In recognition of their time and service to the country and to the community, California State University, Northridge will recognize two graduating veteran students during this week’s commencement ceremonies—one as the fourth Outstanding Graduating Veteran and a second as the inaugural Veteran Peer Mentor Award recipient.
Hector Martinez ’11 (Psychology) will be recognized as this year’s Outstanding Graduating Veteran Award recipient. He is graduating with his master of social work with a 3.79 GPA. The award is presented to a CSUN student who is currently or has been on active duty as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. Awardees must demonstrate an excellence of artistic, creative or athletic nature, or display unusual leadership ability or community service in addition to maintaining a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better.
The 29-year-old enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2003 where he served until 2007. He is currently serving in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He graduated with his bachelor’s degree from CSUN cum laude and decided to continue and earn a master’s degree.
“I would have never thought that I would be eligible for an award with this kind of prestige,” said Martinez, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles with his immigrant parents. “I’m honored and grateful to be nominated for this award.”
As a student, Martinez devoted himself to community service by helping to raise money to feed the homeless, provide services for mental health care and toys for needy children. He served as president of the Social Work Society and helped the Department of Social Work organize a panel of veterans to come and speak at the CSUN MSW fourth annual Diversity Day. He has also worked with the Children’s Bureau of Los Angeles and 5 Acres, two organizations focused on the well-being of children. He is planning a career as a mental health therapist
Ian Smith, 37, who is graduating with a bachelor’s in music education with a 3.5 GPA, has been awarded the inaugural Veteran Peer Mentor Award. It is awarded to a student veteran peer mentor who has given him or herself beyond the call of duty.
In 2000, Smith became an infantryman in the U.S. Marine Corps and was deployed twice to Afghanistan. Upon his return to civilian life, he struggled with finding a career or even an entry-level position. When the post 9/11 GI Bill was passed in 2009, he decided to take advantage of benefits and set off for Pasadena City College. He transferred to CSUN in 2011, where he has become an active part of the community as a veteran peer mentor, a position he has held since January 2012.
“I’ve chosen to take my own struggles and lessons learned along my path of transition from military life into civilian life and use them to help other fellow veterans in any way I can,” Smith said.
Off campus, he has committed himself to several organizations that work with veteran issues including Street Symphony, The Soldiers Project and The Mission Continues. He recently served on a panel with retired U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, former head of the CIA, that examined the general’s future role in veteran services. He is also developing his own nonprofit to help veterans. He is a husband and father of two children, with a third on the way. He plans to pursue a career as an advocate for veterans.
Stan Metzenberg, a member of CSUN’s veterans advisory committee, said these awards recognize extraordinary students who have “overcome challenges in reaching their academic milestone.”