Joseph Martinez Jr. receives American Psychological Association Lifetime Achievement Award

Joseph Martinez

Joseph Martinez Jr.

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(March 4, 2010)--In recognition of an academic career focused on promoting the establishment of neuroscientists from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, Joseph L. Martinez Jr., the UTSA Ewing Halsell Distinguish Chair in Neuroscience, was honored with the American Psychological Association (APA) Lifetime Achievement Award. With 148,000 members, APA is the premier association of scientific and professional psychologists in the United States and the largest professional psychological association worldwide.

For 43 years, Martinez has devoted extensive time to organizations and programs promoting neuroscientists and psychologists from diverse backgrounds. As an academician, he has sponsored 21 doctoral and post-doctoral students. He also has worked with more than 100 students as the director of SPINES -- the Summer Program in Neuroscience, Ethics and Survival at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Mass. The program targets neuroscience students from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds and prepares them for successful academic careers by providing training and research opportunities.

Six of the students Martinez has mentored now serve on the faculty of the UTSA Department of Biology. They include associate professor of neurobiology and department chair Edwin Barea-Rodriguez, professor of neurobiology Brian Derrick, associate professor of evolutionary biology Matthew Gdovin, assistant professor of neuroscience Carlos Paladini, assistant professor of biology Gary Gaufo and assistant professor of cognitive neuroscience Nicole Wicha.

Wicha recalls her first meeting with Martinez in 1997 when she participated in SPINES. "Joe was not only a part of the program, he was the heart and soul of the program," she said. "He had a vested interest in the success of each of the fellows and kept up with us over the years after we attended SPINES."

Wicha's career was influenced again by Martinez when she joined the UTSA faculty in 2005. Martinez took an active role in mentoring Wicha in developing a grant that eventually was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Martinez also helped shape the career of Matthew Gdovin.

"Dr. Martinez is an excellent scientist and writer, and his constructive critiques of my grant applications were invaluable to my success in funding," said Gdovin. "But, the thing I value most about my relationship with Dr. Martinez is his interest in my professional development. He has always taken the time to think carefully, provide me his opinion and guidance in an honest and straightforward manner, and support me in my decisions. I have tremendous respect for him."

Today, Martinez continues to mentor. Fifth-year doctoral student Yonas Keleta moved from Eritrea, a small country in the eastern part of Africa bordering the Red Sea, to the United States to pursue his doctoral studies with Martinez at UTSA. He said the decision has been well worth it.

"I believe a typical mentor behaves as the student's teacher, parent, friend and family," says Keleta. "Dr. Martinez is one of those few scientists who are endowed with such socially important traits. His mentorship has been quintessentially important in bringing about a turning point in my research career."

According to George Perry, dean of the UTSA College of Sciences, "Joe Martinez has played a major role in the education of Hispanics in the biological sciences both at UTSA and nationally. Attesting to his effectiveness, UTSA is first in the nation in training in the biological sciences for Hispanics."

However, Martinez is humble, counting his achievements by his students' success rather than the plaques on his wall.

"Mentoring students is a passion in my life," said Martinez. "Being recognized for lifetime achievement by your peers is as good as it gets."