El Camino College Student Brenda Fernandez Martinez Awarded 2021 Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship
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El Camino College Student Brenda Fernandez Martinez Awarded 2021 Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship

El Camino College pre-engineering major Brenda Fernandez Martinez was recently awarded the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, worth up to $40,000 a year for up to three years to complete a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university.

The outstanding pre-engineering major has been accepted to numerous selective universities, including Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and UC Berkeley.

“Coming from a place where I originally didn't believe I could attend a university and earn a degree due to my immigration status, it's absolutely crazy to see how far I've come,” Martinez said. “The fact that all this was accomplished by a ‘Dreamer’ has a lot to say about how much our community perseveres through everything. I’m so honored to be a part of the Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship program and I am looking forward to connecting with transfer advisers and like-minded students.”

Martinez is one of 72 community college students from a competitive nationwide pool to win the scholarship this year. More than 1,300 students from 370 community colleges applied for the 2021 Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The Foundation evaluated each submission based on students’ academic ability and achievement, financial need, persistence, and leadership.

In addition to financial support, new Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholars will receive comprehensive educational advising to guide them through the process of transitioning to a four-year college or university and preparing for their careers. Scholars will additionally receive opportunities for internships, study abroad, and graduate school funding, as well as connection to a thriving network of Cooke Scholars and Alumni.

“Congratulations to Brenda for winning this award that not only recognizes her many achievements, but also her hard work and commitment to her education and activities,” said El Camino College President Dena P. Maloney. “Brenda entered El Camino College as a South Bay Promise student, opening the door to higher education here at El Camino College.  Being admitted to the top three engineering schools in the nation says a lot about her perseverance and dedication. El Camino is proud to be a part of her success story.”

Martinez also received the Edison Scholars Scholarship from the ECC Foundation and is a consistent straight-A student throughout her schooling. She enrolled at El Camino after graduating from North Torrance High School. Math always came easy to her and soon she discovered physics and robotics, concepts she says are very challenging, but fun as well.

She’s the first to admit that she gets passionate about her areas of interest, which can lead to a very busy schedule that requires balance and organization. To name a few of her activities, Martinez is a member of the El Camino tennis team, EOPS, MESA, the Society of Women Engineers Club, the Robotics Club, and is a part of the South Bay Promise, a program that offers an affordable pathway to college through fee waivers and support for first-time, full-time students. She also enjoys hiking and painting landscapes in her free time. She is especially proud of her work as president of the UndocuWarriors Club, a group that offers a safe space for undocumented students and allies at El Camino College.

“When I was in high school, I was unsure if I could even attend college because of my Dreamer status; I had a lot of misconceptions and I was mostly on my own,” Martinez said.

“Now I want to make sure everyone knows that El Camino offers an inclusive college experience for all. I am really glad that I had the initiative to take action and find out what was available to me. Now I am determined to establish a Dreamer Center on campus so that students can find what they need in one place. I learned bits and pieces of information and resources from different places. I’m lucky to have found such resources by being proactive, but we can’t expect every other Dreamer to do the same because it is extremely difficult for undocumented students to know who to trust. Now I’m looking to get easier access for others.”

Martinez says she feels ready for university work, grounded with support from El Camino counselors, faculty, and staff. From bonding in study groups with other students to finding leadership opportunities that gave her a chance to improve the college experience for others, she said El Camino showed her the importance of being involved in her education.

“The opportunities I’ve had recently is 100% because of my involvement in El Camino,” she said. “Straight A’s are great and many people can do that, but that’s not the only way you grow as a person. It’s about putting myself out there, getting involved, and giving back to my community. That’s what makes all the difference and that’s what I intend to keep doing.”

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Brenda Fernandez Martinez

May 12, 2021