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Lee Anne Martinez, PhD

My name is Lee Anne Martinez. I was born and raised in Lake Arrowhead, California. My father is Mexican-American and my mother is Anglo. My father was a Spanish teacher in a small town school, but he had grown up as a migrant worker. During my childhood years, we visited the barrio often, but my father had decided to move to Lake Arrowhead. He wanted my five brothers and sisters and I to grow up in a more sheltered environment.I have often thought of the struggles he went through to make a living and support the family. Many times in my life I have faced challenges being among the first women doing what I am doing. I have been a life guard, a back country ranger and a firefighter, and when I was hired I was the only woman in the biology department where I am now. Because we lived in the mountains, I developed a great interest in nature. Even though our school was small and did not really emphasize high academic achievement, I always had time to walk in the woods and observe nature, which made me happy. My father also used to fix things around the house a lot, and I used to help him. Mechanics and experimentation were things that always interested me.
By the time I was in seventh grade, I was the top student in my science class. After high school I attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, which was quite a culture shock considering the small town that I had come from. I lived by a lake for much of my upbringing, so at Santa Barbara I decided to major in aquatic biology. After I earned my bachelor’s degree, I went to graduate school at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where I earned a master’s degree in biological oceanography, and then on to Cornell University where I earned my Ph.D. in aquatic ecology.
I spend much of my time now at the University of Southern Colorado teaching classes, such as ecology, evolution and environmental conservation. I also do research in the area of aquatic ecology. I study insects that live in streams. If you go to any stream and look under rocks, you will find many insects who live there, and you can observe how they avoid predators and find food. Many of the ”flies” that are used in fly fishing are mimics of insects that start out at an immature stage, much like a caterpillar, living under water for the majority of their lives.
A science education can be used to do many exciting things. One summer during my undergraduate days I worked on a project doing research on acid rain in the Adirondack Mountains with Brookhaven National Laboratory. This was one of the earliest acid rain studies conducted in the US. It was hard work, but I really enjoyed doing field research, and I decided that I wanted to continue doing that as a career choice.
Soon I will be leaving for Africa to assist people there in designing composting toilets. Anyone who has ever used an outhouse knows that if they are not properly designed they can cause a great deal of sanitation problems for the people who live around them. There is an alternative to that which does not require the use of water. Outhouses are used mostly because there is not enough water in supply to use what we think of as a conventional toilet. We plan to introduce what is called ”appropriate technology” there. If you build a toilet that is similar to an outhouse, except that it has flow-through ventilation, you can actually use the toilet to compost the waste and make new soil which can be used for agriculture. In Sweden, they actually use this kind of toilet in their summer homes. In many places in the United States, such as in national forests, these types of toilets are used. It has always been my goal to use my scientific background to help other people. I feel that this is much more important than becoming a famous scientist.
Make sure you take a lot of mathematics while you are in school, even if you do not think you want to be a scientist. There are many other fields you may want to get into which require mathematics. Also, do not let anyone talk you out of your dreams. If there is something you really want to do, you must do it. Even if you have a setback, try to bounce back from that. Did you know that Barbara Streisand was told that she couldn’t sing because her voice was too nasal, and that Albert Einstein failed a high school mathematics class? If that happens to you, take the class over again and keep going!