At LSU, student discovers passion in aiding others
September 10, 2009
By Darla Martin Tucker
She chose La Sierra University for its small classes and lengthy list of degree programs. But Bakersfield resident Stephanie Martinez discovered far more than individualized attention and broad choices at La Sierra. She ultimately found her passion and calling in life as a social work major intent on helping others through field work and legislative advocacy.
“…I was introduced to the LSU social work program, which has ultimately changed my life forever. I know I want to work to help others as well as to make the profession's knowledge base stronger,” said the 21-year-old senior.
After learning about La Sierra during a college fair, Martinez first enrolled in the global studies degree program, uncertain about her career path. “I was in the history department just kind of floating around,” Martinez said. “I started realizing I want to help out but didn’t know how.”
In the mean time, through the La Sierra University Church, she began performing community volunteer work at a home for troubled teens. The facility’s young residents include runaways, teens with difficulties at home or those coming out of juvenile hall. On Sabbath afternoons Martinez met with the teens, ate and talked with them and befriended them.
Martinez contemplated switching her academic studies to psychology. But after conferring with Daphne Thomas, a field coordinator for seniors in La Sierra’s social work department, Martinez in 2007-08 entered the social work program with a minor in gender studies.
She narrowed her career interests to women’s issues and advocacy for causes related to her profession. This school year she hopes to work as a social work intern with an agency that aids victims of domestic violence.
Martinez continued her community outreach efforts through two university Service-Learning classes. She participated last year in research projects aimed at assessing women’s involvement in churches and the availability of community childcare programs.
Through a Service-Learning assignment connected with a “Religion and Gender” class, Martinez visited two churches and gathered data on the percentage of women in the congregations and the number holding leadership roles. The research aided a Seventh-day Adventist conference study. And for a Service-Learning project associated with an “Intro to Social Work” class, Martinez and other students collaborated with a group from the University of California, Riverside in surveying residents of Riverside’s La Sierra neighborhood. Their goal was to determine residents’ awareness of child care programs, particularly after-school classes in a study aimed at preventing latch-key kids from drifting into gang involvement and other forms of trouble.
In May, La Sierra recognized Martinez publicly for her work by selecting her as the university’s recipient of a regional Athena of the Inland Valleys $1,000 scholarship. The awards ceremony was held at Riverside’s historic Mission Inn.
The Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce each year bestows the Athena award upon a selected female professional who has contributed significantly to the community and her respective field and who has mentored and inspired others. Additionally the chamber awards tuition scholarships to students selected by the Riverside Community College District, California Baptist University, the University of California, Riverside and La Sierra University. The scholarships are granted to students who exhibit educational excellence and a high level of community involvement.
The chamber this year selected La Sierra University Trustee Carla Lidner Baum as its Athena of the Inland Valleys award recipient. Baum, a Riverside dentist and dentistry professor, is director of First 5 dental care grants for low-income children in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
La Sierra selected Martinez for the Athena scholarship from a group of students who met the criteria for the award and who had applied for an endowed scholarship. Award criteria calls for the recipient to be female, knowledgeable about her chosen field, able to demonstrate that knowledge through academic achievement, and to be involved in public service.
As a social work student and professional, Martinez plans to advocate for legislation through the National Association of Social Workers and conduct research for her field. “I would like to go into political advocacy and work with the [American Civil Liberties Union],” she said.
Her experience last May at the State Capitol inspired Martinez to aim for the role of legislative advocate. She, another La Sierra student and La Sierra social work Assistant Professor Sibyl Beaulieu in May 2008 met with a representative for State Senator Bob Dutton, 31st District. Martinez pressed for Medi-Cal benefits for foster youth and other programs threatened by budget cuts. The band she was with also lobbied for funding for group homes and for the continued rights of siblings to know each other’s locations if separated during adoption proceedings.
The experience greatly enhanced Martinez’s knowledge of how the legislative system works and the importance of funding. “I really understand how much money matters,” she said. “There’s only so much you can do at the community level,” she commented.
Martinez grew up in the small town of Arvin outside of Bakersfield. She is the first of four siblings in her family to go to college. She attended accelerated classes at Arvin High School during which she was encouraged to pursue higher education. “I never really liked the whole idea of just sitting there and working at a department store,” she said.
Martinez said her eight-year-old nephew and five-month-old niece spur her to press forward. “They’re my inspiration and what drives me to succeed,” she said.
Martinez is new to the Adventist faith. She was baptized in October 2004 after attending a Seventh-day Adventist Church in Bakersfield for a year with her grandparents. “It really made me feel happy,” she said of her newfound religion.
She believes her fledgling faith has been strengthened during her time at La Sierra. “I feel I have learned much about Christianity and our different responsibilities to the world around us. I definitely feel I am more confident in my spirituality after taking classes that have incorporated historical and Biblical knowledge.”
“I was never discouraged from questioning different Christian principles and traditions, which has only furthered cemented me in my beliefs,” she said.
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University