Alumni Spotlight

December’s Alumni Spotlight with Angelica Martinez, MPA '14

December Alumni Spotlight

As a Colombian immigrant and self-described “dreamer”, Angelica’s aspirations have always been at odds with her reality. Recently, CUNY lawyers helped her receive a work permit after years of frustration and doubt, and now, with deferred action she works at CUNY as a summer internship coordinator. But she doesn’t plan on stopping there; she aims to find a full-time position in food policy research.

Angelica (MPA '14) speaks about her involvement in immigration policy, food policy, and her relationship with CUNY, Baruch College, and the School of Public Affairs.

Participating in the Somos Dreamers Campaign, CUNY Citizenship Now and LaGuardia Community College must have been exciting for you. What connected you to these causes? Has your engagement with them helped to propel you toward your dream of working in food policy research?
As an immigrant and a dreamer, I understand perfectly the challenges that undocumented immigrants face. It was important to me that young dreamers heard my story and felt inspired to succeed despite the challenges. Participating in these definitely inspired me to fight for the things that I believe in. Our immigration policy is broken but so is our food policy and seeing how far the dreamers have gotten in terms of effecting change solidifies my belief that I too can effect change in food policy.

You were President of the graduate student organization Food Matters. What are some of the initiatives you led or participated in during your time there? How did the School of Public Affairs help you achieve these efforts?
The first thing I did as president of Food Matters was getting involved in Food Day. Food Day is a national organization that raises awareness in food policy; they celebrate with events nationwide on October 24 every year. Food Matters held a 'Food Week' with four events leading up to Food Day. These events included a nutrition workshop, a documentary screening, a cafeteria fair, and a panel discussion on GMO Labeling in New York State. In addition to those events we also started conversations with the Baruch cafeteria to participate in the Real Food Challenge. This consisted of the cafeteria providing at least 20% of 'real food' from local sources, ecologically sound, from fair working conditions, and humane for animal products. We tested this out during the cafeteria fair. The Food Matters team came up with four menu items made entirely of 'real food.' The cafeteria then agreed to sell these items on that day only. The event was a huge success and the cafeteria sold out on our food in two hours! We continued our talks to make the Real Food Challenge happen but encountered tons of bureaucracy issues within CUNY, so we are still working on it. The School of Public Affairs sponsored the GMO labeling panel and over 80 Baruch students showed up and participated in the discussion. I also participated as a panelist in the Dean’s Advisory Board-sponsored panel "Food Fights: An exploration of food, health, policy, and industry."

The School of Public Affairs definitely gave me the tools to make all of this happen. I relied on advice from my professors and used examples from our discussions in class to lead Food Matters in the most effective fashion. We also counted on the support of Dean Birdsell and many faculty members; this helped us spread our message across campus.

What has been the most difficult part of your journey from immigrant to citizenship thus far? What are your future goals concerning citizenship?
The most difficult part of my immigrant journey has been the inability to contribute to society as a working person. Having a college degree and countless job offers and to have to turn them down because of a piece of paper has been the hardest thing. Luckily I qualified for deferred action and I'm now able to work! However my citizenship path is still uncertain and after the midterm elections the future looks bleak. But I remain hopeful that immigration reform will happen one way or another not just for my benefit but for the millions of undocumented people who are stuck like I was, unable to join the working society.

How have CUNY, Baruch College, and the School of Public Affairs helped you along the way?
CUNY has played a major role in my life. As an undocumented youth I did not qualify for financial aid or student loans so a private college was out of the question. If CUNY didn't exist I probably wouldn't have gone to college and who knows what kind of person I would've been today. Having the luxury of an affordable education is one that's worth a million bucks! Many dreamers across the country don't have that luxury and I feel very grateful towards CUNY for giving me the opportunity.

Baruch College is my home! It has been for many years now and as an undergraduate I felt privileged to learn from such successful people at the Zicklin School. It was very academically demanding as well and working hard gave me confidence that I could be successful too. The decision to come back to Baruch for graduate school was an easy one; my career plans had shifted so I looked into the School of Public Affairs, and I'm so lucky I did!

I started the MPA program with not many expectations and hoping that the MPA at the end of my name will increase my income. I was immediately impressed on my first day, having a discussion in my first class about the current policy to prevent teens from using drugs and alcohol. Policy is not something that I had thought about much and that discussion changed my whole outlook on my future, I could use policy research to effect change, but I was still unsure of which issues mattered the most to me. Going through many more discussions and writing policy memos I found my calling: food policy. Then, I quickly began researching and learning all I could about it! My professors already knew that my papers would always have to do with a food issue and some even looked forward to reading them and learning things about food policy they didn't know themselves!

I am the person that I am today thanks in a big part to CUNY, to Baruch and to the School of Public Affairs! I found my true passion thanks to the School, and for that I am eternally grateful!