This is another in an occasional series of student success stories at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges.
Grossmont College academic standout Caleb Martinez has experienced quite the journey. The 25-year-old East County resident grew up in a series of neighborhoods rife with crime, and he often found himself in trouble as a teen. His mother had to work two jobs to make ends meet, and his brother was murdered in a gang shooting in El Cajon.
Today, Martinez maintains a 4.0 grade point average, is the president of the campus EOPS Club, is planning to transfer to a University of California campus with plans of becoming a lawyer and is raising a young daughter as a doting single father.
Grossmont College has been pivotal in the transformation.
“Grossmont showed me that education is the way out, the way out for a lot of people who come from challenging backgrounds,” Martinez said. “The school helped me connect with the community and interact with different groups. It taught me so much about life in general."
Martinez, 25, was born on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation in Arizona, but moved constantly with his two brothers and two sisters after their father left the family.
“It was difficult,” Martinez said. “My mom was working two jobs and going to school to get an accounting degree. We struggled financially and we moved around a lot.”
Martinez and an older brother also had a penchant for getting into trouble. Jimmy Martinez was shot and killed by a rival gang member in downtown El Cajon some 10 years ago. Two years later, Caleb Martinez became the father of a baby girl.
“I decided that when she was old enough to go into kindergarten, I was going to go to college and make something of myself,” Martinez said. “I wanted to improve my lot in life and give her the things I didn’t have.”
He added: “Being a parent changed every aspect of my life. I had to stop thinking about myself and I had to start thinking about someone else. Being a parent taught me how to grow up and be a man.”
He has been thriving at Grossmont College, where he works about 20 hours a week in the EOPS office and presiding over the EOPS Club. As head of the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services club, Martinez is often called on to deliver motivational speeches, speak to different groups on and off campus, help organize special events and raise money for efforts aimed at helping underrepresented students. He also recently worked as an aide at Grossmont College’s EOPS Summer Institute, which is designed to assist first-year students in making a successful transition from high school.
“Caleb is a born leader,” said EOPS counselor Michael Perez, who was a counselor to Martinez’s brother, Jimmy, and first met Martinez at his brother’s funeral a decade ago. “He is mature beyond his age. He is an excellent student. And to see him combine his life experiences with his education is just excellent stuff.”
Indeed, his dedication has earned Martinez the Grossmont College Bernard Osher Scholarship and the Barnes & Noble Textbook Award in the past year.
Martinez will complete his studies at Grossmont College this fall. He is hoping to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from either UC San Diego or UC Berkeley. Then it will be off to law school, preferably the University of San Diego or UC Berkeley.
His ultimate goal is to raise up others. “I want to do whatever I can to make things better for people who are struggling,” Martinez said. “I just want to keep on fighting for equality and civil rights for all.”