The Charger Blog

Student Government President: 'To Be a First-Generation Student Means Being a Strong Self-Starter'

Sofia Martinez ’22 takes great pride in being a first-generation college student, and she is proud to be part of the University’s commemoration of First-Generation Celebration Day, a national initiative created by the Council for Opportunity in Education.

November 6, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Sofia Martinez with her aunt and sister.
Sofia Martinez (center) with her aunt and sister. Sofia considers her aunt to be someone who inspires her because of her resilience and ability to remain happy – no matter what.

When Sofia Martinez ’22 was in high school, she and her family visited the University of New Haven while traveling to visit relatives. Although she had not yet decided where she wanted to attend college, when she arrived on campus, she knew she’d found the school for her. Since she officially became a Charger, she has been an active member of the University community.

Sofia Martinez, Phi Sigma Sigma
Sofia Martinez (left) and Kenzie Whiting ’20. Sofia says that being a Phi Sigma Sigma sister with Kenzie taught her about community and inspired her to get more involved with the USGA.

A first-generation student, Martinez says the term is more than a just a label – it is reflective of students’ tenacity, drive, and hard work.

“We sometimes forget how much work and strength it takes to claim those two words,” she said. “To be a first-generation student means being a strong self-starter who looks inward to define their worth. This is incredibly meaningful to me because I know what it takes to get where I am, and I appreciate seeing others do the same.”

'I must have faith in myself as an underdog'

First-generation students such as Martinez make up a vibrant and important part of the University community. According to data collected from the Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement from the past two incoming classes, approximately 40 percent of the University’s full-time first-year students have indicated they are first-generation students. November 8 is First-Generation Celebration Day, and the University is recognizing the many students – as well as faculty and staff members and alumni – in its community who are – or were – first-generation college students.

First-Generation Charger Logo

The national celebration was created in 2017 by the Council for Opportunity in Education and Center for First-Generation of Success. Nov. 8 was selected as the date of the celebration to honor the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

The University is using its commemoration of First-Generation Celebration Day to launch an ongoing campaign that will regularly highlight the success of first-generation students in its community and alumni of the University who are the first in their families to earn a college degree.

“As a first-generation student, I understand that I must have faith in myself as an underdog,” said Martinez. “I saw parallels to the University as well, since it started off as a college borrowing Yale’s classrooms and converted its main building, Maxcy Hall, from an orphanage. It has since grown to be a successful four-year institution that is becoming increasingly well-known and prestigious.”

"To be a first-generation student means being a strong self-starter who looks inward to define their worth."Sofia Martinez ’22
'High school me would have been shocked and in disbelief'

President of the University’s Undergraduate Student Government Association, Martinez is grateful for the opportunities she has had to lead conversations that benefit the entire student body and the chances she has had to engage with the University community and administration. She says it has enabled her to grow as a leader.

“I love so much about this role – it is the embodiment of the focus on student experience,” she said. “It is unbelievable sometimes for me to see myself in this role. High school me would have been shocked and in disbelief.”

Sofia Martinez at last year's Turkey Bowl
Sofia Martinez (right) at last year’s Turkey Bowl with Sheffield Hall staff.

A communication major, Martinez switched her major from forensic psychology because, she says, she wanted to focus on something that was more “leadership and development driven.” She is passionate about education and endeavors to eventually work in higher education, a role that she hopes will enable her to teach and inspire others.

Continuing to set high goals for herself, Martinez hopes to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship and attend the University of Oxford before working in higher education in student affairs. She aspires to inspire other first-generation students to also aim high.

“My advice to other first-generation students is to have faith in yourself and know your worth,” she said. “We learn to rely on ourselves as first-generation students, and as good and inspiring as this is, you do not have to be alone because there are so many other individuals who can help you and want to help you.”