Alumna Desiree Martínez Loves Her Highlands Family

phot of five people

Photo courtesy of Desiree Martínez
The Martínez family gathers for a family photo, with siblings Elena, back left, Keen and Desiree along with their parents Rey and Sonia, in the front. Desiree and Keen are Highlands alumni, and Rey is a Highlands social work professor.

Las Vegas, N.M. – Highlands University alumna Desiree Martínez said she felt love from the Highlands family when her father, social work professor Rey Martínez, survived a deadly head-on car collision July 11, 2014.

Martínez’ heartfelt tale is just one of the stories featured in the Highlands Loves Alumni Valentine’s celebration Feb. 9 from 5:30 – 8 p.m. at the university’s Student Center, 800 National Ave. The event is a free evening of food, music, fun, a silent auction, and a cake auction with President Sam Minner as auctioneer.

“My dad’s injuries were so severe that the trauma doctor informed us he was unlikely to survive, and we were instructed to say our goodbyes,” Martínez said. “The outpouring of support we received from our HU family and the Las Vegas community was overwhelming. I will always be grateful for their prayers, encouragement and compassion. My family is forever indebted.”

Martínez said she is happy to report that her father made a full recovery.

“Thankfully, God had a different plan for him. He’s still working at the job he loves as a social work professor at Highlands, at the Farmington Center now,” Martínez said.

She said that as a child living in Las Vegas, she had the opportunity to grow up within the Highlands main campus community, where her father taught social work.

“I got to watch my dad work with his students and bring them to their full potential. Then as a dual enrollment student at Highlands, I loved all my teachers,” Martínez said.

She said that as a college freshman, she chose a different college, but felt lost because there wasn’t as much support for students.

Martínez returned to Highlands and earned her Master of Social Work and criminal justice bachelor’s degree. Today, she is the prevention coordinator for HU-CARES, the Center for Advocacy, Resources, Education and Support.

Social work runs in the Martínez family. Desiree’s younger brother, Keen, is working on his Master of Social Work from Highlands at the Farmington Center after earning his social work bachelor’s degree at the main campus. He works for New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.

Elena, the youngest Martínez sibling, took a different path and will complete her master’s degree in accounting from the University of Denver in May 2017.

Juli Salman, Highlands University alumni director, said the Alumni Office asked alumni for stories about how they felt connected to the university.

“We were interested in learning about how our alumni felt supported by Highlands as students and how that connection has continued to help them,” Salman said. “The stories were touching and uplifting. They really drive home what we do as a university to change lives.”

Proceeds from Highlands Loves Alumni will benefit the Home Field Advantage Campaign aimed at replacing the university’s 14-year-old football field turf. The Highlands Foundation is leading the campaign.

The Highlands women’s soccer team also uses the field along with the university’s two-time national champions Vatos rugby club and community groups.

Salman said the silent auction for Highlands Loves Alumni includes a wide variety of items such as a night at the Historic Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, dinners for two, wine baskets, jewelry, sports memorabilia including New England Patriots quarterback and five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady’s jersey, and art such as prints from the Highlands’ fine arts collection.

“We encourage people to buy Valentine’s gifts for your sweetheart’s personal taste,” Salman said.