CRP Junior Receives Prestigious Truman Scholarship

Alec Martinez standing with shovel in a derelict lot in harlem, ny

Alec Martinez (B.S. URS '18) during his Alternative Breaks trip to New York City to help build a children's sensory garden for Harlem Grown, a New York City nonprofit. Robert Barker / Cornell Marketing Group

May 9, 2017

Urban and regional studies junior, Alec James Martinez (B.S. URS '18), was recently awarded the highly competitive and prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship. The funds are awarded by the Harry S. Truman foundation to students who are able to demonstrate their previous commitment to public service and who will prepare for a career in the public sector with graduate study.

Martinez's background in service is extensive. At the age of 16, he began to travel with the help of public service grant programs and went to Southeast Asia to deliver supplies to communities in remote areas. "Despite growing up rather poor myself, I was completely shaken by the poverty and powerlessness I saw in these communities," reflected Martinez. "I was horrified to think that I could just go back to my own world where what I had seemed like excess. My life afterward gravitated toward the possible ways that our world could be a better, fairer place."

After high school, Martinez attended Texas A&M International University near Laredo, Texas, where he localized his political activity and founded the organization Culture Exchange. His community activities, which linked joint interests between his campus and the city of Laredo, quickly evolved into an internship at one of his district's congressional offices. He took time away from his studies when he was offered a full-time outreach coordinator position at the same office. Looking for more hands-on contact with people in the city, he eventually accepted a position with Frank Architecture, the design office that was contracted by the city of Laredo to draft the first comprehensive plan for urban development in more than 25 years. "I absolutely fell in love with the work," he commented. "I was in awe of the city's complexity, and the more I worked on the plan, the better I understood the city – both physically and for its immaterial attributes and systems. It was then that I realized that city planning is what I'm meant to do, and I knew I'd need to return to school to learn as much as possible, which is when I applied and eventually came to Cornell."

In his first year at AAP, Martinez has been part of Design Connect, CRP's student organization, as they work on a revitalization plan for Corning, New York. He spent Spring Break with Cornell's Alternative Breaks program working on a project for Harlem Grown, an urban agriculture nonprofit in Manhattan. And, in addition to completing his final three semesters in his current program and preparing for graduate study, Martinez will serve as the AAP representative to the Student Assembly, the University Assembly, and the Campus Planning Committee in the coming year.

"Coming from a single-parent household, I'm not sure that graduate school would have been a possibility without the Truman Scholarship," says Martinez. "The foundation's financial support and connections are of course very helpful, and there is also something really stirring about simply being chosen for this. My whole life, I've been making efforts to try to make the world a better place in whatever way I can. With this scholarship, I think that many doors will open that could make these efforts much larger."

In addition to a record of service and the intent to continue along that path, students are considered for the Truman Scholarship if they have standing in their university's junior class with a grade point average of 3.5 or higher. Applicants are initially selected by a university committee for nomination to the national Truman competition. Martinez was notified of his selection this spring and will receive a $30,000 scholarship for graduate study. He will then fulfill an obligation of at least three years of public service after his receipt of the award.

By Edith Fikes

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