When Tanya Martinez was a teenager, growing up in a small town in Massachusetts, she began making regular trips to her mother’s homeland—the Eel River Bar First Nation reservation in New Brunswick, Canada. These trips not only deepened Tanya’s connection to her cultural heritage as a Mi’kmaq Indian, but would ultimately have a profound impact on her career as an engineer.
Tanya was well aware of the differences between her two hometowns. “Growing up in Massachusetts, I felt like there were more opportunities for me there. While most of my friends in the States were heading to college, this was not the case for my family on the reservation.”
Giving Back to Her People
Even in high school, Tanya felt a strong responsibility to use the educational opportunities she had been given for the benefit of the Mi’kmaq people. She thought she might major in math in college, but on the advice of her high school physics teacher, she decided to try engineering because it had so many practical, real-world applications. By the time she'd earned her degree, Tanya had figured out how she could use engineering to help her community.
“The answer is renewable energy,” says Tanya. “It will not only provide more affordable energy for the reservation, but it will also create economic opportunity. And it’s in perfect alignment with the values of my culture, which teach me to walk softly on this Earth.”
Making a Difference with Renewable Energy
One of Tanya’s current projects was inspired by her grandfather, who is a builder in Massachusetts but also spends time on the reservation. “Forestry is one of the few job opportunities on Eel River Bar. My grandfather noticed that 30% of wood that is cut for industry is left on the forest floor. He challenged me to come up with a way to use that resource and not just let it go to waste.”
And Tanya’s doing just that. Working with students from the reservation, she’s conducting a feasibility study for building a central heating plant that will use waste wood. “This would help in so many ways—reduce fuel costs, create jobs, protect the environment and,” says Tanya, “perhaps we could make a business installing similar technology in other communities, which would create even more jobs.”
Helping Out All Over the Americas
Tanya has shared her engineering expertise in renewable energy with many different communities. She’s helped a Navajo reservation expand its wind and solar energy resources. She’s traveled to remote villages in the Andes mountains of Peru to install solar-powered electricity that’s used in hospitals and for radio communications. In Massachusetts, Tanya and her team have conducted case studies of “green” schools and public buildings—structures that use solar hot-water panels or other forms of renewable energy.
Tanya is Mi’kmaq on her mother’s side of the family, and Puerto Rican on her father’s—and she also has French and Irish roots. The many dimensions of her heritage have inspired her work: helping diverse communities throughout the Americas become more energy efficient.