Each year, the Colorado State University Alumni Association awards a graduating senior with the Albert C. Yates Student Leadership Award. The award is given in honor of Albert C. Yates who served as the 12th President of CSU from 1990-2003 and who brought strength and unity to CSU through his leadership and commitment to community. The award is meant to recognize a student who “demonstrates strong involvement, leadership, and a commitment to upholding CSU’s values, traditions, and spirit.” There is no better example of this set of values than this year’s recipient – Ellie Martinez (B.S., ’23).
Born and raised in Fort Collins, Martinez had a strong connection the University even before stepping foot on campus. Her grandfather served as associate director for the Office of Instructional Services for 30 years, and both of her parents are alumni. Martinez also has fond memories of participating in the annual “C.A.N.S. Around the Oval” event during her early education.
“I remember participating in that as a K-12 student and thinking how cool it was to be able to work with the college kids,” Martinez said. “It had such an impact on me by showing what can happen when an entire community comes together.”
With that institutional knowledge and familial connections to CSU, Martinez was ready and excited for her freshman year.
“I remember on my first day my dad brought me breakfast, and then how even though I thought I knew my way around campus, I kept getting lost,” Martinez said with a laugh. “My first class was Intro to Statistics with Dr. Aaron Nielsen, and that class and Dr. Nielsen really played a significant role in my academic career.”
Things were pretty typical during her first semester – she began shaking off her shyness, finding friends, and gaining independence and confidence in herself. But everything changed in March 2020 when it was announced classes and college life would go digital as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At first, I thought it would just mean I would have a longer spring break, but then it all felt very odd and apocalyptic when we had to move out of the dorms,” Martinez said.
In an instance, Martinez went from collegiate freedom to being stuck in her childhood home doing school work at a tiny desk while her parents and siblings were all home trying to do the same.
“I don’t think anyone thought it would last as long as it did, and I definitely wasn’t expecting it to last through my entire sophomore year,” Martinez said. “I remember coming back my junior year and being back on the Plaza, looking around at all the people and events and thinking, ‘this is what college is supposed to feel like.’ I realized how much I’d missed out on because of the pandemic, and I’ve really tried to fit four years into the past two years.”
She’s certainly be successful at that. In between her studies in statistics and economics, Martinez can be found volunteering and attending various events around campus, serving as a tour guide for new and prospective students, being a Teacher’s Assistant in the Statistics Department, and having the opportunity to study abroad twice – at CSU’s Todos Santos Center in Mexico and at the Institute for American Universities in Aix-En-Provence, France.
“I’m really grateful for those study abroad experiences because with COVID, I didn’t think that would happen,” Martinez said. “France was an awesome experience. I had a great host family and was able to focus more on Liberal Arts, studying French, creative writing, and ethics. It was a nice break from what I was studying at CSU.”
But Martinez’s favorite CSU experience has been her time in the University’s Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement (SLiCE) Office. As a community support specialist, Martinez helps connect CSU students, faculty, and staff with volunteer opportunities through partnering nonprofits and local, community organizations.
“Applying to work with SLiCE was the best decision I could have made for myself,” Martinez expressed. “My coworkers and supervisors are like my on-campus family, and it’s really made my college experience.”
Not only has her time with SLiCE helped positively influence the connections between CSU and the broader Fort Collins community, it’s helped Martinez discover the type of person she wants to be and instill in herself the sense of leadership that caused her to be this year’s Yates Award recipient.
“There are so many definitions of ‘leadership,’ and there’s no right answer, but for me it means pushing yourself to be the person who steps up and creates inclusive spaces and really see, know, and understand the people you’re working with,” Martinez explained. “The people I’ve looked up to at CSU are the ones who care about others as a whole person and who you can go to for anything. I try to be that for other people, especially those who need extra help realizing they can do the things everyone knows they are capable of.”
Leadership, she added, has nothing to do with perfection – it’s about making mistakes, owning up to them, and committing to doing and being better.
“If I could tell future students anything, it would be that the decisions you make in the next four years will not define your future as much as you think they will. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make all the right decisions and that made me feel like I didn’t have the room to make any wrong turns. But I think college is the perfect time to make mistakes because those can be just as informative as making the right decisions,” she said. “That, and once you find the people you care about, love, and are supported by, hold onto them. The communities we find in college are so unlike anything you’ll find in the future and you’ve got to take advantage of that.”
It may have been a rollercoaster, but Martinez wouldn’t trade the past four years for anything – it’s been an unforgettable time of learning, exploring, and, above all, enjoying this most special and unique time in her life.
Looking ahead, Martinez plans to enjoy the summer in Fort Collins before moving somewhere new and different and working a bit before heading to graduate school. The ultimate end goal is to find a career in higher education and Martinez wouldn’t be upset if it all comes full Oval and she returns to her alma mater older, wiser, and ready to lead once again.
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When you join the Colorado State University Alumni Association, you become part of something bigger – a global community of green and gold that keeps alumni connected to the University and each other. New Lifetime Member Ellie Martinez is making an impact on current students and future Rams by funding youth programs; providing support for alumni programming, outreach, and engagement across the nation; and preserving time-honored traditions that bind us together as Rams. You can make a difference too, and gain access to benefits such as exclusive invites, bookstore savings, career services, and more. Become a member today!