A driven and passionate CSUN graduate student, Albert Martinez hopes to use his own experience as a formerly incarcerated foster youth to inspire other young people and open more doors to their higher education. This year, he’ll have a powerful new resource to tap as he works to impact the lives of others.
On March 2, Campus Compact — a Boston-based nonprofit working to advance the public purposes of higher education — announced Martinez as one of the 212 students who will make up the 2021 cohort of Newman Civic Fellows.
A Chicana/o studies major, Martinez is committed to fighting systemic racism and finding ways to support underrepresented communities and help them find strength and resilience through higher education.
“One thing that I came to learn from being involved with EOP and the University Student Union (USU) Board of Directors is that you have to get out of your comfort zone and get involved, and jump into opportunities that present themselves,” Martinez said. “I see this as an opportunity for growth, and growth is good.
“I really want to look into starting my own nonprofit … to provide culturally relevant books to foster youth or students in group homes and juvenile hall,” he said, noting that voracious reading and access to books while incarcerated was key to his education and hope.
A ward of the court, Martinez had been removed from his family home after serving jail time. Later, as a young adult, he struggled with financial problems and self-doubt. A turning point came when Martinez enrolled at Pierce College in his 30s, where he learned about CSUN’s acclaimed Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and later, its special program for former foster youth, EOP Valera Resilient Scholars Program.
“Being former foster youth, we carry a lot of stuff,” he said. “I’m 39, and I still feel unstable at times. I doubted myself a lot. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, or what I could do.”
A transfer student, Martinez fell in love with Chicana/o studies at CSUN, taking several courses and selecting it as his major. Last May, he graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in Chicana/o studies, and he enrolled in the department’s master’s program.
One key opportunity that has deepened and enriched his CSUN experience and leadership training, Martinez said, has been his involvement in the USU Board of Directors. He currently serves as vice chair, where he helped spearhead efforts to endow $25,000 for the Quentin Thomas Scholarship at CSUN, which will award $1,000 scholarships annually to former foster youth or formerly incarcerated students.
“Albert is an incredible choice for this fellowship,” said USU Executive Director Debra Hammond, who nominated Martinez for the fellowship. “His previous work on behalf of formerly incarcerated students and foster youth has positioned him well to take a leadership role in helping us as a campus more forward in these and other areas of equity and inclusion. I’m so blessed that President [Erika D.] Beck recommended such an outstanding student for this honor.”
The Newman Civic Fellowship, named for Campus Compact co-founder Frank Newman, is a one-year experience emphasizing personal, professional and civic growth. Throughout the fellowship, Campus Compact provides a variety of learning and networking opportunities, including a national conference of Newman Civic Fellows in partnership with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The fellowship also provides fellows with access to apply for exclusive scholarships and post-graduate opportunities.
The fellowship will help Martinez build on the leadership skills he has developed at CSUN, he said.
“EOP was critical to getting me to believe in myself. And then participating in the USU Board of Directors and working my way up to vice chair — it was there that I finally found my voice,” Martinez said. “The combination of these programs has had an immense impact on me and my growth. I’m just so excited about this fellowship and this opportunity. I’ve come so far, and I love who I’m becoming.”