Lidia Martinez graduated in May with a degree in Spanish, and in July she traveled to Miami to receive a national award for her outstanding academic achievements and exemplary involvement in extra-curricular activities related to Spanish.
The Mario Vargas Llosa Award is granted yearly to only one Spanish major or minor in the nation.
Named for the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature, the award is given by Sigma Delta Pi (the National Collegiate Hispanic Honor Society) and the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) to an undergraduate who is a member of Sigma Delta Pi.
Martinez, a resident of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., earned her B.A. with program distinction, graduating with a Spanish major and a Latin American and Caribbean Studies minor on May 15. She accepted the award at the AATSP’s annual congress on July 10.
Winning the award “is truly remarkable because there is only one recipient for this most prestigious award,” said Gorica Majstorovic, associate professor of Spanish and coordinator of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, who nominated Martinez. Majstorovic was Martinez’s adviser for the past two years as well as her professor and mentor.
“I chose a Spanish major because I like to help my community,” said Martinez. She is teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to Latino older adults at two churches, St. Mary’s in Pleasantville and Ministerio Por Gracia Sois Salvor in Northfield, working as a fellow of the Stockton Center for Community Engagement. She credited Merydawilda Colon, the SCCE’s executive director and a professor of Social Work, with giving her the paid fellowship opportunity.
“Now I know I want to be a teacher, because of Dr. Colon,” she said. “It gave me confidence.” Martinez also is currently a substitute teacher at Pleasantville High School and plans to get her teacher certification using the alternate route.
Martinez, 38, took a long route to get here, beginning with her roots in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. She attended high school and earned an associate’s degree while living in New York City. But the poor urban air quality led her and her husband, Amado Placencia, to relocate to South Jersey, since she and her children suffer from asthma.
While living in Egg Harbor Township and working as a secretary in Pleasantville, she kept hearing that Stockton was a great school. After casinos started closing in Atlantic City, the business where she worked was affected and she lost her job.
“So I decided I had no choice but to finish my degree,” said Martinez.
Martinez credited “Professors Gorica Majstorovic, Arnaldo Cordero-Román, Alfonso Gandica and Javier Sanchez – thanks to all of them, I was recognized for the award.”
“I had a wonderful time here at Stockton,” she continued. “I was part of a play, ‘La Botánica,’ in which I was the main character, Dona Geno.” The student theatre production was performed in Spanish and directed by Majstorovic at Dante Hall in Atlantic City.
“My teachers were always my inspiration, mentors and my role models to keep going,” she noted. Of the Stockton experience, she said: “I have so many good memories that will stay in my heart.”
Gandica, an adjunct instructor in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics who taught Martinez, commented when her award was announced: “She took ‘Energy and Ethics’ with me in the fall 2015 semester and was the best student in the class. ‘Bravo Zulu,’ as they say in the U.S. Navy. I write this expression when a student gets an A in an assignment and believe me, Lidia got a lot of Bravo Zulus. She makes us very proud of her achievements.”
In addition to support from teachers, Martinez thanked her personal support system for helping her graduate: “My mother, Luisa Reyes, my husband, Amado, and my three children, Amado, Kayleen and Ramthony – without their support, patience and love, this dream couldn’t be possible.“
She acknowledged the path to recognition was not easy and required self-reliance and determination. “I won this award because of my hard work, dedication, grades, perseverance, my teachers, and of course my family,” she said.
She was on the Dean’s List while at Stockton, and continues to work at WLFR 91.7, the university’s radio station, as a host of “La Voz Latina” on Mondays from 5-6 p.m.
Her ideal next step would be to get a job in the Pleasantville school system, where she already knows students and teachers from working as a substitute. She sees the impact she can have there and finds that fulfilling.
“I would like to be a Spanish or Bilingual/ESL teacher. Whichever God gives me will make me very happy,” she said.
“By teaching Spanish I will be able to help out and be closer to my community,” Martinez said. “I love to help everyone – that’s why I feel very happy that finally I got my Bachelor’s degree, which will help me to keep helping others.”