March is Women’s History Month, and we’re celebrating by recognizing the women who are making history today by working to impact policy change in various areas where Arnold Ventures works.
Today, we’re highlighting Amanda Martinez, senior policy analyst on higher education at UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization.
Who She Is
A native of Los Angeles, Martinez grew up within the Latino immigrant community with parents who instilled in her the value of higher education and the importance of giving back. As a first-generation college student at Cal State Fullerton, she became a student advocate, registered students to vote, and participated in student government. There, she learned that she really loved being on the ground with students and getting them activated, and that her next steps were to pursue a career in policy.
When former president Trump rescinded DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in 2017, Martinez decided to move to Washington, D.C., to get involved at the federal level. To expand her knowledge on education and labor issues, she published research at public policy think tanks and advocacy groups. She received a fellowship at Young Invincibles, a nonprofit dedicated to the amplification of young adult voices in politics, enrolled in American University to get her master’s in public policy, and later became an intern at New America, a think-and-do tank connecting research, technology, media, and the public.
During her time in graduate school and working in federal education policy, Martinez noticed that she didn’t run into many Latino/Hispanic colleagues and students or encounter data on Latino/Hispanic students. “It was almost like searching for a treasure that I couldn’t find. I couldn’t find myself in the work as well. There was some stuff about first-generation college students, but really I was looking for a reflection of what my friends were going through, what I went through. I didn’t find that in the conversations I was around in D.C. when I would go to briefings or Hill meetings, and I didn’t find it in policy makers. I didn’t really even honestly find it in my colleagues in, even in my grad school program.” She realized she could address these gaps in her career in advocacy.
To elevate the voices of the underserved and better educate policymakers and stakeholders on the Latino experience in higher education, Martinez partnered with five UnidosUS affiliates throughout the country to conduct listening sessions and in-depth interviews with students and families. The student and family accounts were documented in the UnidosUS research report, Following Their Dreams in an Inequitable System: Latino Students Share Their College Experience.
Following this collection of stories, Martinez developed UnidosUS’ first higher education policy agenda, A Path Forward for Latinos: Laying the Groundwork for Equity in Higher Education, which provides a blueprint for improving postsecondary outcomes for Latinos to increase degree attainment among Latinos.
What She’s Currently Working On
In her current role at UnidosUS, Martinez analyzes and monitors Latino trends in higher education related to accessibility, affordability, college completion, and institutional accountability. In addition to looking closely at Latino higher education trends, she works directly with students and the civil rights community to ensure that federal and state policies center the voices of underserved students.
In January, Martinez was unanimously voted to be a civil rights representative for higher education policies in the U.S. Department of Education’s negotiated rulemaking by its committee. “Every day of each session feels like I am running mental sprints, and it burns,” said Martinez. “It’s enjoyable but also painful. Enjoyable because I understand that the outcome of the committee’s work will impact thousands of students and the higher education sector entirely. Also, I’m aware that the policymaking process at this scale tends to leave out necessary voices. I’m honored to have a role in support of them.”
What Inspires Her
“My community — the Latino community, which for me stretches beyond U.S. borders to communities in Latin America. While Latinos are diverse in race and ethnicity, there are some common values and experiences that make up who we are. As someone who identifies and researches Latinos, I’ve found that our story continues to be one of resiliency and maximizing opportunity when given the equal chance to succeed. My immediate family, friends, neighbors and colleagues who identify as Latino/Hispanic have modeled for me how to overcome life’s greatest struggles by embracing the spirit of Adelante.”
I’ve found that our story continues to be one of resiliency and maximizing opportunity when given the equal chance to succeed.Amanda Martinez senior policy analyst on higher education at UnidosUS