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Sheila Flynn | Thursday, February 19, 2004

When Gil Martinez hears people criticize Spring Visitation Weekend, he laughs.”I always kind of chuckle a little bit when I hear criticism – people saying, ‘You know, this isn’t really what Notre Dame is about,'” said Martinez, the coordinator of Spring Visitation Weekend. “The reality is the form might be special and unique, but the students that these prospectives are meeting … that is what Notre Dame is about.”Martinez, a 1984 Notre Dame graduate, worked for University admissions from 1988 to 1993. He returned in the summer of 2003 and now specializes in Hispanic recruitment. When the former Spring Visitation Weekend coordinator took another job, Martinez was asked to replace him.”It’s something that I feel, personally, very committed to,” Martinez said of the diversity recruitment event. “This place is so special in terms of opportunities that it grants people.”He knows firsthand. When Martinez entered Notre Dame in the fall of 1980, he was the first person in his entire family to attend college – much less to leave his hometown or home state of New Mexico.”It was just great – a great experience, in terms of the support, not only from friends, but from the University, as well – especially making the transition from basically a non-college family background,” Martinez said. “I found that it was really helpful in just helping me to maneuver through the bureaucracy, through the administrative tasks that I needed to do in order to graduate.”It is his own experience and subsequent confidence in the welcoming atmosphere of Notre Dame, Martinez said, that he carries with him when he speaks to Hispanic and other minority students. “They want to be in a place where they are going to feel supported, whether it be by peers, administration or faculty, and I believe that this place does it,” Martinez said. “There is a stability here, and it’s a stability based on a very good philosophy.”The point of Spring Visitation is to show students this stability and environment, Martinez said. The University flies in approximately 160 competitive minority students – black, Asian, Hispanic and Native American – who have never visited campus before. They are hosted by current Notre Dame students, and the weekend, at the end of March, includes presentations by speakers – football head coach Tyrone Willingham, for example, spoke last year – and sessions with faculty and administrators. The various cultural events concentrated during the weekend are celebratory and entertaining for prospectives, he said, but they are not the sole focus of the visit.”Our students, just in being who they are … those seniors in high school are really observant about that,” Martinez said. “They get a sense the tone of the student body is one that’s caring – a group that cares for each other, a group that is success-oriented, a group that is not so much going to be stealing your biology notes before a major exam.”Martinez said that, every year, the visiting students comment most on their time in the dorms, in the dining halls and with Notre Dame students, in general. He said they realize the presentations and ethnic events are not typical of everyday life at the University; while they appreciate the entertainment, Martinez said the prospectives are more concerned about what their personal experiences will be like. “It is a special weekend and, in a way, it is unique relative to what a student will experience every other weekend, but it’s not different, say, than a student that would come on a football weekend, where there impression of Notre Dame is that football weekend,” Martinez said. Martinez said he hopes this year’s Spring Visitation Weekend will prove as successful as those in previous years. Last year, approximately 74 percent of the visiting students chose to attend Notre Dame, he said.”The Spring Visitation Weekend is a key component, though not the only one, for the increase of the number of [diverse] students willing to bring themselves here,” Martinez said.”People are, more and more, coming to an understanding that this is who we are, this is what we’re about, in terms of helping all students that are academically competitive.”