Vision, Faith, Commitment: Calvin College Stories
Reflecting Christianity Through Chemistry
Todd Martínez ’89 does not remember himself as an academic overachiever, nor does his favorite Calvin professor, Roger DeKock of the chemistry department. “He was a nontraditional student, that’s for sure,” DeKock phrased it gently. “Todd was very excited about chemistry, but we had no idea of where he would go with his interest in the discipline.”
DeKock was thrilled, therefore, when in the fall of 2005, Martínez won $500,000, no strings attached, from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation — an award popularly known as a “genius grant” — for his work in the field of chemistry.
A theoretical chemist whose work ventures into molecular engineering, Martínez is a professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “The most important thing to me is it’s a vote of confidence from many people both within and outside of my field, and therefore, it’s very encouraging,” he said about the MacArthur award.
Martínez, who spent his youth on the mission fields of Nicaragua, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, came to Calvin on the advice of his future wife, Cynthea (Cyndi) Geerdes ’83. He hated the Michigan winter but enjoyed the chemistry department, where he learned from the faculty to value excellence.
“What we do — at least this is what Calvin taught me — is a reflection of our Christianity,” Martínez said. “What we do is going to reflect on our God. At the same time, we recognize that any success we have is only possible because of God’s grace.”