UO’s Charles Martinez named to Knight Professorship

The University of Oregon’s Charles Martinez was recently named a Philip H. Knight Professor for his leadership in prevention science and commitment to improving education, health and social services for underserved communities.

The UO College of Education faculty member, director of the Center for Equity Promotion and former vice president for institutional equity and diversity joined the UO nearly 20 years ago. He has used his many academic, administrative and community roles to advance equity and inclusion at the university, across Oregon, and around the world.

“It is fitting that Charles’ lifetime body of work on equity, inclusion and the education of Latino children in both the United States and Latin America has been recognized by receipt of a Knight Professorship,” said Randy Kamphaus, dean of the College of Education. “The Society for Prevention Research and many others have praised his cutting-edge work for its contributions to the field and society.” 

Martinez, who began his career in Oregon as a research scientist at the Eugene nonprofit Oregon Social Learning Center, specializes in identifying risk factors for disadvantaged populations and developing and disseminating interventions that support children and families. Martinez’s work is rooted in partnerships with underserved communities that help him and his research team better understand their specific needs and challenges.

His notable projects include a youth violence prevention program in four countries in Central America and a family-school partnership intervention targeting education professionals and immigrant Latino parents and children in Oregon. A wide range of federal and international research agencies have funded the projects, including the National Institutes of Health and the Institute of Education Sciences. 

Martinez began his community-embedded approach when he arrived in Oregon in the 1990s and discovered an unexpected set of challenges and opportunities for supporting immigrant families. The state was ranked among the fastest-growing hubs for immigrant populations and Martinez seized the chance to investigate and address the distinct challenges arising from this rapid socio-demographic change and its impact on families adapting to life in the U.S.

“The immigrant experience is very different in emerging immigrant growth states,” he explained. “The challenges vary from the states with more significant immigrant populations and the pathways to health and well-being are different. Adapting to the life in the U.S. can be challenging for many families, but it can be especially hard in places like Oregon, where there are limited social networks and community supports for immigrants.”

Martinez, who is trained as a clinical psychologist and prevention scientist, was well-versed in existing evidence-based practices to support positive development of children and families, but he began asking questions about whether these approaches could be applied to such a diverse population. He soon developed a framework for adapting existing practices to be culturally responsive.

“Our work always starts with deep listening to better understand what is already working at a community level,” Martinez said. “Then we can focus on embedding these culture-based strengths into existing intervention models.”

“It is not enough for us to merely understand the causes of problems in each community. We want to determine how we can use this knowledge to actually change things for the better for kids and families.”

Martinez, who also chairs the Oregon State Board of Education, ultimately aims to make a difference by putting his research findings and programs into the hands of policymakers, leaders and service providers who can help ensure that they are used to improve lives.

The Knight Professorship will enable Martinez to advance his research and work with vulnerable communities throughout Oregon and around the world.

“It is an exceptional honor to be named a Knight Professor,” Martinez said. “It represents both an acknowledgement for the important applied research we have conducted in our Center for Equity Promotion to date but also highlights the importance and urgency of future work that will improve the lives of immigrants and other vulnerable populations of children and families. There is so much more work to do to address minority education and health disparities, and the need for that work is especially acute in the nation and world today.”

By Emily Hanlon, University Communications