Joe L. Martinez Jr. (1944–2020)

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Science  16 Oct 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6514, pp. 297
DOI: 10.1126/science.abe7588

Joe Louis Martinez Jr. died on 29 August at the age of 76. In addition to making extraordinary contributions to the fields of neurobiology and Chicano psychology, Joe was a tireless advocate of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sciences. He established professional development programs for individuals from underrepresented groups and provided lifelong mentoring as they pursued careers in science and academia. Joe was passionately devoted to expanding opportunities in the sciences well before diversity became a visible goal for scientific organizations and academic institutions.

Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on 1 August 1944, Joe received his bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of San Diego in 1966; his master's in experimental psychology from New Mexico Highlands University in 1968; and his Ph.D. in physiological psychology from the University of Delaware in 1971. His faculty career began in 1972 at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB), shortly after the campus was established. He later completed postdocs in the laboratory of neurobiologist James McGaugh at the University of California, Irvine, and with neurobiologist Floyd Bloom at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California.

The University of California, Berkeley, recruited Joe in 1982, and he served as a professor as well as the area head of biopsychology and faculty assistant to the vice chancellor for affirmative action. As the highest-ranking Hispanic faculty member in the University of California system, Joe used his voice to help others from underrepresented groups. However, he felt that he could have a greater impact on diversity in the sciences by helping to build a university with a high concentration of Hispanic students, so in 1995 he moved to the University of Texas, San Antonio (UTSA). He began as a professor of biology and went on to assume a range of leadership roles, including director of the Cajal Neuroscience Institute. At UTSA, he worked with colleagues to obtain nearly $18 million in funding for neuroscience research and education. In 2012, he moved to the University of Illinois at Chicago where he served as professor and psychology department head until his retirement in 2016. At each institution, he embraced the opportunity to provide guidance and mentoring to innumerable students, faculty, and staff.

In 1976, upon realizing that the psychological health and well-being of Hispanics was being overlooked at CSUSB, Joe organized the First Symposium on Chicano Psychology. The following year, he edited Chicano Psychology, a book highlighting papers from the conference, which established him as a founder of the field of Chicano psychology. The book, rereleased in 1984, remains essential reading for both researchers and health care providers. Joe's work in this area continues to influence thought on bilingual education and culturally sensitive mental health services.

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Despite the success of his psychology work, Joe yearned to return to the lab. His preclinical research on the neurobiology of learning and memory had begun at the behavioral level, exploring the neurobiological substrates of learning and memory, and had moved into electrophysiological, neurochemical, and molecular mechanisms. He was at the forefront of demonstrating that drugs and neurotransmitters have the ability to modulate memory processes by acting on targets outside as well as inside the brain. He contributed to the finding that endogenous opioids are involved in learning and memory. His work also showed that long-term potentiation (LTP) is associative in nature, thereby helping to establish LTP as a potential physiological basis for associative learning.

Joe's relentless dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion by mentoring scientists around the country in career training programs made him stand out in the field. Committed to offering extraordinary professional development to students from underrepresented backgrounds, he was constantly seeking funding and developing programs in career awareness, lifelong mentorship, and professional networking. He cofounded the American Psychological Association's Diversity Program in Neuroscience and the Summer Program in Neuroscience, Excellence and Success (SPINES) at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Through these programs, for more than 20 years, he guided nearly 300 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to careers in neuroscience and academia. He was also a founding member of the National Hispanic Science Network (NHSN), which is dedicated to improving the health equity of Hispanics by increasing interdisciplinary translational research and fostering the development of Hispanic scientists. Through the NHSN, Joe influenced the careers of hundreds more young scientists.

Students would often walk away from a pleasant conversation with Joe, only to realize later that he had shared a profound and inspiring message, as well as guidance that would serve them for years or decades to come. We all appreciated his low-key, understated approach to mentoring. K.A.T. met Joe in the 1980s, A.Q.-H. trained as an undergraduate researcher in Joe's laboratory in the early 1990s, and K.J.T. began as a postdoctoral fellow on Joe's research team in the late 1990s. Each of us remembers Joe fondly, not only for his mentorship and the opportunities he created for us, but also for his kind heart, extraordinary intellect, and his inspiring friendship. Joe made us all feel like family.

Joe was an elected fellow of multiple scientific societies, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, the publisher of Science). He was on the editorial board of 10 different psychology and neuroscience journals and held senior editorial positions for several others. Joe's accomplishments have been recognized with several prestigious awards, including the AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award in 1994. An extraordinary scientist, mentor, and activist, Joe was devoted to scientific excellence and to providing guidance and opportunities to others. His quiet yet strong presence will not be forgotten.

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