With dyed blue hair, a bright smile and a Wonder Woman water bottle, Mariana Martinez provides a casually welcoming vibe for Sonoma State University students. As it turns out, the Chicano and Latino studies lecturer dedicates her on-campus work to the academic and personal achievements of all students — especially those who are “underrepresented.”
“At the end of the day, we need to think about the fact that we need all of these students with some form of higher education,” said Martinez.
Martinez, 35, is the research coordinator for the McNair Scholars Program, a federally funded on-campus program that helps 27 Sonoma State students per year get accepted into graduate schools to achieve master’s degrees or Ph.D.s. Between this and her work as an adjunct Chicano and Latino studies professor, she serves Sonoma State students on a regular basis.
But as the fall 2016 election approaches, Martinez is setting her sights toward students farther out in Sonoma County. The destination is Santa Rosa Junior College, as Martinez is running to become a trustee in the 3-4-5 District. If elected, she’ll oversee the school’s policies and budget while representing Rohnert Park, Cotati and Santa Rosa.
Martinez said she would focus on the issues of affordable student housing, full-time student enrollment and transportation if elected as trustee. She hopes to represent the “changing demographics” of Santa Rosa Junior College, whose needs may vary from those of Sonoma State students.
“Most students who go into a four-year [college] are more likely to graduate because there’s steps there,” said Martinez. “With the community colleges, there’s such a diverse need that you don’t know what to address first.”
According to Martinez, the “diverse needs” at Santa Rosa Junior College may include returning students, those trying to achieve a vocational certificate or AA degree or students who are trying to learn English.
She is no stranger to students from diverse backgrounds, including first-generation students who are the first in their immediate families to attend college. Along with low-income students of any ethnicity, these students are among those Martinez works with through the McNair Scholars Program.
Daniel Smith, director of the McNair Scholars Program, said that Martinez works hard to help the program’s students succeed.
“It’s really obvious that she has an exceptional level of passion for supporting and promoting the education of underrepresented students,” said Smith. “She’s also been exceptional at … working toward equity for Latino and Latina students in particular.”
Martinez was born in Mexico before becoming a U.S. citizen in November 2011 and learning both speaking and academic English, she said. She was one of the few students of color in “most of her schooling experience.”Martinez said that as a trustee, she would aim to establish policies that transcend students’ race and social class.
“It’s not just my racial diversity, but it’s the fact that as of May, I was still a student [working toward a Ph.D. in education policy, organization and leadership from University of Illinois],” said Martinez. “So I definitely think in terms of a ‘poor student’ mentality.”
Smith said he thinks Martinez working with students in the McNair Scholars Program helps her to better understand the challenges they face.
“I think she approaches things from a social justice framework,” said Smith.
Donald Williams, a former Sonoma State student who’s currently working toward a Ph.D. in animal behavior at UC Davis, was part of the McNair Scholars Program from fall 2014 to spring 2016 under Martinez. He said that she formed a “social support network” for underrepresented and first-generation students through the program.
“She would always make time for all of her students,” said Williams.
Williams, a first-generation college student who went to Santa Rosa Junior College before attending Sonoma State, said Martinez could help Latino and Latina students, among others, at the junior college by being present on the Board of Trustees to “voice their concerns.”
“What she does is absolutely critical for developing underrepresented students in academia,” said Williams.
Martinez said she anticipates that if she becomes trustee, there will be a “trickle effect” of Latina women and other underrepresented demographics receiving more opportunities in Sonoma County.
“It’s a huge deal when you think about higher education in the county and the country, there’s more women than men, yet we hold very [few] positions of power or high levels,” said Martinez.
Beyond potential service at Santa Rosa Junior College, Martinez said her goal is to become president of a 2-year or 4-year college institution someday.
To earn a seat in the Nov. 8 election, Martinez would need to defeat at least two incumbants .