Vera Machado Martinez and Esmeralda Orozco
June 1, 2024

Following Her Lead

Author: Devlin Smith
June 1, 2024
 Stories of Impact
Photo: Alumna Vera Machado Martinez meets Esmeralda Orozco, the first recipient of the School of Education scholarship she established at UCR.

As a high school teacher in the Colton Joint Unified School District, the same district she attended as a girl, Vera Machado Martinez, M.A. ’71, Ph.D. ’79, saw the influence education had not just on individual students but on larger communities. “I really found education to be such a powerful influence on success in society; on just being able to survive and then to eventually have a place in society,” she said. After a few years in the classroom, Martinez felt that she could enhance those benefits for students by getting her master’s degree and becoming an administrator in her district.

Nearing the end of her graduate program at UC Riverside, a chance encounter with Joan Moore, then-associate professor of sociology, convinced Martinez to expand her career goals beyond an administrative position in her home school district and to pursue an advanced degree. “She said, ‘You know, the world is a lot bigger than Colton, there’s a lot more out here,’ and suggested I continue my studies at Riverside,” Martinez recalled. “That was the first time I thought it was even a possibility of getting a doctorate. She was letting me know that I had the ability and the talent to continue.”

“I never felt like an insider, everything was a new venture. I was like a pioneer.”

With that encouragement, Martinez pursued her doctorate and moved onto a new chapter of her career in higher education. She worked at UCLA in student affairs before moving to Santa Monica College, where she reached the position of provost. From there, Martinez went to Fullerton College, becoming the first Latina to serve as the college’s president. Her career continued with roles at educational agencies in Orange County, California. “I never felt like I was an insider, everything was a new venture,” she said. “I was like a pioneer. None of my family had gone to college and so I always felt like I was just keeping an eye out to see, ‘How does this work? How does that work?’”

Compelled by her own experience and long career in both secondary and higher education, Martinez created the Dr. Vera Machado Martinez Endowed Graduate Student Scholarship Fund in 2021 to empower UCR students from the Inland Empire who want to be school administrators in the region. “Through her gift, Dr. Martinez is partnering with the School of Education to develop the future leaders who will improve educational access and equity for our region,” said Joi Spencer, dean of the School of Education. “This investment will have far-reaching impacts in the Inland Empire.”

The fund also gives students interested in careers as educational administrators a role model. “This scholarship serves as an opportunity for students in the credential program to imagine themselves as administrators and leaders in the field of education,” said Louie F. Rodriguez, vice provost and dean of the Division of Undergraduate Education and professor of education. “Dr. Machado Martinez has an amazing background and personal story as she elevated in the education system as a leader. Recipients of this scholarship will demonstrate a similar passion and commitment to educational leadership, particularly in the Inland Empire.”

Esmeralda Orozco ’23 is the first recipient of this scholarship and had the opportunity to meet Martinez at a School of Education event. She felt a strong connection with the retired educator. “It is nice to be a part of a community of experts, people who have gone through all the challenges of being a minority in the field of education,” she said. “I felt seen, heard, and represented.”


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