Interview with NetWings Corps Co-Founder, Jacqueline Martinez

Impassioned by the opportunity to develop and deploy effective, innovative, and human centric solutions to both local and global challenges in education, Jacqueline Martinez has traveled and lived in places ranging from the Middle East, South America, Europe and South East Asia.

Throughout her Undergraduate career, Martinez has experienced working in the public, private, and nonprofit sector, including the US House of Representatives in Washington DC, The Crown Family Foundation in the City of Chicago, and Lazard Asset Management in New York City. As a recent College graduate, Martinez Co-Founded NetWings Corp, a nonprofit organization based in Washington DC dedicated to providing meaningful cross cultural exchange opportunities for youth to defy barriers of geography, culture and exposure.

Dedicating her energy and ambitions to cut across traditional boundaries which separate nonprofits, government, and for-profit businesses, Jacqueline remains committed to advancing the progress and visibility of real people inspiring real world change.

To learn more about the work that Jacqueline is doing with NetWings Corps, check out their website here.


What inspired you to pursue work in the field of education/education policy? 

It’s an interesting story. I grew up in a family which deeply valued education—my mom was a teacher, so a lot of my time was spent in the classroom. It was a tough job, so when she wasn’t able to find a nanny or things of that nature, I found myself next to her, learning from her, seeing her firsthand–teach in the classroom. I grew a love of education in seeing how my mom interacted with students, how she built their self-esteems, how she not only educated youth, but cared for and loved her students, educating a future generation of adolescents.

My mom grew up in Mexico in a family of nine. Growing up with humble beginnings, education was viewed as a great equalizer that allowed my mom and her 8 siblings to travel to distant places and to experience and seek out new experiences.

As I began to grow older, my love for education similarly grew. When I was in High School, at the age of 16, I was nominated by my peers to serve on the District U-46 Board of Education, the second largest school district in the city of Illinois. At the time, I was the first female, Hispanic Student to serve on the board. It was exhilarating, yet it was also extremely challenging. Although I was never really familiar with policy, serving in politics allowed me to gain a better understanding of how education and policy intertwined. My love for education, politics, grew.

Which voices—teachers, classmates, family members, friends, etc.—were most influential in shaping your experience in school?

I’ve always had a deep interest in civic education and history. There were multiple teachers at the primary and high school level that inspired me to study these subject matters. In the fifth grade, I had this excellent teacher, who first introduced me to the world of international affairs. I had always been an enthusiast for culture. Yet, my fifth grade teacher was the first to speak of my culture. It was at this point in time that I began to see my identity in the classroom. As she spoke of Latino culture, policy and history, I grew to not only value education, but I also grew to fall in love with school. In an instant, I saw a large part of the duality of my identity in the classroom, and from there, there was no turning back.

As High School neared, I learned about a district-wide level program where students could participate in personalized learning opportunities. These programs were also referred to as “Academies.” One high school had an academy that was focused in math. Another school had a program which focused on foreign relations and languages, and so naturally, I gravitated towards this program. In participating in the World Languages and International Studies Academy (WLISA), I had an incredible Civics Education teacher during my Freshman Year. He was the first person to introduce me to public policy. Although I had no idea what public policy was, he assured me I should study Public Policy when I grew older. He continued to grow my interest and knowledge in Public Policy throughout the years, spearheading personal projects on the topic, as well as providing additional news sources, articles, and books that would continue to spark my interest in topics such as Public Policy, Economics, Human Rights Law, Education and more throughout the years.

Amongst many other educators, my teachers were the first to introduce me to a world of policy and politics in Washington DC. As they continued to expose me to this world, I assured them that I would one day live and work on Capitol Hill. All of these conversations were important exposure, coming from a family that had a strong interest in politics, but did not know how to navigate the world politics. My interest in politics, originally came from the desire to see how politics impacted people, not only those I surrounded myself day to day, but the people I oftentimes did not have the opportunity to meet.

As the decision to attend college approached, as a first-generation college student, I chose to study Economics and Public Policy because my teachers had instilled a new sense of faith and confidence in me to pursue not only a career in politics, but a vocation in education.

More than anything, my family served at the root of why I pursued an inherent interest in Education equality in accessibility and opportunity. Both of my parents had very limited exposure in education growing up. Although my parents were able to obtain their Associates degrees, they experienced a satiation to pursue more. Yet, a satiation without proper access or opportunity, oftentimes did not afford them the opportunity to fulfill their satiations.

Which voices did you know have access to growing up that might have fundamentally changed your experience with school?

It’s all about exposure. When I was a senior in high school, I came across an advertisement on Facebook, that posed the question: Are you a girl that wants to change the world? If so, click here. After reading through the HERLead Program in Washington DC, I chose to apply, in the hopes of surrounding myself with other young leaders throughout the country who hosted a satiation to change the world. Shortly after applying, I found myself flying to Washington DC to spend 4 incredible days with 50 incredible young women throughout the country.

