Christopher Martinez

Christopher MartinezFrom his community work in Compton, Santa Ana and Fountain Valley to his on-campus activities as a student mentor, resident advisor, and researcher aiming to understand factors that help or hinder college adjustment among first-generation Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) undergraduates, UC Irvine senior Christopher Martinez’s level of drive and engagement is palpable.

“I want to pave a path for others and use the knowledge I’ve gained to contribute to my community and others like it,” says Martinez who’s double majoring in social policy and public service and education science. “I want to help bridge gaps and equip people with the tools to make informed decisions for their future.”

Service as a central component

This past summer was an eventful one for Martinez. Not only was he invited to participate in the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program at The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, but he was also the recipient of two prestigious scholarships from UCI—the Dr. Juan Francisco Lara Scholarship and the Distinguished Anteater Award Scholarship.

In addition to these honors, Martinez has served as a peer academic advisor for UCI’s School of Education and a peer educator for UCI’s Student Success Initiatives. He’s mentored students at Los Amigos High School in Fountain Valley and served as a college advisor at Century High School in Santa Ana. 

“Chris stands out because he sees service as a central component of his education. He recognizes the power of community, the importance of giving back and the power of helping others,” says Martinez’s mentor, social sciences associate dean Jeanett Castellanos. “Chris is consistently seeking ways to help his peers, to role model, or mentor.”

Humble at heart

An explanation for Martinez’s deep altruism might be found in his seemingly innate humbleness. While his wisdom and charisma are clear to all who know him, he doesn’t see his achievements as particularly impressive. He fervently believes that others could do the same if provided with the right support. 

Martinez grew up in Compton to a single-parent mother and is a proud first-generation college student. He noticed early on how many of his peers were limited by poverty and a lack of guidance. In high school, he became increasingly aware of the disparities that existed in his community and questioned why some students were able to continue to college and others were not, why some joined gangs, and how the neighborhood shaped their lives.

“A lot of my peers had the same potential, if not more, but what they lacked was access to high quality and sustainable resources. I’ve seen how poverty and neglect are contributing factors and can limit individuals from following their dreams,” he says.

Martinez’s efforts to evoke change extend to the community where he was raised. He’s active in community efforts in Compton and has already worked as a campaign consultant for the first Latino and youngest mayoral candidate to qualify for a Compton mayoral run-off election.  

Education as a steppingstone for change

After his experience participating in a college outreach program in high school, Martinez knew he was passionate about education and its ability to serve as a steppingstone for change. His analytical approach to understanding his community has been an asset in the many programs and dual majors he’s active in on campus.

“My recollection of Chris when I first met him was one of a vibrant scholar activist who’s invested in social justice,” says Castellanos. “Over time, I’ve watched him have a tremendous impact on our campus through his mentoring, leadership, and contributions.”

It takes a village

At his core, Martinez is guided by what he feels is an obligation to uplift others and to inspire them to advocate for themselves. 

“There are individuals out there who want to help you. You will thank yourself later if you ask questions. You never know where those conversations can lead,” he says.

Conversations Martinez has had have led him to academic success. In his third year at UCI, he conducted a year-long qualitative research project, which explored the psychological-social-cultural factors that impact college adjustment among first-generation Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) undergraduates. And while his academic success is impressive and will likely take him to graduate school, what Martinez has appreciated most about his Anteater experience are the relationships that began here.

Speaking about his relationships with faculty and staff, he says, “They’ve invested their time in me. It’s made me feel that I’m not just taking classes, but building relationships and having critical conversations about issues in society. I’ve built a village here that serves as a support system and I’ll be eternally grateful for that.”

A brilliant future

This summer, Martinez will be working for the Summer Academic Enrichment Program (SAEP), the intensive research training program in social sciences where he was a former participant. He eventually plans to attend graduate school where he hopes to continue exploring social change. Martinez admits that it’s hard to think too far ahead in the future, especially after having dealt with the difficulties and uncertainties of the pandemic. But what is clear is that he will have a positive impact on those who are lucky enough to cross his path.

“Chris' educational successes exemplify resilience, engagement, commitment, and leadership,” says Castellanos. “It’s exciting and promising to see our brilliant students be the future of tomorrow.”

-Jill Kato for UCI Social Sciences

-pictured top to right: Chris with residents from Arroyo Vista Student Housing where he works as a resident advisor. Chris outside the School of Education.




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