Ever since Tonya Martinez went on her first mission trip to Mexico with her church as a 13-year old, she has had a strong desire to help people.

“I always wanted to go to college, but put that on the back burner because I wanted to do missionary work,” said Martinez, who joined Youth With a Mission, an international Christian organization, after graduating from Hayward High School in Hayward in 1992.

Now, the 45-year old wife and mother of two children is one of the 29 students graduating this spring from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point at Marshfield with an associate of arts and science degree. She is among 1,289 students graduating with associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees this spring from the three UW-Stevens Point campuses.

Next fall, Martinez’s educational journey will continue at the Marshfield campus as she begins taking courses to complete a bachelor’s degree in social work. UW-Stevens Point also offers four-year degrees in business administration and nursing at the Marshfield and Wausau campuses.

“Social work lines up with everything I’ve done,” said Martinez, who has been on mission trips to Jamaica, Costa Rica and Mexico. She also has helped facilitate volunteer groups traveling from the United States to Mexico to build homes and work on construction projects at orphanages, nursing homes and community playgrounds.

Martinez began taking college courses in 2013 while working two part-time jobs as a care giver in an assisted living center and as a cook at Marshfield Clinic. Now she works full-time at the hospital in the kitchen and in a customer care role.

In addition to her family, she credits the support and help she received from the staff and faculty at UW-Stevens Point at Marshfield for progress on her educational journey. “I had some good teachers. Dawn Messerschmidt, my academic adviser, has been awesome.”

Now that her children are older – her son is 20 and her daughter is 14 – Martinez can devote more time to her education while remaining focused on her personal mission of helping others.

“I want to do something for me to make my little mark on the world,” she said. “While I considered getting a social work degree before, traveling to Stevens Point for classes wasn’t convenient. Now that a bachelor’s degree is offered here, I’m going for it.

“There’s a greater need for social workers now more than ever. A four-year degree will open up many job doors and career options for me.”

Source: UWSP at Marshfield