Inaugural President’s Gala celebrates Martinez and alumni

PALATKA, FL (Oct. 14, 2022) – At the inaugural St. Johns River State College President’s Gala, President Joe Pickens cast a vision for the future of the College, honored accomplishments of the past and recognized distinguished alumni and community leader Danny Martinez for their extraordinary citizenship, through volunteerism, mentorship, philanthropy and advocacy.

The Distinguished Alumni Awards were presented to Nathaniel Lowe, Chief Jason Shaw and Tim Smith.

“We are truly honored to be part of the amazing stories these men have written,” said President Pickens. “They set the bar high for SJR State students, and we’re proud to call them Vikings.”

Nathaniel Lowe, Class of 2015, is the starting first baseman for the Texas Rangers. As a player at SJR State, he was a scholar-athlete and always the first player to volunteer for community service projects. He continues this practice in his current community.

Chief Jason Shaw, Class of 1997, has served the Palatka Police Department for over 20 years. As Chief, he has a passion for his community evidenced on and off duty. He believes in community-based, neighborhood focused policing that builds relationships.

Tim Smith, Class of 1972, has been a servant leader in Putnam County for over 30 years. A fifth generation Putnam County resident, he has invested his life in the betterment of the community.

The highest award of the night, the President’s award, was presented to community leader and philanthropist Danny Martinez. Martinez came to Palatka in 1952 as a research chemical engineer at Hudson Pulp & Paper Corporation. His service and investment in the community is unmatched.

“Danny has had a 25-year relationship with SJR State,” said President Pickens. “He and Katie had a particular interest in helping nontraditional students succeed. As the community’s college, we welcome all. Danny and Katie made sure their dreams came true. Danny Martinez is our hometown hero, a true Viking!”

President Pickens’ vision for the future included expansion of the Palatka Campus and an additional nursing cohort at the St. Augustine Campus.

View additional photos from the 2022 President’s Gala.

Since 1958, St. Johns River State College has served the community as a full-service college dedicated to meeting the educational and workforce training needs of its Northeast Florida district. With campuses in Orange Park, Palatka and St. Augustine, SJR State is truly the community’s college, enriching a diverse population of students ranging in age from 16 to 60.

SJR State continues its comprehensive educational role by expanding its services and programs while continuing its focus on the Associate in Arts (transfer) degree, Florida School of the Arts, and more than 30 Associate in Science degrees and certificates. SJR State has also expanded its mission to include baccalaureate degrees in nursing, early childhood education and organizational management.

President Pickens and Danny Martinez

President Pickens and Danny Martinez

President Pickens and Jason Shaw

President Pickens and Jason Shaw

President Pickens and Nathaniel Lowe

President Pickens and Nathaniel Lowe

President Pickens and Tim Smith

President Pickens and Tim Smith




Michelle Sjogren
Assistant Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Strategic Communications
(904) 276-6814

Susan Kessler
Director of Public Relations and Marketing
(386) 312-4021