from Georgia State University, and a PhD from the University of Massachusetts. In 2011, she received the "Latino Teaching Excellence Award" from then governor Deval Patrick, and in 2015 she was selected as a Leadership Fellow by the American Anthropological Association.

In 2020, Martínez received the Elaine Marieb Award for Teaching Excellence, HCC's highest faculty honor. She has been teaching at HCC since 2006.

The Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award is named in honor of Thomas Ehrlich, former chair of the Campus Compact board of directors and president emeritus of Indiana University. The award is presented annually as part of Campus Compact's Impact Awards, which recognize the outstanding work of individuals and institutions in pursuit of the public purposes of higher education.

Martínez will share the 2022 award with Kimberly Buch, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. They and other award recipients will be recognized at Compact22, Campus Compact's virtual conference, March 29-31.

PHOTO by CHRIS YURKO: Vanessa Martínez delivers a Commencement address in June 2021.