Guest Blog: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

What was your motivation for going to college and earning a degree?

My college journey began when I was sophomore in high school when my friend and I enrolled in a dual-enrollment program where we were allowed to take one college course a semester at the local community college. We initially signed up because it was a way to get out of class early and spend time in the computer lab (I know, I know…). One of the classes I took while in the program was Introduction to Psychology and I was absolutely fascinated by the subject, especially clinical and personality psychology. I ended up doing the program every semester until I graduated high school, after which I “officially” started undergrad as a psychology major with the intention of becoming a clinical psychologist. I’ve switched career trajectories since then, but my interests are always informed by the things I learned as a student of psychology.

What are you currently studying? What degree will you earn?

I currently study educational measurement and statistics. It is a discipline that combines statistics, mathematics, psychology, and education. A good amount of our work is focused on developing novel mathematical models that can reliably assess students’ knowledge and ability. I am currently in the master’s degree phase of the program and I plan to complete it this year. After that, it’s on to the Ph.D.

Who inspired or supported you in your college-going journey?    

I am very fortunate to have amazing people in my corner supporting me. My parents are my number one inspiration and they have supported me every step of the way. My friends are also a huge source of inspiration because we came up together and seeing them flourish in their careers is awesome. Lastly, I have been very fortunate to have been mentored, as an undergrad,by some amazing professors who have had a lasting impact on my educational trajectory. I’d like to give a special thanks to Dr. Ronald Yockey for taking me under his wing, providing me the opportunity to obtain first-hand research experience, and encouraging me to pursue a career in the quantitative sciences. I am positive that I would not be where I am right now if not for his dedication to his students’ success.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a first-generation college student?

One of the biggest challenges I faced as a first-generation student was overcoming the “I have a question/concern regarding X but I don’t want to ask it because I don’t want to waste their time” mentality. As it turns out, this way of thinking is quite common among first-generation and underrepresented students and stems from the high expectations placed on us by ourselves and our community. For example, I often felt that I was the only one in the building who didn’t know what classes satisfied a given requirement and I was hesitant to seek help because it was “something you should already know”. As it turns out, not everyone does and that’s why colleges and universities are full of guidance counselors and academic advisors. Once I realized that these struggles were not unique to me and that I was not alone, my experience as a college student became much more fulfilling and enjoyable.

What advice would you give to a first-generation college student today?

Surround yourself with people who also have big goals and aspirations, particularly other first-generation students with these characteristics. They don’t necessarily need to have the same interests as you. None of my friends are interested in statistics or anything I do, but what we all have in common is that we are in pursuit of educational, personal, and professional fulfillment because we are passionate about our respective fields. These types of people will motivate and root for you even when you can’t seem to do it yourself.

What goals have you set for yourself?

The most immediate goal I have set for myself is to start and finish my master’s thesis this school year and continue on to the Ph.D. program. Another goal of mine is to continue my research and submit my projects to journals for publication. I am also very passionate about science outreach and communication, particularly the social sciences, so another goal of mine is to start a podcast or something along those lines in the near future.

Alfonso Martinez is a graduate student and ACT Scholar at the University of Iowa, studying educational measurement and statistics. He received his undergraduate degree in psychology with a minor in mathematics in 2019 from California State University, Fresno (otherwise known as Fresno State University). After completing his master’s degree, he plans to continue on to obtain his Ph.D.