Helping Students to Connect, Persevere, and Achieve "Impossible" Goals

Submitted by Vanessa Martinez

Vanessa MartinezPhoto courtesy of Lee Chou

The dean's office welcomes Vanessa L. Martinez, M.S., who will serve as the College of Humanities Graduation and Retention Advising Specialist, one of 10 such positions created campus-wide in the Graduation Initiative 2025 push to significantly improve graduation and retention rates. Vanessa, who is herself a first-generation college student, holds a master's degree in counseling psy­chology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a bachelor's degree in psychology from University of California, Irvine. This fall, she will be starting a doctoral program in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at CSUN. Vanessa has conducted research nationally on challenges experienced by Chicana/o and Latina/o students and coping mechanisms they use to persevere. She has presented her research at the American Psychological Association and National Latina/o Psychological Association conferences and was recently published.

Vanessa hails from a small farming community in California's Central Valley, the daughter of Native American, Spanish, and Mexican migrant farm workers. Seeing how hard they worked to support the family, Vanessa was driven to go to college to train for a career she could truly enjoy, and she says her parents, who became small business owners, are very supportive of her choices to pursue higher education. In her new role as a Graduation and Retention Advising Specialist, Vanessa gets to help students make their own dreams a reality by supporting their efforts to stay in college and graduate-even when that seems like an impossible goal. Vanessa cites the difficulties CSUN students face in paying for college amid rising tuition and living costs. Many CSUN students come from lower-income backgrounds and operate with no financial safety net. A set­back that might seem relatively minor to those in higher income brackets can completely derail the educational aspirations of our most vulnerable students.

Vanessa has served in various counseling and advising roles at colleges and universities in California, Idaho, Wisconsin, and Washington. Most recently, she served at Bakersfield College as a counselor and professor of stu­dent and career development. Vanessa has also been invested in creating welcoming university environments and campus climates via diversity training to mental health counselors, academic counselors, advisors, and college students in ongoing efforts to reduce discrimination and improve collaboration and respectful dialogue be­tween people of all backgrounds. She stresses the difficulties students face when they live and work off-campus, often spending more time commuting to and from campus than they do interacting with other students and cam­pus resources. This can significantly impede a student's ability to connect and develop a sense of college belonging. "It's a challenge to attend a campus of approximately 42,000 students and not feel like just a number lost in a sea of backpacks," says Vanessa.

Vanessa may technically be off the clock come evening and weekends, but she's forever honing her understanding of student populations through her natural interests in languages and cultures. She's delighted to be at CSUN, where cultural events are routinely hosted at the Valley Performing Arts Center. And Vanessa, who is bilingual in Spanish and English, is also actively studying Arabic. "My primary motivation in learning about other cultures and learning new languages is to understand that although differences exist, there are many similarities that connect us as humans," Vanessa explains. "If we could all just take the time to learn about these similarities across cultures we could work together to reduce discrimination and promote peace and inclusion in our community."