March 22, 2021

Dr. Sandra Martin

Dr. Sandra Martin

Sandra L. Martin, PhD, is a professor, associate chair for research and director of graduate studies in the Department of Maternal and Child Health at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

She is also the 2021 recipient of the Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement, presented by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Committee on Teaching Awards. This year, Carolina honored 25 faculty members and teaching assistants for their accomplishments with University Teaching Awards.

The Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement, created in 1997, acknowledges a lifetime of contributions to a broad range of teaching and learning — particularly mentoring beyond the classroom. It rewards those who help students to develop and attain their full potential in important ways during and after their departure from campus. Dean Smith, long-time coach of the men’s basketball team at UNC, was the first winner of the award and exemplifies the qualities that it honors. The winner receives a one-time stipend of $5,000 and a framed citation.

Martin was nominated for the award by several students and alumni.

“I am quite thrilled to have received this award,” Martin says. “One of the best parts was reading the nomination letters that my graduates shared with me. I still get misty-eyed when I read them.”

An excerpt from one letter reads, “I am a forever mentee of Dr. Sandy Martin. People come into your life for a reason. To teach you, help you grow, encourage you or just be there when you need someone to listen. Sandy was all of those things. She cared not only about my educational pursuits and dreams, but about my feelings, my home life, whether I was eating enough and if felt like I had a community at UNC. She was also the guide I needed during my final semester, when the pandemic hit and the world turned upside down. Sandy and I formed a plan together and, with her reliably quick responses and edits, I proudly submitted my thesis to the Carolina Digital Repository well before the deadline.”

Dr. Martin’s has been on the Gillings School faculty since 1990. Her research, teaching and public health service focuses on gender-based violence. She has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts, as well as book chapters and reports, on a wide range of violence-related concerns, including sexual violence, domestic violence and child maltreatment. Her research has been funded by multiple sources, including the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Defense, the World Health Organization and state agencies.

“Sandy’s work with her many students throughout the years has inspired, guided and launched them in positive directions, landing them in successful careers in academics, government and the private sector,” says Carolyn T. Halpern, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Maternal and Child Health. “She is most deserving of this prestigious award.”

Below, Martin shares her thoughts on teaching and mentorship.

Who was the best teacher you had and why?

I’ve been fortunate to have many wonderful teachers, including those at Carolina, where I got my doctorate. [Martin, a Gillings School alumna, earned her doctoral degree in epidemiology.] But education does not always come from the person in front of the lectern. Each year, I learn a great deal from my Carolina students. I’m always re-thinking things in light of the experiences and thoughts that they share.

What does it take to be a good professor in 2021?

There is not a one-size-fits-all formula that results in an excellent professor. In my experience, all successful professors really care about their students and are focused on helping their students to achieve their goals.

Tell us a story about something creative you’ve done to engage your students.

Engaging students in honest conversations, especially around sensitive topics, requires that students feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their perspectives — even when they think that others may disagree with them.

During the first meeting of my gender-based violence course, the students and I design a class contract to create a safe space for our class, documenting how we would like to be treated and how we will treat others during the course. The contract often includes things such as listening respectfully to the opinions of others, even when you disagree with them, and expressing disagreement with others in a respectful and constructive way.

This exercise helps to set the tone for the class and allows class members to engage in honest and enlightening conversation.

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