For Monica Martinez, a Kansas native raised in Topeka and born on Kansas Day, the decision to carve out a unique path in her home state at KU felt entirely appropriate. And as a Jayhawk in the College, she found ample opportunity to immerse herself in the subjects she cares about most: American social issues, Latinx identity, and access and equity in higher ed. Now having recently graduated, she’s continuing to explore her passions by pursuing a Master’s in Student Affairs and working with TRIO Student Support Services at Iowa State University.
Meet Monica, a Class of 2019 graduate. Discover how she found her fit in the College, learn about the KU mentors, programs, classes, and internships that helped her in achieving her goals, and see what advice she has for leaving a legacy to be proud of in the Heart of KU.
Where are you from? And why did you decide to come to KU?
I am originally from Topeka, Kansas but I decided to come to KU for a few different reasons. KU’s Spanish department was the best out of all the schools I had applied to, and I had more opportunities to engage in studies that met my interests. I also wanted to be close to my family, and KU allowed me to be 30 minutes away from them. I was born and raised a Jayhawk, and I was even born on Kansas Day, so I feel like it was fate that I ended up at KU.
Why did you choose your major and minor? And how do they complement each other? Was there a moment when you decided this is what you wanted to study? What was that journey like?
I changed my major a couple different times, but I decided to study American Studies because I really enjoy the social justice frameworks that American Studies promotes, as well as the opportunity to choose an emphasis that meets my research interests. I found American studies to be very interdisciplinary because I was able to engage in a lot of great classes inside and outside of my department that challenged my ways of thought about greater American social issues.
I think the moment I decided to switch my major to American Studies happened during my freshman year as a result of my AMS 260 America’s Latinos/as class. I really enjoyed this class and the instructor, and decided that I wanted to focus my studies on issues facing Latinx individuals in the United States. My journey through my major has been a very rewarding one and has helped me to critically analyze various aspects of society, and has led me to pursue a graduate degree in higher education and student affairs in hopes to evaluate questions of access and equity within academic institutions for marginalized students.
I always knew I wanted to study Spanish as my minor for personal reasons. Spanish is a big part of my family’s identity, and I wanted to help keep the language alive in my family and eventually pass it down to the next generations in my family, so I decided to study Spanish.
What has been your favorite class at KU? And why?
Hands down my AMS 260 America’s Latinos/Latinas class was my favorite because we read some of the best books by Latinx authors and it helped me discover my major!
What is the benefit of being in the KU College alongside students studying sciences, arts and humanities?
I think a major benefit of being in the KU College is the opportunity to select from an endless range of unique, and engaging classes alongside students from all sorts of different departments and areas of interest. I think there is a lot to learn from students who come from different majors than your own and it is an opportunity to branch out and open your mind to new ways of thought and inquiry. The KU College really gives you the opportunity to explore all that your education at KU has to offer, and that is a really cool thing!
Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU who has helped you?
My OMA mentors Emily Gullickson and Mauricio Gomez Montoya — They have encouraged me to set high expectations for myself and have offered some of the best advice about school and life to me. They have also been huge supporters in helping me reach my future career goals.
Dr. Joo Ok Kim is one of the most graceful people I know and she has helped me unlock my academic potential under her guidance. Dr. Marta Caminero-Santangelo has helped me achieve greatness and is always willing to go the extra mile to support me in all that I do.
The McNair Team Mulu Lemma and Simone Savannah are the definition of support and they do all that they can to ensure that my future will be bright. They reveal the true brilliance within their students.
Tell us about your internship experiences with KU Endowment and the McNair Scholars Program Summer Research Internship (SRI). What were your responsibilities, and what was your favorite part of each of these internships?
My internship experience with KU Endowment was a really great experience that exposed me to the wonderful work of higher education fundraising. I got to learn about all the development work that goes into strengthening relationships with donors and what it looks like to fund a big university like KU. Some of my responsibilities as the Development Intern included going on donor visits, which were always really fun because usually I got to learn about our donors passions about KU over lunch or coffee, I got to travel to KC a lot to shadow Development Officers at the KU Medical Center Endowment office, and I got to conduct a research project about young alumni engagement and present my findings to the Annual Giving team. Endowment really helped me grow as a professional and taught me the importance of building strong relationships with fellow Jayhawks. My favorite part about my internship with KUEA was being able to get away from my desk and really get out there in the community and interact with our donors in a meaningful way!
If I could describe my internship experience with McNair in one word, it would have to be “life-changing.” Through my Summer Research Internship (SRI) I completed an independent research project under my faculty mentor Dr. Caminero-Santangelo about barriers to educational attainment for Latinx student workers in college. I spent most of my summer collecting data through interviews, analyzing my data, and reading research articles for my project. I also spent a lot of time preparing for graduate school during SRI. I took a GRE preparation course, spent time researching graduate school programs across the US, and wrote several drafts of my resume, CV, and personal statements. My internship with McNair taught me how to be a researcher and has provided me with so many useful skills, such as public speaking, time-management, and collaboration-all things that I know I will use in the future. I would have to say seeing my McNair cohort every day was really my favorite part of SRI, they motivated and inspired me to keep moving forward even when times were tough and stress levels were high.
How had the classes you’d taken at KU prepared you for the internships? What did you gain from those experiences that will be valuable to you in the future?
A lot of my classes initially exposed me to research and how to compose mini-research projects, and that was really helpful when it came time for me to do a larger scale research project. I didn’t feel completely lost either when it came to doing independent research because my classes had already taught me how to ask research questions and how to find research articles through the library database. One class in particular really helped prepare my for my KUEA internship, Honors 250, which exposed me to the nonprofit sector. We even visited KUEA during one class period to learn about the work they do, and that really motivated me to pursue an internship with them.
What do you want to do when you graduate?
When I graduate I want to pursue a Master’s degree in higher education administration and/or student affairs.
What would you tell your freshman self?
I would tell my freshman self, YES! You belong here and your legacy will be great. I spent a lot of my freshman year selling myself short and I really struggled to find my fit at KU, but I started to meet some really great people that helped me carve my path, and now looking back at my time at KU, I am nothing more than proud of all that I have accomplished over these last four years.
What motivates you?
I think I am most motivated by the opportunities my education will bring me in the future. My education has already changed my life in numerous ways, therefore, I am hopeful for what is to come and the endeavors I will pursue as a result of my degree. I will be the first in my family to get a degree, and just knowing that really motivates me to do the most with my education. I am also motivated to break a cycle in my family, in hopes that my siblings and my nephew will see the positive impacts education can have on some one’s life and one day find that same empowerment I have found through education.
Be like Monica. Carve out your unique path and leave a lasting legacy. For more information, explore the Department of American Studies, The Department of Spanish & Portuguese, the KU Honors Program, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the TRIO McNair Scholars Program, and KU Endowment at the University of Kansas.