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CCCC graduate Noel Martinez capitalizes on educational opportunities

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Click to enlarge,  Noel Martinez of Lee County (Associate in Arts) was a student speaker at the Central Carolina Community College 11:30 a.m. commencement exercises held on May 11 at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center in Sanford.

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Noel Martinez of Lee County (Associate in Arts) was a student speaker at the Central Carolina Community ... (more)

07.20.2017College & CommunityCollege GeneralStudents/Graduates

SANFORD - Carpe diem. It's an ancient saying that's usually translated as "seize the day" -- the idea that you should embrace the opportunities available now, because you never know what might happen in the future.

It could just as well describe Noel Martinez's academic journey at Central Carolina Community College.

While still a high school student at Southern Lee, Martinez was accepted into the Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship, an academic partnership also involving the college and Lee County Schools. Students take college welding classes toward a certificate during their junior and senior years and work two days a week at Caterpillar's local manufacturing facility.

Not only did that give Martinez a marketable skill at no cost to him or his family, but it also opened a door to college. He continued working at Caterpillar after graduation, and that allowed him to pay for his education.

But Martinez wasn't finished yet. During that first year of college, more opportunities arose, and he seized those as well.

First, it was admission to C-STEP, the prestigious Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program, where students are assured admission to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill if they complete a rigorous academic course of study at the community college.

His achievement at college then led to his selection to the Central Carolina Community College Ambassadors, a group of student leaders who represent the college and receive free tuition for their service, and induction into Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society for community college students.

One thing is for sure: Martinez isn't one to waste opportunities.

"Mental Boot Camp"

But before he heads up U.S. 15-501 to the University of North Carolina this fall, there was one final piece of business: completing the Student Leadership Development Program.

Only 30 nominees across the state are selected each year to attend the six-day, residential leadership workshop operated by the North Carolina Community College System -- a "mental boot camp," as it's been called, to help exceptional students develop the personal skills needed to become effective leaders.

The 20-year-old Sanford resident learned about this particular opportunity from Aaron Mabe, who advises the CCCC Ambassadors and made the formal nomination. There are many amazing student leaders at the college, he says, but Martinez was the kind of person who came immediately to mind.

"He has many accolades, but is down to earth," Mabe said a few weeks before Martinez left for the program at William Peace University in Raleigh. "He's honest, a self motivator, to say the least, and a really humble individual. I'll say that about him: He keeps himself grounded. In all of our conversations, he's very focused, and he'll be there to work."

Soon after Martinez checked in, he jumped into the busy week. Students took the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality test to help them understand how they see the world and approach decisions. They heard from speakers -- and the speakers heard from students. Martinez says one was Anne Bacon, director of strategic planning and policy for the community college system, who gathered insight from the students. "She asked how to improve the community colleges, what we like and what we wanted to change," Martinez says. "She asked us for information and took notes."

And each of four student groups dove into a project. Martinez and his colleagues in the Green Group worked on how to get more students involved in college life. Then there was something he didn't expect -- the camaraderie that developed from late night sessions with new friends from around the state.

Was the experience worth it? "Definitely!" he says. "It will really help out in the long run. It was skills you need when you get a job and for life in general. Now we know that we can work in groups and ask people for help. That will be helpful later on, especially when I head to Chapel Hill and get into those late night schedules studying for a test."

Changing Course

When Martinez arrived on the CCCC campus, welding was his future. He still loves the trade and would be happy to jump back in if his current plans don't pan out. But seizing opportunities along the way has changed his course. Martinez now plans to major in biology and complete the pre-med requirements at Carolina. He wants to pursue a specialty in trauma surgery, perhaps taking that expertise into the military.

There was no particular reason for that career path. Martinez never had parents in the military or any unusual experience with traumatic injuries. It's just something he got interested in by opening himself to new options and seizing the day. And CCCC Provost Mark Hall, who leads the Chatham County campus where Martinez completed most of his academic coursework, believes that perspective should take him a long way in life.

"Martinez is an intelligent and hard working student who takes advantage of every opportunity he can earn," says Hall. "Based on his accomplishments so far, Martinez will achieve whatever he chooses to achieve."

For more information on Central Carolina Community College, visit the college website at