Ambar Martinez

Ambar Martinez

She knows the transformative power of education

Ambar Martinez also knows first hand the challenge of acclimation for people of diverse backgrounds.

This is one of 12 finalists for the Herald Business Journal’s annual Emerging Leaders award, which highlights and celebrates people who are doing good work in Snohomish County. The winner is to be announced during an online event on Thursday. Meet the other finalists.

Ambar Martinez, 32

Self-employed; advises organizations on equity strategies

This has been a year of risk-taking for Ambar Martinez

Martinez is one of two returning Emerging Leader candidates who made the Top 12 list last year, too.

She recently left her job at Everett Community College, where she was interim director of the Academy for Social Change and Community Transformation.

Now she is helping run a family business and working with the Washington State Board of Community & Technical Colleges to help guide equity strategies. The board oversees the state’s system of 34 public community and technical colleges.

“People asked me why I was leaving EvCC after five years,” Martinez said. “I needed to learn and grow.”

A turning point for Martinez came in 2009. She’d been hired to teach Spanish at Washington State University in Pullman, where she was pursuing a master’s degree in foreign languages and cultures.

The job made her reflect on her experience when she was a teenager, new to the U.S.

She’d been advised to set aside her native language, Spanish, and focus on learning English. But it felt as if she were being asked to set aside her culture and heritage, she said.

Teaching Spanish at WSU, Martinez found herself telling students to study hard so they could master a second language and get a better-paying job.

Those two very different messages — unlearn Spanish, learn Spanish — seemed inconsistent and unnecessary.

“We tell some students not to speak Spanish, but then tell other students to learn Spanish,” Martinez said.

“Why can’t you have both?” she wondered.

Since then, Martinez has been trying to bring disparate ideas, people and institutions together.

As her grandparents often told her, “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido” — united people will never be defeated.

When she became executive assistant to the chief diversity and equity officer at EvCC, she saw an opportunity to “bridge the conversation between the higher levels of education and the grassroots efforts among the community.”

As a first-generation college student, Martinez said she understands the need for students to feel “celebrated for who they are” from the moment they arrive on campus.

“I truly believe in the power of education to transform the world that we live in,” she said.

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

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