Becoming a community leader by philanthropy
By Trevor Stewart
Hope is a powerful emotion –– it can get us through tough times, it can help us persevere trials and tribulations until we reach our goal. Third-year mechanical engineering student Martin Vega-Martinez ‘20 is the perfect embodiment of what hope, combined with hard work, looks like.
At the age of 11, Vega-Martinez spent hours after school raising money to help his family. Some days he collected aluminum cans; other days, he washed dishes at a family friend’s restaurant. As he got older, he continued to contribute to the family income by paying rent and covering his personal expenses.
“I made it my goal to one day attend a four-year university with minimal financial impact on my family,” Vega-Martinez said. “My dream school has always been UC Davis.”
Vega-Martinez turned that audacious goal into a reality by graduating in the top 10 percent of his class, being an accomplished four-sport athlete, serving as vice president of the National Honors Society and being a nationally-recognized scholar.
“All of these accomplishments wouldn’t mean anything if it wasn’t for the generosity of donors, who lend a helping hand to students like me that face financial adversity,” said Martin, who now receives several scholarships to study mechanical engineering at UC Davis, including the Chevron Scholarship. “Philanthropy has empowered me to make the most out of my time at UC Davis by allowing me to take initiative and give back to my community.”
Paying it forward
At UC Davis, Martin became involved with the Leadership in Engineering, Advancement, Diversity and Retention (LEADR) Program, which aims to recruit, retain and graduate a diverse population of students from the College of Engineering. Through the LEADR Program, which Martin believes has allowed him to thrive in a university setting, he discovered the Chicano and Latino Engineers and Scientists Society (CALESS). As the outreach coordinator for CALESS, Vega-Martinez organized Science Extravaganza, which is a free event that introduces students from neighboring middle and high schools to STEM and higher education.
Vega-Martinez also serves as co-coordinator for the BikEmpower Program, which works with UC Davis Transportation and Parking Services and the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center to empower the community with knowledge of bike maintenance and safety, while also contributing to the zero waste movement.
His community at UC Davis extends beyond the College of Engineering. He participates in the UC Davis Student Resident Firefighter (SRFF) Program, run by the UC Davis Fire Department. The firefighting academy, which allows UC Davis students to gain firefighting skills while continuing their academic careers, only accepts 15 UC Davis students every two years.
“I want to do something with my life that will serve a greater purpose than myself and allow me make an impact on society,” said Martin, who wants to pursue careers in teaching and firefighting. “This desire stems from the overwhelming support that I have received from my community since I was young and has continued to this day.”