Staff Spotlight: Suzanna Martinez, Senior Academic Counselor

Submitted by Arts & Sciences Web Team on

Suzanna Martinez smiles when she talks about, “…the beauty of a liberal arts degree.” As Martinez discovered along the road to her current job as Academic Counselor for the Spanish and Portuguese Division, there is no limit to what a liberal arts graduate can do. Her personal understanding and first-hand experience of this is what enriches Martinez’s work.

“I encourage Spanish Majors to open their minds to many possibilities,” she said. “Teaching and translating and interpreting are good paths, but they are just a few of the possible careers available to our majors.”

Martinez graduated from the UW Jackson School in International Studies, planning to work for the State Department or be a U.N. translator. But after taking the Foreign Service exam and passing the written but not the oral part, she changed her mind. “I took it as a sign that there was something else out there,” she said. “Or, as they say in Mexico, ‘La vida da muchas vueltas.’”

A career exploration class pointed Martinez toward teaching, advising and counseling. During a four-month internship at the Institute of International Education in Mexico City, her work with an educational advisor cemented her interest in advising. “It was a great experience for so many reasons,” said Martinez. Along with increased language skills, her confidence was boosted by successfully navigating housing, transportation and life in one of the largest cities in the world. “Pre-Internet!” Martinez laughed. Martinez received a Meritorious Service Award for her work at the Institute.

But even more importantly, she met her future husband.

The immigration process was complicated. In the end, Martinez’s husband moved to the U.S., temporarily derailing her from her career path. “I had to support us both for a while,” explained Martinez who worked at Costco, in the fishing industry, the travel business and as a classical piano teacher.

Martinez eventually found her way back to education, working three part-time jobs in the K-12 system. “I taught Spanish to home schooled students; English to ELL students; and translated and interpreted for the Monroe School district.

She broke into higher education at Lake Washington Institute of Technology, working in Enrollment Services and Assessment. She was content until a friend at UW told her about an opening for an Academic Counselor in the Division of Spanish Portuguese. “I read the job description and knew that this was what I had wanted to do for 20 years,” she said. “I think one of the reasons I was hired was because of the variety of experiences I had that prepared me for this position,” she added.

Now Martinez helps her students think about how each of the things they are doing in their academic experience (study abroad, service learning, course work) fit into the larger picture. She helps majors, minors and some pre-majors with registration, career advising, preparation for graduation and monitoring degree requirements. Martinez is the Staff Curriculum Coordinator, working with faculty when a new class is being created or requirements are changing, to ensure needs are being met for students with the highest possible quality program.

There are days when, as Martinez puts it, she feels like a short-order cook. “But on the days when I help a student think about their path in a new way, or how a certain class can complement their main course of study -- those are the moments I look for in this job. When that happens, when it clicks, it’s pretty amazing.” And, she adds, “The moments when I know I have made a difference are when I know I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

Completing the circle is the fact that in her current role, she sometimes sends students to the Institute in Mexico City where she interned. “The director I worked for was there until a year ago,” said Martinez, “which made for a strong connection.”

Martinez is working on ways to stay in touch with graduates whom she advised. “It is important to stay connected with our alums to track what they are doing and to show current students what they can do with a Spanish Major.” Martinez is developing a Linked In page to stay connected with alumnae. She hopes this will facilitate future links between former and current students to provide career resources.

It was a long, circuitous route back to where she started. And where Suzanna Martinez belongs. Welcome home!

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