Martinez aims to use the skills she gains in the MPP program to uplift marginalized communities.
Headshot of Karina Martinez
Karina Martinez

“As a first-generation and DACA student, the odds were kind of against me,” said Karina Martinez. “I hope to change who’s at the table and making policy decisions for communities like mine.”

After moving to the US from Mexico with her family when she was three, Martinez grew up in Waukegan, Illinois. “Wealth disparities were frequent and visible. Nearby Lake County is one of the wealthiest areas in the state, but Waukegan and North Chicago, for example, are not,” Martinez said. She witnessed high dropout rates in school and resources not being properly allocated to the community.

Inspired by her parents’ resilience and perseverance, Martinez became dedicated to volunteering and helping others, which fueled her interest in politics and public policy.

As a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, Martinez said there were academic hurdles as she pursued her undergraduate degree from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. “The application process, finding financial aid, and more were challenges.” Nonetheless, Martinez double majored in political science and Spanish and took advantage of opportunities to enrich her college experience.

“Twice I studied abroad, and I completed one semester at American University. I also took a semester at the University of Costa Rica through the ACM Costa Rica Community Engagement program, where I did a community practicum.” After graduation, she returned to Waukegan and worked at the public library. “I worked on engagement and outreach efforts in my community,” Martinez said. “I sought out and engaged with different organizations to provide mutually beneficial partnerships that helped provide services to my community.” Some efforts included organizing citizenship workshops and language classes for her predominantly Spanish-speaking immigrant community.

Giving back to her community was a natural inclination for Martinez. “I started becoming really active in my senior year of high school, when I got involved in Get Out the Vote efforts and volunteered with ICIRR [Immigrant Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights].” During college, Martinez began volunteering with the the Boys and Girls Club.

As for many others, the COVID pandemic spurred Martinez to shift her energies. “The pandemic really highlighted a lot of the inequalities in healthcare for marginalized communities,” she said. “I knew I always wanted to go back to school, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue. I was frustrated, because I recognized that there’s only so much we can do without substantial public policy changes. And that’s when I felt assured that pursuing a policy degree was the way to go.”

Martinez said The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy was where she saw herself flourishing. “The University’s prestige and reputation for academic excellence was key, but the institution’s reputation as a pioneer towards a more equitable and just society was what really inspired me.”

Martinez said that although she hasn’t pinned down a specific focus area in her Master of Public Policy program yet, she is interested in international relations and anything related to immigration. “Right now, I’m excited to continue developing my skills to work towards positive change in the country I love and to be a part of the community of brilliant and passionate minds at the University of Chicago.”