By: By Yoshira Donaji Macías Mejía, Juan D. Coronado, and Richard C. Dávila

Mentorship Anecdotes


From 2007 to 2021, Dr. Rubén Martinez,
Professor of Sociology, served as Director
of the Julian Samora Research Institute
at Michigan State University, from which
he will retire in October of 2022. Prior
to coming to Michigan State, he worked
at institutions in Texas and Colorado,
where he gained significant experience
in administration and community
engagement from his time at the
University of Southern Colorado-Pueblo,
Colorado University-Colorado Springs,
and University of Texas at San Antonio.
This rich experience and knowledge are
what make him an excellent leader. In
addition to his administrative leadership,
he also has excelled in the academic
sphere. He has many publications in
the areas of neoliberalism, Latinos,
diversity leadership in higher education,
institutional and societal change,
education and ethno-racial minorities,
youth development, Latino labor and
entrepreneurship, and environmental
justice. He is also the editor of Latinos
in the United States book series in the
Michigan State University Press, through
which he has produced 15 volumes and
counting to increase our knowledge on
Latinos in the United States. His own books
include: as co-author Chicanos in Higher
Education (1993), Diversity Leadership in
Higher Education (2007), and A Brief History
of Cristo Rey Church in Lansing, MI (2012);
one edited volume, Latinos in the Midwest
(2011); and two co-edited volumes: Latino
College Presidents: In Their Own Words (2013)
and Occupational Health Disparities among
Racial and Ethnic Minorities: Formulating
Research Needs and Directions (2017). These
are just some highlighted works from Dr.
Martinez as it would take several pages
to do all his accomplishments justice.
Beyond his tenure at MSU, Dr. Martinez
has also focused on improving the status
of Latinos in the Midwest through his
service. He has been a part of several task
forces at MSU to improve diversity, equity,
and inclusion, but he has also done this
at the state level here in Michigan. He,
along with many others, was part of the
founding of the Michigan Association for
Latinx in Higher Education (MALHE), an organization aimed at improving the conditions and
opportunities of Latinos in higher education in Michigan.
He was able to bring together Black and Latino faculty,
community leaders, students, and many others to work
collaboratively toward an organization North Star Alliance
for Justice aimed at harnessing the collective power of
communities of color in Michigan to promote a more inclusive
society. The mission of the NSAJ is:
“… a collaborative of organizations and individuals committed
to the pursuit of freedom, independence, prosperity, and
equal rights for communities of black and brown people
with histories of enslavement, territorial theft, genocide,
racial and ethnic victimization, and government repression.
We advocate targeted measures to make whole the black
and brown communities in the state of Michigan.”
This is just one of the many examples of Dr. Martinez’s
commitment to improving the conditions of Latinos in Michigan,
the Midwest, and the nation. As such, Dr. Martinez will be
missed, and it will be very difficult to fill his shoes as he has left
an everlasting mark on the Julian Samora Research Institute. Le
brindamos la mejor de la suerte en esta nueva etapa de su vida.

During his time at MSU, Dr. Martinez worked with many scholars
at the institute, such as research faculty, research assistants,
and postdoctoral scholars. To these individuals he was not just
a director, but also a mentor and friend. Thus, we include some
recent scholars in this tribute to share a few words of what Dr.
Martinez’s mentorship and guidance meant to each of them.

I would like to continue this homage to Dr. Martinez by saying
that his experience in academia as well as his own personal
experiences and most of all his patience is what makes him not
only an exemplary academic and leader, but also mentor. I echo
what other colleagues have said about Dr. Martinez and will
add that upon starting my postdoc here at MSU, I not only felt
welcomed by him, but he took the time out of this busy schedule
to get to know me, which is imperative for a good mentoring
relationship. I learned from him what being a great mentor is
and that mentoring is a relationship, which takes great care
and time to cultivate. Mentoring is also about allowing your
mentee to have the freedom to pursue what best suits their
needs and not to push your own views or thoughts on them. A
mentor also guides those they are mentoring, something that
Dr. Martinez is well versed in, which allows them to grow. This
is something I take with me in my future career endeavors.
I was able to grow into the scholar I am today because he gave
me the academic freedom to pursue projects I was genuinely
interested in and helped me sharpen my research and teaching
skills. He would push me and encourage me to think big and
theoretically. All these skills have helped me to mature as a
scholar and to develop the confidence to be vocal and challenge
issues I would never have before. While, I have always been told
that you cannot have everything in a mentor and that you need
different mentors. I will say that to some extent this is true, but Dr.
Martinez has been the well-rounded mentor that I needed and for
that I am grateful.

