By Joe Garvey

Katherine Martinez has made a big impact relatively quickly at Old Dominion University.

She received national recognition for her efforts on Friday, when she was named the Student Veteran of the Year by the Student Veterans of America (SVA).

Martinez, the first female president of ODU's SVA chapter, was one of 10 finalists for the award, which was presented at the 14th annual SVA national conference in Orlando, Florida.

"This is great news!" said Robert Clark, ODU's director of military activities. "I knew she was a shoo-in for the award. She has done so much in such a short period of time to help make our SVA chapter the best there is. She is a pleasure to work with."

Martinez, a senior who transferred to ODU from Tidewater Community College in the fall of 2020 and is majoring in sociology and criminal justice, was recognized for her "outstanding leadership by a student veteran during the past year," according to the SVA. "This award represents the best of the student veteran community and the epitome of character, scholarship, and accomplishment, among today's student veterans."

"Katherine is an exceptional student leader, and the award is well-deserved," said Kristal Kinloch-Taylor, director of ODU's Military Connection Center. "Katherine works tirelessly to ensure student veterans and military students have a voice on campus."

Martinez, a California native, joined the Navy in 2015 and was stationed in Norfolk. She served until 2019 as a sonar technician with duty stations aboard the USS Winston S. Churchill and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center.

"I bring passion, knowledge, and experience that is beneficial to other chapters and national partners," she said. "This includes strategies to increase diversity, equity, inclusion and cultural awareness to and for student veterans; establishing relationships to help student veterans as well as the veteran community-at-large tackle the many hurdles they face on a daily basis."

Martinez, who served as president of TCC's SVA chapter, has been involved in serving the community on and off campus - from placing flags at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day to packing backpacks for 600 children to participating in on-campus supply drives. Her initiatives have included an Operation Legacy Project with the Travis Manion Foundation, organizing meetings with the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore and other veteran service organizations, and the Bring a Buddy event that normalizes having an honest conversation about mental health.

For three years, she was chairman for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Out of the Darkness Walk for Virginia Beach.

Martinez, who lost a mentor to suicide, has served as a counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

In 2020, she was among 48 students selected nationwide for G.I. Jobs 2020 Inaugural Student Veteran Leadership Awards.

"Katherine exemplifies service, not only to Old Dominion, but to her community, and to student veterans," Kim Bullington, advisor to the ODU chapter of the Student Veterans of America, wrote in a letter nominating Martinez for the SVA national award. "Her focus is on serving veterans through barriers like educational access and mental health. Her leadership has created partnerships with local organizations like Salvage USA, Trails of Purpose, the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, Pale Horse Coffee -a locally owned veteran coffee house ­- VFW, HUD-VASH, and other Virginia SVA chapters. Katherine epitomizes grit; she works past incredible personal odds."

Martinez, who has served as a community outreach officer for ODU's SVA chapter, feels that winning this award "will provide a stronger platform on a local, regional and national level."

"As a first-generation student and female veteran, I believe that my experiences and background will resonate with other student veterans, especially those who come from minoritized identities like myself," she added. "I am a fighter, and I will continue to fight to make the experiences of student veterans better."

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