July 28, 2023

Melissa Martinez

School Counseling, MEd ’22

Having witnessed oppressive educational systems firsthand, Melissa Martinez came to Lewis & Clark to help marginalized students harness the power of their own voice, and work towards eradicating systemic harm.

Melissa Martinez, School Counseling '22 “You aren’t college material” is not the type of advice one would expect from their School Counselor. Unfortunately, these were the words Melissa Martinez, School Counseling 2022, heard iterated over and over throughout her high school experience. Enraged, knowing the harm this phrase caused, Martinez was determined to one day change the trajectory for marginalized and easily dismissed students.

“I cannot tell you how many parents, students, friends, and family explained their frustration with this experience,” Martinez noted. Determined to ensure no student had to undergo the same lack of support, she began her career as an educator, eventually turning to L&C for the depth and societal influence she was seeking.

I had both a co-worker and a close friend attend Lewis & Clark for graduate school. They said the program was engaging, social justice focused, and that the faculty at Lewis & Clark were the best around. They assured me that the program to choose was L&C.

The deal was sealed when she realized that Lewis & Clark was located off of Terwilliger Blvd, an auspicious coincidence given that her late-grandfather lived with a family by the same name.

“My grandfather was one of my greatest supporters and advocates in life. He was also a major influence when it came to my education. As a high school dropout, he had to work extremely hard to get where he was in life. I felt it was a sign from my Papa when I turned onto Terwilliger Blvd.”

It was immediately evident that her friends, and perhaps her grandfather as well, did not steer her wrong.

“From the first day, the program has brought awareness to the equity, racial, and social justice issues in our education system. Social justice is something we include in everything that we do as school counselors,” Martinez noted.

Coming from a diverse and at times challenging background, Martinez did not shy away from sharing her opinions and experiences with her peers. In fact, she credits these dynamic exchanges for the understanding and affinity developed within her cohort.

I have lived a very unique life and I have not been afraid to share my perspectives of racism, oppression, perseverance, and community.

By shedding light on the lived reality of many marginalized students, she felt her classmates could “better understand the struggles that BIPOC students endure, as well as students who experience trauma, grief and loss. I have found that my cohort is not only thankful that I am so open, but through sharing I have built stronger bonds with them.”

This deep understanding fueled many of the discussions throughout Martinez’s time in the School Counseling program. Her professors shared the same receptivity, with Martinez noting that her professors were her greatest advocates and were “extremely supportive, involved, and present”. As a mother of two, a working professional, and full-time student, this support was more important than ever.

It’s evident when speaking with Martinez the warmth, love, and appreciation she feels towards her cohort and faculty. Every statement radiates with gratitude. She repeatedly mentions how she “cherished” her cohort, even noting how connected her own children felt.

“I have a very close bond with many of my peers. We have laughed, cried, and grown together, and I am so thankful for every one of them.”

It is because of this culture of care that Martinez feels she is prepared to succeed professionally as a school counselor, specifically noting the level of confidence she feels entering the field. Her passion as a student advocate has only increased, her values emboldened by her studies.

I want to ensure students feel heard, seen, and advocated for, using their voice to navigate the educational system so they fully understand how they can be proactive within their education. I would also like to address outdated educational procedures that oppress students of color, refugees, and students with disabilities.

As she reflects on her experience, she hopes that no student will have to ensure the hardships she witnessed as a child. With complete confidence, she urges prospective students to “apply knowing that you are creating a beautiful future. Lewis & Clark’s program is intentionally structured to help you grow as a person, an educator, and a school counselor. You will get much more from this program than just a degree.”

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