You wouldn’t believe that after spending an afternoon with Martin Vasquez, he wasn’t heading for ‘So You Think You Can Dance?’ or Major League Baseball. Still, that energy and entertainment are what he carries into his actual career–teaching 

This Inspiring Graduate is adding his doctorate to his list of accolades. This degree, his Doctor of Philosophy, is in UNM’s Physical Education Teacher Education (PETE) program. 


vasquez holds certificate

PETE is not often someone’s first thought when they think about the next generation of teachers, but Vasquez is proof it should be. His expertise in curriculum and instruction will be what future kids, teachers, and future educators not only need but will want in the coming years. 

“I always felt like I had an aspiration to help others, and specifically the youth. I really enjoyed sports and physical activity growing up. My experiences really led me to want to do teaching, but then I also wanted to be a physical education teacher,” Vasquez said. 

Vasquez built his educational foundation hundreds of miles away at the University of Wyoming. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s in physical education and PETE after having an epiphany, connecting his love of sports and working with youth. 

“I just really had a passion and a love for sports and physical activity. I wanted to work with youth,” he said. “I coached youth baseball. I coached high school baseball in Wyoming, and those coaching experiences led me to want to pursue physical education as well. I was originally in secondary education but ended up switching majors, and that's how my path started to my Ph.D.”  

The Wyoming to New Mexico pipeline is very real. In addition to PETE Assistant Professor Victoria Shiver, a PETE graduate student when Vasquez was an undergraduate student at the University of Wyoming, current PETE Program Coordinator Karen Gaudreault used to be a Cowboy. When she took up the Lobo helm, she recommended Vasquez join the fray. That was a decision he has not regretted since. 

“My previous professor who was in Wyoming is now here, and she recruited me to enroll in the PETE program here at UNM. I also had a friend who was in the same undergraduate program and graduate program at the University of Wyoming who knew about it. Both of them are kind of a big reason how I got recruited and ended up coming here to UNM,” Vasquez said.  

With ~83% of Wyoming identifying as white, it was the best kind of culture shock for Vasquez when he came to the Land of Enchantment. 

“I had never been here before and absolutely love New Mexico. I love it way more than Wyoming. I love the diversity. I love the warm weather. I really enjoy not being the only person of color in most spaces that I'm in. That's kind of the experience I had in Wyoming,” he said. “I really enjoy going to Walmart and seeing people that look like me or going to the gas station and seeing people that look like me.” 

It was just as serendipitous that his mom, Shelly, moved to Colorado around the time he came to New Mexico. With her support, as well as the love of five sisters and a close cousin (William), Vasquez has plenty of loved ones to thank as he comes upon being the first Ph.D. candidate in his family. 

“I know it means a lot to me, but I think it means even more to my family. I do have a decent amount of a family that will be out here to support me,” he said. “My mom has always supported me since I was a little kid–she's always been there for me. She is my main source of motivation to continue on and do my education. My little sister Alexandra was also the first person that taught me unconditional love.” 

That doesn’t mean this move has always been easy. 

“I think the biggest challenge was during my first year here at UNM. During my first year, it was at the height of COVID, but I still remember my first semester. I walked out of the Johnson Center, and there was a food truck playing mariachi music. I just thought it was the coolest thing because I had never experienced that in Wyoming,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez has been immensely dedicated to physical education every step of the way. He has also made it a priority to make the field accessible to all students through his work at the Albuquerque Sign Language (ASL) Academy. 

vasquez jumps rope with students

“That's been an amazing experience. I've grown personally, but also my professional practice has as well. I have students who are deaf, hard of hearing, have autism, Down Syndrome, and students who are wheelchair bound,” Vasquez said. “That experience has just been invaluable. I feel much more comfortable working with those students, and through that experience, I'm able to provide my successes and my challenges to my undergraduate students that I'm teaching here in the teacher education program.” 

Aside from the professional experience, it’s been a personal bonus that Vasquez met his now girlfriend, Amberley, at the ASL academy.  

“She's deaf, and so I'm learning sign. I'm probably level three right now. I'm conversational in sign right now, so that's been an experience that I never thought I would have, but I've loved every moment of it,” he said. 

He also goes the extra mile for his students–always finding the free time to be an impactful part of their lives no matter what that means for him.  

“I think that is my favorite thing. I put a lot of effort into building relationships with students, and I've attended personal and community events for students,” Vasquez said. “I have a student who is a freshman basketball coach at La Cueva, so I went to watch a couple of basketball games. I had a previous student who was a bodybuilder, so I went and watched a bodybuilding competition. I had never done that before. I have a student from Santa Domingo Pueblo, and he's invited me out to their Feast Day.” 

Between teaching undergraduates and K-12 students and earning his degree, Vasquez has developed his own research line. 

“The teaching workforce throughout the U.S. is predominantly white, and so in my research, I am looking at how ethnically diverse individuals experience and perceive educational spaces,” he said. A lot of research, at least within physical education and teacher education, has not yet explored the experiences and perspectives of ethnically diverse individuals, and so that's what my research entails related to teacher socialization.” 

Although New Mexico is an incredibly diverse state, its classrooms do not always reflect that. Vasquez is not only ready to change that but also has the facts prepped for anybody who needs a reminder about equity in the classroom. 

“Education, in general, is a predominantly white field. For example, 80 and 85 percent of public and private school teachers are White. When it comes to undergraduate and graduate-level teacher candidates, over 70 percent are White. When it comes to higher education faculty throughout the United States, over 74 percent are White,” he said.   

As a result of this push, he also earned a scholarship. As someone who took a leap across multiple state lines and didn’t settle into the complacency of a minority-majority state, it was understandably earned. 

“The scholarship that I got here at UNM was for underrepresented individuals within their field. That was a scholarship that I was luckily able to receive. It's been great. I didn't know how much I would appreciate being in New Mexico and being around other people of color. I just really appreciate the cultural differences that are here and the open-mindedness, I would say, of those cultural differences throughout the state,” Vasquez said. 

The adoration this doctoral candidate has for physical education will not go away anytime soon. Vasquez was determined to stay in New Mexico and was offered a lecturer job at none other than UNM. His inspiration will continue and be passed on to the next wave of graduates. 

“I do love New Mexico. I want to stay here. I love the rich culture that New Mexico has and that UNM emphasizes. I can’t wait to be a professor at the university level, specifically in a physical education or teacher education program,” he said.  

Vasquez is notably humble. Although he was nominated with plenty of accolades, it took Shiver to bring up yet another–a recent award from the American Kinesiology Association. It’s clear Vasquez is going to make an incredible teacher himself, but also train just as spectacular ones. 

“If you're in education, you're not in it for the money. Obviously, you're in it for the love of what you do,” he said. “I think that we need more educators of color to represent the increasingly diverse student population. Being a teacher means everything to me. Being an educator of the youth or even of adults in higher education means everything to me.”