After obtaining her doctorate, Dr. Olga Martinez Hickman became part of an elite category of only five percent of Hispanics to complete a Ph.D. Dr. Martinez Hickman's research has focused on urban education from a sociological and multicultural perspective, and the scope of her current research involves the experiences of middle-class Latino parents in predominately white schools in Texas.
College major: Interdisciplinary studies; reading education
Profession: Senior field trainer/analyst at the University of Texas at Austin
You were the first in your family of four to receive a higher education. What kept you motivated to succeed? My brother has a career in the military, and my sister has since then attained a higher education. Both of my parents chose to assist their families, instead of graduating high school. My father was the oldest of four and left school to work and bring money home. My mother, one of 12 children, also left school to help her mother put food on the table. Several factors kept me motivated. I would say the most influential were the work ethic and values taught to me at home, through the examples of my parents and family. Additionally, being the first to leave home for college, I felt a sense of responsibility. I had nieces and nephews that were looking to me as an example. When I became a parent, I realized that education was a key that unlocked opportunities for my husband and I. Once again, I felt a sense of urgency to continue to model lifelong learning for our daughter.
Who is your biggest role model? My biggest role model is my mother. She married at a very young age, but she never complained about not being able to fulfill her dreams because of her role as a wife and mother. She taught me how to love God, how to see the best in people, and most importantly, how to forgive. I am the woman I am because of the humble home I was raised in, but I am the wife and mommy I am because of the wonderful mother I have.
What professional achievement are you most proud of? The professional achievement I am most proud of is receiving my Ph.D. I did this, like many other women, while also fulfilling the role of wife, mother and professional. The entire process included obstacles, such as missing important events, becoming overwhelmed and having to know how to balance all aspects of my life. But it's amazing how a child that grew up in poverty, as an English language learner and with no model of attaining a higher education, was able to gain perspective, maintain professionalism, and most importantly, model perseverance through a process that not many complete. Throughout the journey of the dissertation, I learned and accomplished more than I ever thought possible, and not just about my research but about my family and myself as well.
What's the biggest thing you've learned from your time teaching students? The work that I do primarily involves adults. I have learned, however, that whether I am working with young students or adult learners, every interaction I have with another human being needs to be purposeful. If I am to transform the inequalities that exist in our systems of education, I have to allow those I work with to feel safe, valued and respected. The relationships I build influence my work the most, and I have learned that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.
What has your research focused on in the past? What is the scope of your current research? My research interests have always focused on urban education from a sociological and multicultural perspective, as well as social justice. My focus has been on students, families and communities of color, particularly at the K-12 level. The scope of my current research involves the experiences of middle-class Latino parents in predominantly white schools in Texas. The goal of my research was to debunk the narrative that has generally depicted a negative perception of Latino parents (being poor, uneducated, immigrants, and not able to speak English). I wanted to tell a story of what it is to be a Latino parent in the ever-changing and growing middle-class. Basically, I wanted to tell my story, while allowing the voice of middle-class Latino parents to be heard.
What's a quote you live by? "Nobody puts baby in a corner." While it sounds cheesy, I have found that women, particularly women of color, have been stereotyped or have had to live by certain expectations. I learned at an early age that I had a voice, and I was able to be a part of a generation that was going to break the glass ceiling, or the barriers that keep us from rising to the top, regardless of our qualifications and achievements. I believe that as women, we have to help each other out, we have to work together, and we have to ensure that not one woman is left in that corner.
What's on your bucket list? Because I have been a student for so long, this will be the first summer that I can actually take a real vacation. I want to travel the world, learn a new language, run a marathon a year in a new place — each place more magical the previous — and go on a mission trip.
What's something you couldn't live without? Besides my husband and daughter, family and friends, I couldn't live without my running shoes. Running has gotten me through some of the most stressful and most difficult times in my life.
How do you balance your work and professional life? I actually wrote a book chapter on the work-life balance of a doctoral student. Very early on, I knew that I had to compartmentalize all parts of my life. In an effort to be able to do what I enjoy outside of my role as a wife, mother and professional, I find that I have to wake up early. So, while everyone else is sleeping, I get some "me" time in at the gym or by writing. I have also learned that I can't equate the value of the people in my life to the value of a dollar. I will never get a moment back once it is gone, so I prioritize. There are times when I eat while I finish a report or while I'm on the way to the next meeting. What I try not to do is allow my professional life to interrupt the precious time I have with family and friends. I take time off, I regroup and I do what makes me happy at the time.
You have a daughter. If you could give her one piece of advice, what would it be? I would definitely tell her to embrace every piece of her being, and not try to please everyone — especially me. To be her best self in every situation, no matter what others are thinking or doing.