Berkeley Today Stories
Berkeley Graduate Honored for Overcoming Personal Challenges to Succeed in College, Student Government, and Athletics
Jeison Martinez, who grew up in poverty in Colombia, is now a Berkeley College graduate, an M.B.A. candidate, and this year’s recipient of the Robert Maher Award, given for perseverance to succeed academically against all odds.
Mr. Martinez, 23, who grew up so poor that he and his sister had no shoes, was honored at the College’s Commencement ceremony at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, on April 29, 2016. The Robert Maher Award celebrates his ability to overcome personal challenges to excel in his studies and athletics, while working multiple part-time jobs and planning for a successful career.
“From the humblest of beginnings, Mr. Martinez’ determination, along with his family’s support, instilled in him a work ethic that pushed him to excel in cross-country, the Student Government Association, and two part-time jobs – all while completing an accelerated Associate’s degree in Management and an accelerated Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration,” said Dallas Reed, Ph.D., Berkeley College Vice President, Student Development and Campus Life.
Mr. Martinez, a resident of Dover, NJ, completed his B.S. in Business Administration at Berkeley College in June 2015 and was a student government ambassador. He is now in his third semester pursuing his M.B.A. in Management at Berkeley College.
Moving between the United States and Colombia Led to Mastering English and Spanish
Mr. Martinez was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, and lived there with his parents and sister until he was 2 years old. They moved to the United States so his mother could earn a better living there to help support the family.
However, that proved daunting, and often she worked three jobs to try to keep the family afloat. Sometimes she would send her children back to live with their father in Colombia until she was managing better financially, Mr. Martinez said.
Those times were sad for him when he was a little boy, he remembered.
“It was emotionally difficult leaving my mom,” he said. “And it was difficult going back and forth. When I came to the U.S., I didn’t know English. When I went back to Colombia, I didn’t know Spanish. So I had to learn both languages again. Now I’m fluent in both, and I also speak some Italian.”
Mr. Martinez attended second, third, and fourth grade in Colombia, and moved back to the United States permanently when he was in fifth grade. He was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in June 2015.
Now he is proud of both countries where he grew up and hopes he can raise awareness about the rich traditions and beauty of Colombia, despite the negatives that have drawn more attention.
“I’m excited about where I come from,” Mr. Martinez said. “The city where I come from in Colombia is known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. I could have become a statistic. But there is also a lot of beauty there. We had no money, no shoes. There is a lot of poverty and crime there. But I persevered and became what I am now.”
Berkeley College Faculty and Staff Inspired Him
Mr. Martinez said many professors at Berkeley College supported and inspired him, most notably Professor Catherine St. John, D.A., who is now retired, and Michael Lincoln, his Cross-Country coach.
While studying as an undergraduate, Mr. Martinez worked as an office assistant in the College’s Student Development and Campus Life department on the Woodland Park, NJ, campus.
He said Dr. Reed, Sandra Coppola, Senior Director of Personal Counseling, and many other staff members in the department were helpful to him.
Ms. Coppola said Mr. Martinez “is one of the most impressive people I have ever met. He lives his intention to do his best every day with every person he meets, including himself. He took adversity and transformed it into opportunity. He lives to make the world a better, more interesting place. Not only do I like Jeison as a person, I respect him greatly. Jeison is one of those people you meet in life who will not only inspire you, but will change you.”
Mr. Martinez works in Distribution and Sales Support for Power Hawk Technologies based in Rockaway, NJ. Selling extrication systems and spare parts are among his many duties there.
He said he is the only company employee fluent in Spanish, a skill that makes him valuable since he is able to communicate with customers all over the world.
“I really like the business I’m in, and I really want to grow within the company,” he said.