Different Worlds: A First-Generation College Success Story
Mario Martinez admits he had no idea what he was getting into.
Martinez, who grew up in a poor neighborhood in Langley Park, Maryland, was accustomed to a rough-and-tumble existence. “We would hear police every night, we’d hear gunshots, we’d hear people scream,” he recently told American Public Media’s Emily Hanford.
So when he arrived at Liberty University, a private Christian college in Lynchburg, Virginia, as a first-generation student, Martized was wholly unprepared for the cultural difference he’d encounter. The biggest? Money. “It was mindblowing,” he told Hanford. “To see that people can have so much.”
At $75,000 a year, the median family income at Liberty is about half of what you find at the country’s elite private schools, but for Martinez, the difference between his new and old lives was staggering. It was part of why he came there in the first place: He wanted a better life. “For me, moving up social class means having the privilege, benefits and opportunities of a safe neighborhood,” he told Hanford.
She interviewed Martinez about his views on social class and education for an upcoming documentary. Ten years ago, he was attending a Maryland community college. Now he has his B.A. in psychology from Liberty and is working on his M.B.A. at the University of Maryland.
Social interaction was a challenge.
“Going to Liberty, I was trying figure out how people that didn’t grow up in a rough neighborhood interacted with each other,” he said. “What I learned was that people are more open, they’re more transparent, they’re not afraid that somebody will come back and try to harm them.”
That idea of safety has stuck with him, and he told Handford that the safety is exactly why he’s chasing upward mobility.
“I never want to be in a neighborhood where I’m shot at again,” he said.
Listen to the entire podcast here.