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UHCL Commencement speaker: Hard work to be leader and example to my children

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Stephanie Martinez became a mother a bit sooner than she expected. She had begun her associate degree at San Jacinto College with a small child, and when her second child was born, and then a third, staying in class became even more challenging.

But now, as she completes her Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies with Core Concentration in Early Childhood-6 with Bilingual Supplemental from University of Houston-Clear Lake, she is sharing some of the insights she gained both in and out of the classroom as commencement speaker for the Class of 2023.

“I was so shocked to be asked to be speaker, but so honored,” she said. “I worked hard to be a leader in the Bilingual Education Student Organization, where I was vice president and then president.  I worked hard to be a leader and an example to my children.”

She said her journey toward completing her degree had been difficult. “I had my first baby when I was 17,” she said. “I decided to go to college for nursing, but then after my second child, I stayed home and raised them. I thought it was more important to do that, but after I decided to return in 2018, I found out I was pregnant again.”

The semester after giving birth to her youngest son, she went back to San Jacinto and finally got her associate’s in 2021. “I changed my major to teaching because as a mother, I had seen kids at school who were lacking things and needed help,” she said. “I feel like I have a lot of care to give children, so why not be a teacher and help them be successful?”

She transferred to UH-Clear Lake and said that with the new baby, she could not have continued her coursework without the help of her husband and two older children. “It was very difficult to stay up all night and do homework, after having spent the whole day doing mom things and trying to be supportive of the kids,” she said.

“My older kids gave up playing sports so they could help me and I could focus on school. Now I’m the mother of teens and I can’t leave them to just fend for themselves,” she said. “You can’t expect them to stay on track while you’re getting your life together for them, so I tried to set an example and motivate them to continue their education. That’s why my older sons have their own dreams of being a doctor and an engineer.”

She said a pivotal part of her time at UH-Clear Lake was her participation in BESO. “It was really important for me to be in that organization,” she said. “We are able to show a little more Hispanic culture and advocate for children who want to keep their native language and be multilingual and multicultural. It’s important because some of us lost our language while we were getting our education and we don’t want that to happen to others.”

Her experience in BESO, she said, would help become a better teacher. “It taught me a lot about leadership and being there for the kids,” she said.

For others who are also trying to find a way back to their education while raising small children, Martinez said anything is possible as long as there’s a will for it. “I felt very supported at UHCL,” she said. “I am a first-generation college student and I was a young mother. The odds were not in my favor, but here there is an awesome faculty who make you feel like you matter.”

She said transferring to UHCL had been a good decision. “Actually, it was the best decision,” she said. “Professors here are invested in your success. If you’re willing to give it the time, you can accomplish this.”

Martinez is currently interviewing for a teaching position in area school districts, and hopes to be either a second grade or fifth grade teacher in the fall.

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