In August 2015, I arrived in Michigan to work as a postdoctoral
scholar at JSRI. For the next four years, I shadowed and learned
much from Dr. Martinez. Being housed in University Outreach
and Engagement, JSRI worked extensively to address the
needs of the Latino Community in the greater Lansing area, in
Michigan, and in the Nation. Under Dr. Martinez’s direction,
faculty at JSRI produced research and scholarship on Latinos
with the aspirations of improving the lives of those marginalized.
Needless to say, the tasks at hand required dedication and time. It
became normal to work over twelve hours a day as Dr. Martinez’s
multidimensional approach called for total commitment.
The man literally works every hour that he is awake, and his
work ethic motivated the rest of the unit to work harder.
I quickly realized that Dr. Martinez was one of leading scholars
in Michigan as we traveled the state in his quest to inform the
public, government officials, and other scholars on the living
situation of Latinos. The settings for his talks were extremely
diverse, from university settings to government buildings,
to local restaurants, but the message was always serious and
influential. Pretty soon, he had me presenting in these circles
as well which grew my experience as a young scholar.
One of Dr. Martinez’s most prized projects became Éxito
Educativo, a pathway to college program that he spearheaded. We
cofacilitated the program in Lansing Schools empowering Latino
families interested in sending their children to college. The
program has since grown to several other locations throughout
Michigan and has garnered interest in other states as well.
As a scholar, Dr. Martinez holds a book series with Michigan
State University Press, Latinos in the United States Series.
Almost twenty volumes have been published, including mine
“I’m Not Gonna Die in this Damn Place:” Manliness, Identity,
and Survival, of the Mexican American Vietnam Prisoner of War.
Collectively, we also Co-edited a journal issue of Diálogo, Latinas
and Latinos in the Midwest: Historic and Contemporary Issues.
The experience working with Dr. Martinez prepared me for
my first tenure-track job, a position I currently hold at Central
Connecticut State University. Yet, his mentorship has challenged
me beyond the academic setting and has inspired me to create a
better world for all. Dr. Rubén Martinez is a true representation
of a scholar activist and the work throughout his career is
testament of his noble dedication to the sustainment of Latinos in
higher education and for the improved living conditions of all.

I first met Dr. Martinez in July of 2016 at the summit,
“The Mass Media and Latinos: Overrepresentation and
Underrepresentation,” sponsored by JSRI, the MSU College of
Communication Arts and Sciences, and the Michigan Alliance
for Latinos Moving toward Advancement. I had defended my
doctoral dissertation in the spring of that year and was serving
as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, working to build capacity
for local organizations involved in President Obama’s My
Brother’s Keeper initiative, and reached out to Dr. Martinez
in relation to that work. He invited me to the summit and
afterward invited me and my supervisor to join a group that
would eventually become the task force behind the Black/
Brown Dialogues summit series, hosted by JSRI and African
American and African Studies. After a task force meeting in the
summer of 2017, when my term of service as a VISTA had ended
and I had yet to find an academic appointment, Dr. Martinez
offered me the chance to work for JSRI as a research assistant.
Since joining JSRI, Dr. Martinez has actively supported my
research and offered many opportunities for professional
development. Through bi-weekly manuscript meetings with
JSRI faculty, Dr. Martinez fostered a space to collectively think
through ideas and work past barriers, helping me to get two
articles published in academic journals. Further, my ongoing
research on Texas-Mexican music in Michigan and the Midwest
evolved from his suggestion of a topic for my first lead article
in NEXO. JSRI has since financially supported numerous
presentations of my research at professional conferences,
research travel, and obtaining permissions to quote song
lyrics in publications. Dr. Martinez has also encouraged and
supported my participation in professional development
activities and has created many opportunities for me to expand
my professional network. His support has been instrumental
as I work to make a name for myself as a scholar. ⏹