College: Cabrillo College
Semester Attended ACE: Fall 2003
Most afternoons, Andrew Martinez, 28, heads to the Evening Center, a Santa Cruz County Probation Department alternative program for youth where he teaches young people how to get a job, how to make good choices and take care of themselves.
He teaches many of the same lessons he learned himself as a student in the early days of the Academy for College Excellence (ACE) in 2003: how to be a role model and to give back.
“I’ve seen a lot of the negative things in life and hadn’t seen enough of the good things in life,” he says about the days before ACE. “I had exhausted my resources. I had to create my own future and way here. It’s a tough thing to do in the States because there are so many traps for a young guy.”
As a child, Martinez’s family had moved from Texas to Sweden. In the 10 years he lived abroad, he fell in with the wrong crowd, got in trouble and struggled with a learning disability. As a young adult, he moved to Watsonville where his father had once lived and he had family. But he struggled to find his way. Socially, the cultural shift was difficult. Academically, he suffered from attention deficit disorder, which made school feel almost impossible at times. The ACE cohort was a completely new road in his journey.
“In the first ACE pilot programs they showed me other elements of life like science, software programs, leadership skills – basically how to be little entrepreneurs,” Martinez says. “It introduces you to things that you’re going to do later on, grant writing, understanding systems, how things work, how everything’s interconnected. It shows you a blueprint of how society works.”
He got a job at the Cabrillo Learning Center, at a private youth group home and later as a group supervisor for Santa Cruz County. He went on to earn his associate arts degree at Cabrillo College and transferred in 2007 to California State University, Monterey Bay where he is a full-time student working toward a bachelor’s degree in Collaborative Health and Human Services.
ACE founder Diego Navarro “really motivated me as a Latino,” Martinez says. “He empowered me to just go out there and do what I was doing. There were very few people that were motivational for a person of my background. Diego was always saying, ‘When are you transferring?’ He thinks big.”
Martinez does too. He plans to continue with school and earn a master’s degree in social work.
“Diego taught me you can really do anything you’re really inspired to do from a social aspect of giving back to the community. It’s going good,” he says. “I’m doing it!”