It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when Ray Martinez ’87 wasn’t sure that higher education would play a role in his life. His high school guidance counselor had tried to dissuade him from applying to a four-year university, telling him most students with his family background didn’t graduate. As he left his counselor’s office, he happened to meet an admissions counselor from Southwestern who was waiting to interview another student at his high school. Recognizing Martinez’s potential, the counselor not only encouraged him to apply to Southwestern, but also told him how to apply for the financial aid and grants that would make his attendance a real possibility. Southwestern was the only school Martinez applied to, and that chance encounter changed the trajectory of his life.


Today, Martinez serves as the president and CEO of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, where he leads efforts to advance policy development, innovation, and best practices among community colleges across the state. He previously was deputy commissioner for academic affairs and workforce education for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Martinez has also served as president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, as chancellor of Western Governors University Texas, as director of the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee, and in senior government affairs roles at Rice University and Texas A&M International University.


“Ray’s experience, empathy, and insight have made him a gentle giant in Texas higher education

and beyond,” said Paige Duggins-Clay ’14, who considers Martinez a mentor. “His resume overflows with incredible positions of leadership and influence. Amazingly, his distinguished career is hallmarked by positions of trust and authority within and for vastly different political and ideological organizations and leaders, yet Ray has deftly navigated those spaces to advance a clear mission of increasing educational opportunity and democratic engagement for all.”


Michael S. Lade ’88, P’25 was a board member for a nonprofit advocating for legislation that would create guidelines for managing food allergies in Texas schools when Martinez was chief of staff for Texas State Senator Judith Zaffirini. Lade says Martinez was instrumental in the bill’s passage.


“Similar legislation in various forms had been introduced and failed to pass in at least five prior legislative sessions,” Lade said. “What made the difference in 2011 was Ray Martinez. Ray’s uncompromising integrity, his well-earned reputation at the state Capitol, his commitment to public education, and his ability to be strategic and pragmatic all at the same time made all the difference.”


In addition to his work at the state level, Martinez has extensive experience at the federal level. After earning his J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center in 1998, he served in former President Bill Clinton’s administration as regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and on the White House staff as deputy assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs. He later was nominated by then-President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as one of four commissioners on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a bipartisan federal agency responsible for providing guidance on election reform.


Martinez currently serves on the boards of the Austin Community Foundation, the Center for Election Innovation and Research, and Austin PBS. He has supported Southwestern in several ways, including serving as the 2017 matriculation convocation speaker and as the alumni moderator for the 2019 Roy and Margaret Shilling Lecture featuring Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican consultant Mary Matalin.


“Ray’s passion for higher education stems from his own experience as a first-generation college student at Southwestern and experiencing the life-changing benefits of a liberal arts education,” said his wife, Beth Stanley Martinez ’89.“What he has achieved in his career—from helping shape public policy to living out his passion for ensuring access and opportunity for higher education for today’s students—is nothing short of extraordinary.”


For his exceptional professional accomplishments and abiding commitment to higher education, the Southwestern University Alumni Association is proud to honor Ray Martinez with the Medal of Honor.