Anjel Martinez has no business being in college. Or being successful. Or having long-term goals – which include earning a master’s degree.
But Martinez, a junior majoring in social work and women’s studies, has defied all logic – and very long odds – to not only get to CSU, but to thrive while here.
“I come from a different background than a lot of kids,” said Martinez, the oldest of 10 children while growing up in Colorado Springs. “I haven’t had a lot handed to me. There was no family support for me to come to college, and if I don’t have the money to buy something I need, I can’t call my parents and ask for help.”
Martinez learned early in her life that she was going to have to make her own way. No one in her family had ever graduated from high school, let alone attended college, so she would be forging a new path with no family support – and very little peer support.
“When I was in middle school and high school, most of the kids in my neighborhood were only interested in doing drugs and getting into trouble,” she said. “Nobody talked about going to college, but I always knew education was the way to change my life. I didn’t want to continue that cycle of poverty I grew up in. I wanted to beat the statistics.”
CSU provides a boost
CSU first entered the picture when she was attending Sierra High School, one of 10 Colorado high schools that make up the Alliance Partnership. The program helps kids in partnership schools not only prepare for college but provides scholarship help to CSU. The Alliance scholarship was a primary reason Martinez chose CSU.
Once on campus, the challenges kept coming. She had never been on her own, and the academic hurdles she faced were significant. Plus, she had to work to support herself.
“I had to learn how to be a college student,” she said. “I had to teach myself what school is, how to study and how to succeed.”
Martinez not only learned how to be a student, she had remarkable success as a freshman – enough to earn an interview for the coveted Reisher Scholarship, part of the Reisher Scholars program. The program provides scholarship support for college sophomores who have demonstrated the ability to beat the odds. Students have to work at least 10 hours a week and maintain a 3.0 grade point average to remain eligible, but if they do the scholarship is good through graduation.
Kate Wormus, who works in CSU’s Collaborative for Student Achievement, said Martinez is exactly the type of student the Reisher Scholars program is designed to help.
“When Anjel interviewed last year, I was blown away by her story, but also by her resilience,” Wormus said. “When she told us everything she had gone through just to get to CSU it was astonishing. She had pushed through so many challenges and barriers while seeking a way to earn an education. She’s poised and graceful and strong, and it was pretty much a unanimous choice to include her in the program.”
Giving Tuesday matters
While Martinez has learned to fend for herself, she has also utilized her CSU support system – including scholarships, academic counseling and work opportunities. She had high praise for Rams Against Hunger, the CSU-created program that provides meal cards to students facing food security. Giving Tuesday, set for Nov. 28, has designated Rams Against Hunger as its featured fund and hopes to double the number of students helped by the program.
“I was so grateful to be part of Rams Against Hunger for a semester,” she said. “When you live off-campus you don’t always have the time or the money to eat out, so most times I just wouldn’t eat. With Rams Against Hunger, food was one less thing I had to worry about, and it helped me focus on my school work and get better grades.
“I want to thank the people who have supported the program. You are making a big change in students’ lives.
Fittingly, the girl who probably shouldn’t be in college has taken her college experience to unexpected heights. She did an alternative spring break trip to Panama earlier this year, working in a village to build community and fight the problems of ecotoursim, then spent the summer in India as part of CSU’s Education Abroad program. She’s also in Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, treasurer of United Women of Color and involved with Order of the Torch, a campus philanthropic group.
She also works 15 hours each week during the school year (full-time during breaks) as a peer mentor and advocate for students from backgrounds similar to hers, and will graduate in May 2019 with two degrees. She hopes to work to prevent human trafficking before returning for a master’s degree.
“I’m already so excited about graduation – nobody I know my age has a degree,” Martinez said. “A lot of kids in high school don’t think they can do the things I’ve done, but you can get here. Look at me. You literally can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.”