After dropping out of Whittier Union High School in his senior year, Manuel Martinez ’17 worked a series of jobs for 15 years before one day in 2001 that changed the course of his life. While he was unloading a truck for an Orange County garage door company, a pair of 15-foot pipes struck him in the face.
“The day of the accident, I just remember thinking, ‘I can’t do this for 10 more years,’” Martinez recalls. “My body just won’t be able to handle this type of punishment. At that moment, with bloody hands and a face full of blood, I remembered what my wife said: ‘Go back to school.’
He had no road map. Raised by his widowed mother, nobody in Martinez’s family attended college—neither his parents nor his three siblings received formal schooling beyond the sixth grade—but he took a leap of faith.
Martinez’s wife, Elizabeth, attended some college and insisted that her husband first get his GED. Committing himself to education would also set an example to his daughter, Lauren, who is now 25. So he did.
After first completing his high school equivalency, then attending junior college and earning a bachelor's degree at Northwood University in Cerritos, U of R’s School of Business programs caught his eye. While continuing to work during the day, Martinez applied for federal loans and enrolled at the University’s regional Rancho Cucamonga campus for an MBA.
“Redlands was incredible,” says Martinez, who graduated with an MBA in a commencement ceremony earlier this year, where he was the School of Business student speaker. “My cohort peers became so much more. They’re now friends who I will know for a very long time. They’re wonderful.”
His U of R experience was transcendent in more ways than one. Martinez served as class CEO, the person who acts as a resource for other students, and he was voted into the Whitehead Leadership Society. Members are nominated by their peers based on “demonstrated academic excellence and leadership in the classroom and in the communities in which they work and live.”
Martinez reflects on his time in high school, when he’d ditch classes for weeks at a time, “or I would ditch Monday through Thursday, show up on Friday and ace the test, and then continue to do whatever it was that I did. I passed a lot of classes like that, but eventually it caught up to me. I was like, ‘I’ll work a job,’ and that’s what I did.”
But in his second act in education, his daughter, Lauren, was able to witness his success, and she herself recently received her degree in general studies—she wants to be a teacher—from California State University Los Angeles.
“Her graduation was in May and mine was in April, so we actually had a double graduation party,” Martinez says. “That was so meaningful to me.”
These days Martinez is working at S Bravo Systems as senior manager of business systems and planning. “My U of R MBA directly helped me get this position,” he notes.
At the same time, he is serving as a role model to a niece who is applying to graduate school in El Paso and other nieces and nephews, who, like Martinez, will be the first in their immediate families to attend college.
“I’ve been able to tell them that college does take time and it does take dedication,” he says. “It’s not a ‘gimme,’ and it is something that you’ve got to work at. Colleges want to have quality people, but they also want to put quality into those people. No one was there to tell me that.”