AMES, Iowa — Alejandro Martinez wasn’t planning to go to college. Then he got a 4.1 GPA his freshman year of high school and started dreaming of the possibilities if he continued to get good grades.
Eight years later, Martinez will graduate from Iowa State University this weekend with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and health. He will go on to graduate school next fall to study occupational therapy.
Three passions forged to help Martinez find his path: health, helping others and soccer. The sport is a huge part of his culture and his family, and it was his own soccer injuries at South Tama County High School — as well as words of wisdom from the athletic trainer who helped him recover — that led him to kinesiology. Martinez applied for Upward Bound, a college preparatory program for first-generation and/or income-eligible high school students.
“During middle school, I didn’t care about school. I didn’t plan to go to college,” he said. “During my freshman year of high school, I finished my semester with all As. I thought, ‘What if I continue this throughout my high school career? What would happen then?’ So for the next four years I was able to average about an A in every single class.”
It was the final component of Upward Bound, in which students get to take college courses over the summer, that sold Martinez on Iowa State. And it was his work ethic and academic success that earned him the Multicultural Vision Program award.
“It made me feel welcomed when I entered the university, that there were others I could relate to with my issues,” he said. “I felt more welcomed when we were able to talk about these very delicate issues around the U.S.”
He started Iowa State set on studying athletic training. Between classes he helped rehab ISU football and rugby players. Martinez decided it wasn’t the perfect fit, however. He switched to kinesiology and health, with a pre-occupational therapy option. Occupational therapy is a form of therapy that focuses on rehabilitation for daily functional activities such as walking, eating or bathing.
“I’m a first-generation student, so I hope to inspire others in my community and make an impact, leave a legacy behind,” he said. “My brother is 11. He’s transitioning into that phase I entered when I was like, ‘I don’t care about school.’
“He looks up to me, he likes to play soccer and he says he wants to go to college, so that’s a start.”
Family means everything to Martinez.
“I need to make my parents proud. They sacrificed everything they have in order for me to continue my education,” he said. “It was just a way to give back to them.”
His parents didn’t continue their education past the sixth grade. They ask Martinez every day how school is going, and he said they’re ecstatic about seeing him graduate this weekend.
After commencement, Martinez and his family will take off on their near-annual winter vacation to visit his grandparents in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“My parents are staying here to go to the ceremony,” he said. “Usually they go to Mexico right after Thanksgiving, but this year they’re going to wait it out. That means a lot to me.”
Martinez applied to and was accepted at other colleges. He says he came to Iowa State because he felt “at home.”
“I feel like things happen for a reason,” he said. “I think this institution is amazing and they do a great job of including everyone. I guess what I’m trying to say is: I made the right choice.”