Social Work Graduate to Develop Latino Substance Abuse Prevention Program

Las Vegas, N.M. – A Highlands University social work graduate plans to develop a school-based substance abuse prevention program for Latino youth.

Marcos Martínez, MSW 2010, recently completely his Ph.D. in social work from Arizona State University and joins the social work faculty in a tenure track position at Florida International University in Miami fall semester.

“Medical and clinical research on youth substance abuse tends to focus on deficits rather than strengths,” Martínez said. “In my dissertation I explored how good family relationships are the strongest protective factor against substance use in Latino youth – new information that will help health professional work more effectively with families.

“My next step is to develop and implement a school-based substance abuse prevention program for Latino youth and their families. At Florida International University I’ll be working with social workers and educators in the school system. Both ASU and FIU champion interdisciplinary approaches to both research and community programming so I’ll also be working in collaboration with sociologists, medical providers, and public health workers.”

Martínez said based on his doctoral research findings and training, his substance abuse prevention program will focus on strengthening families, but will go even further.

“I also want to incorporate music, the arts, physical activity, and a mentorship component into my program because I think getting kids involved in activities that interest them can have the biggest impact when combined with strengthening the family,” Martínez said.

He will also be conducting research on risky sexual behavior, mental health, and education outcomes at Florida International University. He said he hopes his research will have an impact on minority health.

For his dissertation, Martínez, a 30-year-old Las Vegas native, did in-depth analysis of data from a National Institutes of Health funded study on adolescent Latino substance abuse. His large sample was primarily youth born in the U.S. to Mexican-born parents living in Phoenix.

“I took the uncommon approach of comparing parent and youth data to find relationships. My major finding was that the higher the measure of family strength and closeness in areas such as good communication, the lower the youth substance abuse,” Martínez said.

Flavio Marsiglia, a social work professor and director of the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center at ASU, chaired Martínez’ doctoral dissertation committee and also collaborated with him on several substance abuse risk and prevention studies.

“In his dissertation, Marcos identified how strong family functioning serves as a buffer against the consequences of poverty and other risk factors for substance abuse in youth,” Marsiglia said. “His work will help social workers work more effectively with families to strengthen the bond with their children.”

Marsiglia said Martínez is a tenacious, serious researcher who never gives up because he knows what he’s doing is applied research that will improve the lives of real people.

“I really admire how Marcos maintained high academic rigor and standards while conducting his complex dissertation research. I see him moving quickly into leadership positions at Florida International University as well as acquiring his own research grants through the National Institutes of Health,” Marsiglia said.

Marsiglia added that Martínez is also a natural teacher who lectures well and connects with students.

Highlands Social Work professor Rey Martínez, no relation to Marcos Martínez, was his research adviser and mentor at Highlands.

“Alcohol abuse is one of the major health problems that plagues Hispanic and Latino communities, and Marcos took on this difficult subject and met it head on,” said Martínez, who traveled to ASU to observe his former student’s dissertation defense. “Marcos bridged two worlds with his research because it’s so scholarly and yet extremely applicable to daily life. We could use his work today at the San Miguel County Detention Center.”

Marcos Martínez said: “Dr. Rey helped me hone in on my interest in substance abuse prevention in Latino and Native American youth. He also taught me how a genuine and purposeful intent in the classroom and community can have a large impact on minority health.”

In addition to his academic success, Martínez is a classically trained pianist who plays daily and a former state champion wrestler from Roberston High School. He said playing the piano helps him with emotional expression and attributes his work ethic and drive to the sport of wrestling.

“Wrestling taught me about the importance of focus and great mentors like Richard Martínez, my Robertson coach,” Martínez said.