It was all of the sudden then, that I gained exposure to women and young girls throughout the world who spoke of opportunity, travel, and the need to pursue an education, even in areas of the world where women and young girls were not allowed to obtain an education. Although I had always considered myself a very ambitious student, the voices of the over 50 women that I met, served as a constant reminder of the person I could become, the person I hoped to be. Without their perspective, I’m not sure I would have ever left the city I grew up in.

Although I grew up in a town with great sense of community, I look back now and I see that many of my peers never ventured out of the community they grew up in. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I do believe it is a shame that many youth will never get to see or experience the world differently, because they are never properly introduced to the opportunity to do so. Voices of different identities and voices of different culture was something I really craved for growing up, growing up in a community that was extremely homogenous. Even within education itself, administrations and teachers looked a certain way. Diversity was oftentimes something I yearned for.

Given the perspective you were able to develop from the experience of being both a student and a board member, do you feel that student and district level leaders’ voices are being adequately balanced at the policy-level? At the classroom level, what are both sides missing?

I never could have imagined the role of politics in education, until I witnessed it firsthand. Serving as a Board Member on the Board of Education for my local school district, I came to understand the formality of bureaucracy, what it meant, and how processes impacted how an education system would evidently evolve.

About a decade ago, we began to see school districts evolve the participation of students in their local school boards.  How students would participate, varied from one school district to the next. For example, while serving on the board, I was restricted  voting rights. Although I was and continue to be grateful for the opportunity to serve on the Board of Education at such an early age, the opportunity was accompanied by inevitable limitations. It was something I struggled with at the time.  I recognized that our local school district was developing new innovative opportunities for its students. Developing new opportunities and creating change was something that like all things in life, would only truly evolve and perfect with time. As more time passes, I urge school districts to take the next step, to truly invest in their students voices, by allowing them the right to vote.  

Regardless of voting rights, exposure to such an environment was pivotal at a young age. It allowed for me to evolve my own understanding of the ever evolving world of education and policy, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Was there any particular issue that you think your voice would have been important to hear, during your experiences?

At the time and still to this day, the topic of school lunch choice has remained  a controversial topic. Both as a student and an educator, I have always firmly believed that a firm education, the kind that builds a generation of successful, competent and happy individuals is not one that should be limited to the classroom. Ranging from topics including navigating family environments, propelling students to make healthy food choices, and teaching youth the importance of confidence and persistence building— I strongly believe that some of the most valuable lessons learned in the classroom, are those that have nothing to do with the formality of education at all.

Learning to not only educate a student, but an individual human being is daunting task, but nonetheless it is  a task that requires our full attention, and our full investment. I firmly believe that education is an overall experience, time and time again research has shown that if a student is able to eat more healthy food options, they are more capable, more aware, and more alert in the classroom.

It was because of this, that I oftentimes urge Administrators to think outside of the box, and to make choices for their students that not only educate their minds, but their bodies. Unfortunately, many school districts are tied to food contracts. Every so often, a school district will go into a bidding war with food contractors to negotiate a deal with their providers for a year, two years, three years, however long the contract may last. Unfortunately, ‘food bidding’ can oftentimes be a very limited process in terms of selecting appropriate meal choices for students, especially when a school district has limited funding or when a school district has to make the choice to not only feed a population of over 20,000 students, but to purchase food choices that students will actively purchase while at school, so that food will not go to waste.

In some cases, you’ll have schools that transition into healthier food options for their students. Yet, if students are not educated in purchasing these options, than in many cases, this food goes to waste. It is because of this, that I firmly believe many schools should prioritize transitioning to healthier food options, but also educating students and communities at large about the benefits of choosing to eat healthy from an early age.

Shifting to thinking more about your work with NetWings, why do you believe that access to travel-based learning opportunities is particularly important for under-represented high school and college-aged students?

There is this idea  in education that if you want a student to experience what the world is like, you have to let them experience the world firsthand.  Yet for many students, opportunities of exposure are limited.  In the City of Chicago, for example, you’ll oftentimes have students who grow up in various neighborhoods surrounding the City of Chicago, yet who never have the opportunity to explore downtown areas of the City– located just miles away.

Experiencing similar limitations growing up, I was fortunate to receive opportunities to travel globally from a young age.   It was in these cases that I began to gauge new experiences, to meet new people, to gain curiosity for the world, to develop a new sense of confidence,  to ask more questions and to build a greater sense of empathy for the world around me.  NetWings Corps’ biggest belief is that all students should have the ability to travel and to see the world to experience different cultures, language, and geographies—regardless of limitations. In return we hope that our students will come to understand their place and their purpose in our ever-evolving world.

 


 

To hear more about Jacqueline’s story and why she finds power in what can be learned through travel, you can watch her TEDx talk here.

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