Follow Dreams

Follow Dreams

Brenda Martinez ’14 never planned to attend college—she applied to Saint Mary’s only because her high school counselor insisted. “I didn’t even know anyone who had gone to college,” said the recent grad, who now heads a bilingual sixth-grade classroom in Buffalo, N.Y. as part of the prestigious Teach for America program. Simultaneously, Martinez is pursuing a master’s degree in education at Canisius College in Buffalo—and soon she hopes to start volunteering at an educational nonprofit.

“Saint Mary’s offered education, but it also offered the opportunity to be reflective of myself and what I could do for other people,” said Martinez, who was raised in “kind of a rough” neighborhood in Pittsburg, Calif., with immigrant parents and siblings who dropped out of high school.

Always curious and open-minded, Martinez welcomed opportunities at Saint Mary’s as well as those she created herself, like designing a multidisciplinary major in Ethnic Studies. With an SMC scholarship that covered 25 percent of her education, Martinez took on the rest with her own earnings, grants, loans and her family’s help.

A pivotal experience came just after freshman year, when she participated in SMC’s Micah Summer Fellowship immersion program, living in a low-income West Oakland neighborhood and working directly with homeless and mentally ill residents in San Francisco’s gritty Tenderloin. Martinez proved to be a natural at advocating for and forging meaningful relationships with the marginalized men and women she encountered. After that, she said, “I felt like I really aligned with Saint Mary’s mission of social justice and commitment to equality.”

During sophomore year Martinez went to Cuernavaca, Mexico, studying the country’s history and teaching part time in a school for impoverished indigenous children. She returned to the school the following Jan Term to teach, keeping her promise to the students.

“I could not have gotten so many service opportunities from any other college,” said Martinez, who was especially moved by participating in a Mission and Ministry project delivering water and donations to immigrants along the same Mexican-American border that her mother had crossed 26 years earlier.

Martinez plans a social justice career in educational policy and stresses the importance of never giving up on dreams. “Follow your heart and think about what you can do for other people.”

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