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Luna, Highlands student earns NSF scholarship

For many, mathematics is a tough subject – intimidating, even.

Not for Saige Martinez.

“Math has always been therapeutic for me,” he said. “The structure and the discipline required provided a good outlet for me.”

Saige Martinez

Martinez, who’ll graduate from Luna Community College in May with an associate degree in math before finishing his undergraduate degree studies at nearby New Mexico Highlands University, recently learned he is the recipient of a National Science Foundation STEM scholarship worth $10,000 a year for up to three years.
It’s a major award that will help him achieve the next step in his education, which he hopes to continue on to the graduate school level.

The NSF’s S-STEM Scholarship II program “aims to prepare students to enter careers or graduate programs with a focus on developing interdisciplinary skills that integrate data science with their chosen STEM fields,” according to the program announcement. Overall grade point average in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) coursework, financial need and full-time enrollment in an approved undergraduate program are all required for the scholarship, which is awarded by a committee of STEM faculty emeriti. Martinez applied for the scholarship at the urging of an adviser at NMHU.

Martinez, the son of Richard Martinez and Skye Ugarte, is a Las Vegas native and a graduate of Robertson High School. While he was proficient at math since early on, he detoured for a time from school to join the Army National Guard. It was while he was in basic training, he recalled, that he learned a valuable lesson.

“In the Army, you meet so many people from different backgrounds,” he said. “You learn that stereotypes aren’t always right. All kinds of people (have something to offer), no matter where they come from.”

With that in mind, he chose to disregard a stereotype he’d once heard about how one’s grades tend to limit choices in postsecondary education. He decided to give Luna a try as he began his collegiate studies. What he discovered, he said, is that the community college in his own hometown had plenty to offer.

“Luna has turned out to be a lot better (than some other, larger colleges),” he said. “Luna has teachers who can teach. Teaching isn’t just about putting things on a blackboard and saying ‘here you go.’ It’s about conveying your knowledge and really helping students learn.”

While Martinez has long been good at math, the instruction and support he encountered at Luna helped nurture his growth as a student.

Luna math instructor Rita Surdi and others in the college’s STEM department proved especially helpful to Martinez as he immersed himself in his favorite subject. He has since begun work on his bachelor’s degree (at NMHU) and plans to apply for grad school at the University of New Mexico. He remains grateful to Luna for helping him get started, and he gives back as a tutor in the college’s Academic Center of Excellence.

“Luna has definitely helped me to gain a strong foundation in math,” Martinez said. “Luna has helped me gain that foundation in what education is supposed to look like.”

“It’s still hard work,” he said of math. “It takes dedication and commitment. But I don’t give up at it.”