George Martinez still can’t believe it.
In a matter of months, the young Hispanic man from Lehi went from being a high school senior with grim college prospects to being accepted at his school of choice and receiving a full-ride scholarship. The two words he repeatedly used were “grateful” and “blessed.”
“I am just so grateful and blessed to have this opportunity,” he told the Deseret News. “Not everyone has this opportunity. ... It’s just a moment to be grateful for life and opportunities.”
Martinez enrolled at Brigham Young University this fall after receiving a full-ride, four-year scholarship from the Utah Jazz designated for Utah students from an underrepresented group. The scholarship covers tuition, books, fees and room and board at one of six universities in the state of Utah.
As the son of Mexican immigrants with no college opportunities, Martinez dreamed of attending BYU. He maintained a high grade-point average at Skyridge High School but scored low on the ACT college entrance exam. He expected to be rejected, even as he filled out his application. He also thought about waiting to apply until after he served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Ultimately, Martinez submitted his admission application and was overjoyed to learn of his acceptance, where 7% of BYU’s 33,000 students are Hispanic, the university said.
“It was a burst of excitement at that moment,” he said. “It was especially motivating to see that my parents were happy and proud.”
Despite his good news, there was another problem. Martinez didn’t know how he would pay for college. That’s when he started applying for several scholarships.
“There was no way I was going to be able to afford college,” he said.
One day Martinez came across the Utah Jazz scholarship, one for every team win during the 2020-21 season. It felt like a long shot, but he decided to go for it. As part of the application, he was required to make a one-minute video discussing his educational goals how he can serve is community.
Martinez discussed his parents immigration from Mexico and his desire to be a first generation college graduate, with particular interest in the computer engineering field. Someday he hoped to pay his educational opportunities forward, he said.
Martinez hesitated to send in his application for the Utah Jazz scholarship because he didn’t think he had a realistic chance, but finally he sent it just days before the spring deadline.
A few weeks later, Martinez received a FaceTime video call from former Utah forward Georges Niang, who congratulated him for being selected.
For Martinez, knowing he wouldn’t have the added stress of working multiple part-time jobs while attending BYU was a huge relief. His mother, who was standing nearby as he took the call, cried tears of joy.
“It was a heartwarming moment,” Martinez said. “It relieved me that I was going to be able to focus on college.”
His plan is to study at BYU for a year before serving his mission.
First-year students like Martinez are assigned to a peer mentor when they arrive at BYU. A peer mentor is a successful, older student who orients incoming students and helps them feel like they belong, said Grant Bertagnini, a sophomore who serves as a peer mentor to Martinez.
“I think it’s absolutely amazing that the Jazz are doing this,” said Bertagnini, who mentors 75 students at BYU. “I’m a huge NBA fan and I’ve never heard of an organization doing this for students, especially in minority groups. I’m super grateful on behalf of George that he was able to get it. I know how much it means to him and his family.”
The Utah Jazz scholarship is just what students like Martinez need, said Moises Aguirre, director of BYU’s Multicultural Student Services, which focuses on helping American minority students at the university.
“A scholarship of (this) magnitude allows minority students to focus on their education and not have to worry every day about how to pay for next semester, next month of rent and even what to eat tomorrow,” Aguirre said.
“Students like George Martinez just need an opportunity. They are hard working and have the resiliency to accomplish great things. With this scholarship, George will be able to focus on his education and make a great contribution, as a first-generation college student, to enrich the environment at BYU.”
Juan Villegas, a student at Southern Utah University, is another Hispanic recipient of the Utah Jazz scholarship, according to the St. George Spectrum.
When some in the community criticized the team’s scholarship initiative in April, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox defended the Jazz.
“It’s an awesome program and it’s something that we should be celebrating,” Gov. Cox said in a KSL.com article.
Jazz players surprised scholarship recipients like Martinez with FaceTime calls in May.
Last month the Jazz announced the return of the scholarship program.