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Honoring a Belief in Education

Annette Martinez earned her Bachelor of Arts in Biology from UNC in 1986, and is a senior vice president at State Farm Insurance Companies, where she has worked since 1988. She was appointed to the University’s Board of Trustees by Governor Jared Polis in late 2021.

Although alumna Annette Martinez’s parents, Leo and Gregoria Romero, may not have had the opportunity to go to college, they deeply believed in the importance of education.

“My mother did go back and get her high school GED,” Martinez says. “My father did not. He was a business owner. He was on a school board for 13 years and when he was 80, I asked him, ‘Do you have any regrets in life?’ He said, ‘My only regret was I didn’t get to finish school.’ And so that’s the kind of environment I was raised in, knowing that education was so important.”

It’s a value that remains with her, and one that she supports with her time and through gifts to UNC. Martinez earned her Bachelor of Arts in Biology from UNC in 1986, and is a senior vice president at State Farm Insurance Companies, where she has worked since 1988. She was appointed to the University’s Board of Trustees by Governor Jared Polis in late 2021. Like her parents, who were active in the community, Martinez serves on several professional and community boards, including as a board trustee for the National Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and an executive member of the Latino Corporate Directors Association.

Born and raised in LaSalle, Colo., Martinez says UNC’s location, size, quality and affordability all contributed to her decision to become a Bear.

“College was always the plan for me, and of course, having a great university right here in our backyard that was also affordable was really just a great option for me. I lived at home because I couldn’t afford to move out,” she says.

With Greeley so close to home, Martinez was able to transition to college without getting lost in the crowds of a larger university, and she was able to stay connected to her local community.

“The truth is, I didn’t see many people that looked like me, and I knew people that came to UNC who looked like me but ended up staying a year or so, then leaving,” she remembers. “I had the security and support to go home every day to my family and that made it extra special for me.”

Recognizing the importance of community and the sense of belonging students need to succeed, Martinez generously supports UNC’s Cumbres program, housed in UNC’s College of Education and Behavioral Sciences. Cumbres is a scholarship and support program that prepares educators skilled in culturally and linguistically diverse practices to serve as effective and compassionate teachers of English learners.

“Growing up and going to school, there weren’t teachers who looked like me,” Martinez says. “When I think about what Cumbres is doing… It is not only bringing together a group for support, a group of people who have an interest in doing such important work, it’s also changing the next generation through education by being a teacher.”

“I love the fact that Cumbres supports this group to continue moving forward because we have such a gap in our educational system for people of color. This was one way that I could be a part of something that was going to really make that difference.”

Working for State Farm, Martinez was able to increase the impact she could make by using their employer matching gift program. The company matched up to $4,500 annually, a benefit available to almost 57,000 employees at the company. Martinez also makes a difference for Cumbres students through the Leo and Gregoria Romero Scholarship, named for her parents. This scholarship provides support to first generation college students enrolled in the Cumbres program.

“I knew I wanted to do something in their honor,” she says. “They made many sacrifices for me, not only to attend school, but to be able to complete my education. All four of us were able to attend college; that was a huge sacrifice for my parents.”

As Martinez thought about how she could honor them, she knew that it had to reflect their belief in education, and that she wanted to help students who might not otherwise be able to afford college. Several years ago, Martinez had an opportunity to meet with some of the students who received support from the scholarship she established.

“These students were so grateful because the scholarship made a tremendous difference for them and helped them continue pursuing their dreams,” she says.

Whether a donor is interested in providing scholarships or resources, she says it’s important to know where you want to have an impact.

“Look at the faces of people you’re making a difference for. (When making a choice about giving) I always say, ‘What are the things that matter to me, and what are the things that I know matter to other people,’” she says. “I just feel like higher education should be open for everyone.”

Understanding the importance of education, community and access have helped guide her philanthropic choices over the years. And, though her parents may not have gone to college, the lives of generations of students have been touched through the values and beliefs they passed on to their daughter. 

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