A health education years in the making and culminating with a final semester of remote learning due to a worldwide pandemic. But time and time again, with every calibrated move, Tiffany Martinez-Durant has strategized ways to further her educational career so that her fellow students reap the benefits instantaneously. She exemplifies The University of New Mexico’s goal to provide students with life skills and knowledge that will contribute to a prospering local and state workforce after graduation.

"My job is to ensure our students are healthy and that they have what need to stay healthy." - Tiffany Martinez-Durant, UNM Class of 2020

A true testament of a devoted Lobo, Martinez-Durant started her journey at UNM in 2007 and graduated four years later with a bachelor’s degree in health education. She now manages UNM’s Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) Health Promotion Marketing, Communication and Nutrition program and, this semester, she’s graduating as part of the Class of 2020 with a master’s in health education.

“I’m someone who started as a student and worked my way up professionally,” she said. “In the last 13 years, I’ve also seen personal growth as well.”

She worked at the UNM Foundation as a student during her undergrad and transitioned to the Center on Alcohol, Substance Use and Addictions (CASAA) where she managed a state-wide coalition of higher education substance abuse programs and other prevention programs and grants for five years. But it’s the last three years with SHAC where Martinez-Durant witnessed, how overcoming personal struggles, could have a positive and direct impact on thousands of students across campus. 

It wasn’t easy. Martinez-Durant juggled two jobs as a full-time graduate student, often sacrificing time with her husband and family to fulfill a piece of a larger dream.

“Any master’s program can be stressful, but the stress really got to me last year and I ended up in the hospital,” Martinez-Durant said.

It’s one of the reasons Martinez-Durant chooses to study and conduct research on stress management. One course, program planning, challenged students to create applicable programs for their research. Martinez-Durant developed Lobo Balance; a SHAC program she intended to roll out this spring. It’s a stress management program, geared toward building resiliency and coping skills for Lobos. It includes hosting stress management events and programming to help students develop coping skills. Events include goat yoga, aromatherapy and cooking classes, each with an educational component.

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“Everything I learned in my classes, I applied to SHAC programs,” she said. “It was amazing because I had professors offering feedback and vetting my ideas and projects the entire way.”

With the help of professors, Martinez-Durant also created a needs assessment survey. She said the survey will help address barriers students may face when seeking health care on a college campus. The plan is to help identify why students choose to utilize or forego SHAC services. Martinez-Durant said survey questions also address how SHAC could potentially increase student comfort and access to services.

“My job is to ensure our students are healthy and that they have what need to stay healthy,” she said. “Health promotion includes hosting in-person, face-to-face programming, assessments and evaluations. When I developed these programs, they were built for a pre-COVID world.”

Due to the pandemic, the launch of the two programs were ultimately postponed. In fact, when COVID-19 made its way to the U.S., SHAC had to reengineer how students could continue to utilize some of its services.

“How do we get students into the clinic? How do we get them out? And how do we do all of these things safely?” Martinez-Durant said. “In the beginning, a team of medical professionals, mental health professions and health promotion professionals, we were working seven days straight. What was months, felt like years, and at the same time felt like days.”

Martinez-Durant said educating the Lobo community about COVID-19 proved to be one of their biggest challenges.

“There is so much misinformation out there,” she said. “We had to think about what tools we already had and the most effective ways to communication the evolving facts about the virus and the precautions students should take while on a college campus.”

In June, SHAC’s Health Promotion team launched HonesTea with SHAC HP, a weekly podcast, attempting to reach students due to the pandemic limiting large gatherings and several in-person activities. Martinez-Durant hosts the podcast with her team; they discuss several topics, including many that are COVID-19 related.

Martinez-Durant’s humility shows as she wraps her thoughts around what her team was truly able to accomplish in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Martinez-Durant has so many plans for the future that in include The University and its students, but before she dives into any of her tenacious goals, this graduate has one thing at the very tip-top of her list.

“Breathe,” she said. “I want enjoy what’s next and just breathe.”