Melinda E. Martinez
Director, Marist College Liberty Partnerships Program
At Marist College, her alma mater, Martinez leads a dropout-prevention and college-access program that provides comprehensive services to 341 students in Poughkeepsie city schools, ranging from fifth graders to high school seniors. “We help our students excel in and out of the classroom through tutoring, mentoring, social-emotional workshops, financial literacy workshops, parenting classes, employment readiness programs and college preparation,” she says.
During her five-year tenure, the program has achieved high school graduation rates of over 90 percent. Of the 40 Marist students she employs, several are LPP alumni. “It is heartwarming to see my former students excel at my alma matter and serve others,” she says, adding that her students “teach me how to persevere, how to find creative solutions, and how to have fun — they show me the latest dance moves and fashion trends.”
As a board member of the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement, she leads workshops for women of color and top executives of color from Fortune 500 companies. In 2019, she received the SUNY Orange Community College Sojourner Truth Leadership Award.
Why and how are you “paying it forward” by empowering local youth and rising professionals?
Because it is my duty to do so. As a Latina from an impoverished community, I had limited opportunities and access to resources. My parents made sacrifices for my siblings and me; and I was fortunate to have teachers, counselors, and mentors invest in me. They developed my academic, social, emotional, and career skills.
I pride myself in being a first-generation college student. Therefore, I feel it is my responsibility to provide others, especially youth and people of color, with opportunities and resources to thrive.
What do you know now that you wish you had known then?
When I was younger, I struggled with my sense of self-worth and had identity issues. My peers made fun of me for taking Advanced Placement classes. I felt like I had to be one person in school and another person in my neighborhood. However, I learned to navigate these worlds. Overcoming obstacles has taught me how resilient and strong I am.
That is why I remind myself daily that I am strong, smart, and beautiful. That is also why I make my 2-year-old niece state these affirmations. I want her to know her strength, take pride in her intelligence, and own her beauty, inside and out.