As a child, Theresa A. Martinez learned the importance of values such as "honesty is the best policy."
Now, even as a University of Utah sociology professor, Martinez finds those values are the structure she hangs her daily life on."In order to be a good teacher and connect with the students, the professor needs to be honest," said the New Mexico native.
"You must also take risks. You can't expect students to open up and talk about something that is painful if you don't."
Martinez, who earned a doctorate in sociology at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, has become known on campus for the many teaching awards she has won since she came to the U. seven years ago.
In 1992, she was a finalist for the College Superior Teaching Award.
In 1993 she was a semi-finalist for the same award.
In 1994 she was awarded both the Student's choice Award for Teaching Excellence and the Distinguished Teaching Award.
Martinez said she owes a lot of the nominations to her strict Catholic upbringing. She is the youngest of 12 children and was raised in the slums of Albuquerque. It was there that her mother taught her about values.
"I developed a thick skin when I was about 6 or 7 years old," Martinez said. "I learned discipline and focus, but at the same time and by the same people, I learned about people being prejudiced against me because of my race."
But even so, Martinez grew up knowing she wanted to make a difference in the world.
"Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I was going to be something different," she said.
"While I was in high school, I knew I wanted to be a teacher."
After she received her bachelor's degree, Martinez earned her teaching certificate in sociology and history and began teaching at a New Mexico high school.
"I remember one day while lecturing, I stopped and looked at the class and knew the students were there for me. I realized I had an enormous responsibility to those kids. If your teaching doesn't make students think about the world, then it means nothing," Martinez said.
"Teachers are supposed to help students question the views of the world. I view knowledge for the betterment of all." After Martinez earned her doctorate, she began teaching at the Unviersity of New Mexico. It was there she developed her eye-opening teaching style.
"I learned to get personal with the lessons," she said. "I began telling personal stories and tried to connect with the students by bringing emotions to the teaching."
"Since then, her style has included using music, guest speakers and intense group discussions.
"It's still the same technique," Martinez said. "But it's now more sophisticated. It has to be more theoretical and abstract. I have an enormous desire to make things clear. I've learned when to pause to allow the students to think about what is being said, and I've also learned that sometimes it's OK to let the students see you cry."
But Martinez said showing emotions doesn't mean each class turns into a therapy session.
"It goes back to being honest," she said. "I would be lying to the students and myself if I didn't cry. I'm part of the class, too. I care about the students and what they think."
She says it "means something to me when someone comes up and tells me they can't look at the world the same way again. That means I've done my job."