Skip to Main Content
Chico State

CSU Trustee Award Honoree Strives to Help Others Claim Their Space

CSU Trustee Award Honoree, Gerardo "Jerry" Langarica Martinez, stands in front of an ornate doorway. He wears a buttoned blue short and smiles slightly, looking past the camera.
(Matt Bates/University Photographer/Chico State)

Gerardo “Jerry” Langarica Martinez recently created a new goal for himself: say 100 hellos a day.

“I’ll see about 180 kids at the middle school where I teach, so I’m catching most of them if I keep up,” he said, with a smile.

That’s him in a nutshell. Langarica Martinez is the type of person who regularly pushes himself to be better, kinder, and more vulnerable. And he’s always outdoing himself.  

Today, he is the recipient of the California State University Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement—one of the most prestigious in the entire CSU system, given to students who demonstrate superior academic performance, personal accomplishments, community service, and financial need.

A 2023 graduate of the kinesiology program (with an option in physical education teacher education), he was chosen his senior year as the College of Communication and Education Outstanding Leader and Kinesiology Physical Education Teacher Education Student of the Year. He also delivered one of the most memorable Commencement speeches to date, singing the opening lines of Nina Simone’s I’m Feeling Good to set the mood.

“My goal as a teacher is to create space where students feel like they belong, where they can take up space and know their worth as humans.”

“Jerry” Langarica Martinez

Admittedly, “feeling good” is how he rolls through life these days. Langarica Martinez is currently enrolled in Chico State’s Teacher Credential program, where he is set to reach a long-held dream of becoming an educator and teaching physical education at a middle school. But it wasn’t always so easy. Over the course of 15 years, he has overcome a variety of serious and systemic challenges that typically shrink someone’s ability to grow beyond their situation. 

He arrived at Chico State a first-generation, re-entry, and undocumented student from a low-income background—a position that comes with many unseen setbacks.

“When you’re undocumented, you basically start without any of the help and services that other people get right out of the gate,” Langarica Martinez explained. Alongside barriers to services and support, there is the additional stress of legal rights. “As an undocumented student, you want to stay in the shadows. You want to stay away from attention. You don’t want to be seen.”

Between limited scholarships available to him, juggling part-time work to supplement his income, and throwing himself into numerous service roles on and off-campus, Langarica Martinez has done so much more than simply earn his degree—he has cultivated a mindset where overcoming challenges has become second nature.

“My goal as a teacher is to create space where students feel like they belong, where they can take up space and know their worth as humans,” said Langarica Martinez. “I was in the background, and my work was praised, my work was admired. But I always had a difficult time taking up space. I’m finally in a place in my life where I can tell others how to do that.”

He credits this newfound perspective and personal growth to his professors and the experience they created during his time at Chico State.

“I love my professors,” he said. “They’re a huge reason why I am where I am today, and who I am as well. So, I want to recreate the environment they created.”

As both an alum and a current student, Langarica Martinez feels immense pride, for himself and the University, in receiving the CSU Trustees Foundation Award.

“To be the Chico State representative and headed to the award reception is huge,” he said. “I’m really proud to be here. This has allowed me to accomplish a lot of my goals, and a lot of my dreams. I feel very well supported… I love being a part of Chico State.”

His résumé of service projects tells a story of values in action: as a volunteer in the BE: WEL program he provides support for adults with disabilities, and in his coordinator position with the Paradise U Community Project he helps facilitate free physical activity lessons to schools. As a junior, he coached and led the Division 1 Chico State Men’s Volleyball Club team to a 25th in the nation placing at the national championships in Phoenix Arizona—and still somehow finds time to coach Chico High’s men’s volleyball team.

“Jerry has a background that has made him very perceptive to the needs of others,” said Cathrine Himberg, a professor with the Kinesiology Department who worked closely with him on Paradise U. “He sees that his students are people first and that you cannot get any content across until you address the basic virtues of trust, caring, and understanding. I believe this is setting Jerry up for real long-term success.”

His role as a mentor and nurturer predates his time as a student. As the oldest of six siblings, he is quick to cite his family as the biggest motivator in life, wanting to set an example of what’s possible and lead the way.  

“No matter what level he ends up teaching (master’s and doctorate degrees are likely in his future), in the end, he will be successful with his approach because it is authentic,” Himberg said. “He really does care and it shows in his actions as a teacher and coach, as well as in the positive difference he makes in his environment.”

Langarica Martinez’s future looks bright and he continues to set his sights on a brighter horizon. It is fair to assume he’ll keep moving by crushing 100 hellos a day.