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Not Your Usual Closing Plenary Speaker


by Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations

SIOP Presents Father TJ Martinez at 28th Annual Conference

By Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations

Since closing plenary sessions were begun at the 2008 San Francisco SIOP Conference, there have been some notable keynote speakers, typically scientist-practitioner authorities.

SIOP members attending the closing plenary at the Houston annual conference next month are in for a treat. The speaker is from a different model. He is Father TJ Martinez, the founding president of the highly successful Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Houston.

Robin Cohen, conference chair, admitted she had never heard of Father Martinez, but after meeting him and learning what he has accomplished, she became convinced that he would be “a motivating and inspiring speaker and will reinforce how important it is to extend our influence.”

“We think he is the perfect person to address our members because his message fits perfectly with SIOP President Doug Reynolds’ theme of extending our influence beyond the workplace,” she said.

“There is so much more that we, as psychologists, can do to have an impact upon the world in which we live,” she added. “Father Martinez is making a difference in the lives of young people, and he has done that by engaging corporations and the Houston community. He is, indeed, a role model for how to influence the communities in which we live.”

A captivating speaker with boundless enthusiasm, Father Martinez has become a popular figure in Houston and last year was named a major new influencer by Paper City, which tracks people who are having an impact in Houston.

The highly educated Martinez—he holds five graduate degrees—was drawn to the priesthood while pursuing a law degree at the University of Texas, which, like his father, was the profession he originally planned to enter. He also holds a school leadership degree from Harvard.

Once ordained, he thought his first assignment would be either practicing law or teaching, but the church had other plans for him. Because of his youth and energy, he was sent to Houston to open a new high school, a task he did not feel qualified to undertake. It was daunting, he recalled.

“This was my first assignment, to start a new high school,” he explained. “No money, no faculty and no staff.”
To make it more challenging, Catholic schools were being closed throughout the country amidst the economic recession. The good news? His optimistic boss told him “the only way to go is up.”

Martinez embraced the challenge and he will relate to SIOP members the inspiring upward journey of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. His message?

“It’s going from good to great to prophetic/visionary,” he said. “I am not advocating that people add more to an already busy workload. Rather it’s about thinking in terms of their social impact and mission of the organization.”

Father Martinez cited an example.

“Houston city workers have taken collecting trash to another level by transforming it into biodegradable fuel. They are doing something visionary and they are electrifying workers. People walk into work with a greater sense of purpose than before knowing they are doing something more than simply picking up trash,” he said.

“It’s an altruistic approach taking the leap from great to greatness by doing good for others and our society,” he added.

He maintains that kind of involvement changes the dynamics of the workplace enhancing the employee base.

“There are numerous ways people and organizations can take that leap,” he said. “It takes vision and leadership that will result in altruistic accomplishments.”

In Cristo Rey’s case, it was about creating a religion-based school to educate financially disadvantaged boys and girls. Starting with 60 students in 2009, there are now more than 400 students. A significant milestone will be reached June 1 with the first graduating class.

“We have kids from different family situations. Many have been lost in the shuffle,” Martinez said. “Others have considered dropping out of school adding to an already high drop out rate. A lot of them lack social skills and self-confidence. They need encouragement to escape that kind of environment and that’s what we provide. Our teachers work hard to build their students’ esteem.”

Students are committed to long school days—7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, dressed in school uniforms, they spend the day at their corporate assignments, which helps fund their tuition.

“We have a corporate work-study department at the school, which works with companies and organizations to arrange work assignments,” Martinez explained.

Corporate involvement is the key to the project’s success.
“Our kids become their kids and local businessmen and women become their mentors. They almost adopt them; it’s wonderful to see,” Martinez said.

The students are taught an array of corporate skills, including learning how to speak, make presentations, interact with others, and conduct research. By the time they are seniors, they have completed several corporate assignments and have developed both hard and soft skills. Martinez has seen huge positive changes in the students.

“They have increased confidence in themselves and their academics have made impressive improvement,” he said. “I am proud of the transformation of these kids each school year. The growth is amazing growth and I am eager to see what the future holds for them.”

It’s the kind of success story that should not only resonate well with SIOP members but also get them excited to have more to influence their own communities.