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UTK employee is praised by students, recognized by the school

The Volunteer 40 Under 40 Award recognizes UTK alumni who are under the age of 40 and have "excelled personally and professionally since completing their degree.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee, Knoxville has named its Volunteer 40 Under 40 Award winners.

In its second year, the program is recognizing 40 UTK alumni who are under the age of 40 and have "excelled personally and professionally since completing their degree."

One of the recipients is UTK faculty member María Martinez.

Spanish Version: Empleada de UT-K es elogiada por estudiantes y reconocida por la universidad

Martinez graduated from UTK in 2016. Since then, she has taken on a leadership role at the university by supporting students who want to tackle issues surrounding social justice.

"Applying what they're learning in the classroom to service and to nonprofits," Martinez explained.

It's this work that has led her to become of the Volunteer 40 Under 40 Award recipients.

"I couldn't think of a more deserving person," UTK student Bill Blankenship said.

"I think she deserves it all. All the stuff that she does, is just like, wow,"  Martinez's mentee and UTK student Annie Duran Perez said. 

Martinez was born in Colombia and raised in East Tennessee. She said growing up, it was easy to sometimes feel like an outsider. "When I was in college, and there wasn't a lot of people that looked like me here in East Tennessee or if there were it was very are few and far between and not, not at UT."

Martinez said making students feel empowered and comfortable in their own skin is what she strives for.

"Maria, coming here, just provided a whole different insight and just made me feel more comfortable in my identities," UTK student Mary Ann Jimenez said. 

"It's really important to let students of color, students of minoritized identities, to know that they do belong here and that they are capable," Martinez said. 

Click here to view the full list of award recipients.