So read the dedication of Nelda “Nel” Martinez’s doctoral dissertation. While the words may be few, the love and gratitude they convey are immense.
Even though her mother never graduated from high school and her father earned a GED, education was a priority in the Martinez household. “I give a lot of credit to my parents for really valuing the importance of education,” says Martinez, who grew up in an all-Hispanic community in San Antonio, Texas.
Martinez’s parents, Frank and Anita, expected their children to go to school every day, finish school, and then head off to college. The merits of higher education were so deeply ingrained into her family values that Martinez knew by the time she was in high school that she would go on to complete her Ph.D.
When her father was given the opportunity to continue his career at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Martinez stayed with an older brother to finish high school in San Antonio. After graduation, she joined her parents in Dayton to attend college. While her father wanted her to apply to Ohio State, Martinez was too intimidated by the size of OSU and chose to stay closer to her new home. Already interested in nursing, she enrolled at Wright State.
A trailblazer for future generations
When she entered Wright State, Martinez had no idea that her education would be a series of firsts. In 1978, she was the first Hispanic American to graduate from Wright State with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. In 1982, she received her master’s degree in rehabilitation and community health nursing from Wright State—another first. She then went on to complete her Ph.D. in nursing at Ohio State, once again earning the distinction as the first Hispanic American to reach this milestone at OSU.
While Martinez is far too modest to think of herself as a trailblazer, she continues to reach out to students and families from underrepresented populations—especially minorities and first-generation college students—to promote the importance of higher education.
As she helps build the pipeline to higher education, Martinez acknowledges that it’s absolutely critical for high school students to earn their diplomas. “If they don’t finish high school, how are they even going to be at your college doors? We really need to help the younger kids.”
For students arriving at the doors of the University of Texas–Brownsville, where Martinez serves as dean and professor of nursing, they are welcomed with open arms. Cheering them on with her “you can do it” mentality, Martinez encourages all of her students to realize their fullest potential.
“I really enjoy undergraduate education,” says Martinez. “I’ve taught all levels—I’ve even taught medical school—but in undergraduate education, you can really make an impact. What’s most important is that they learn to believe in themselves.”
Honoring her greatest inspiration
Today, Martinez is paying tribute to the people who believed in her the most—her parents—with a scholarship that bears their names.
The Frank and Anita Martinez Hispanic Nursing Scholarship supports Hispanic students who are pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Wright State University. While Martinez first established the scholarship in 2003, she has since pledged a portion of her estate to endow the scholarship for future generations.
For Martinez, helping to educate tomorrow’s nurses was the perfect tribute to her parents. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she explains. “They were so helpful and supportive. They helped me understand that I had more going for me than I realized.”
While her father passed away before the scholarship was created, Martinez was able to share the news of her gift with her mother. “I wanted her to know how much she impacted my life,” says Martinez.
In the years prior to her mother’s death, Martinez enjoyed showing her thank-you notes from the scholarship recipients. Through those pieces of paper, Martinez could illustrate to her mother how she and her late husband not only inspired their own children—but an entire generation—to pursue their degrees and follow their dreams.