Concrete Industry Management

Chico State Student Overcomes Obstacles to Win Award

Claudia Pureco

For two days in the spring of 2003, Claudia Martinez Pureco walked through the desert in Arizona.

She had crossed the border from Mexico and struggled to get through the hot days and cold nights spent sleeping in ditches while hiding from border patrol agents. At night, the then 5-year-old would look up at the night sky filled with seemingly endless stars and wonder, “am I going to make it?”

She was in the middle of a 10-day journey with her mother, grandfather and brother that would take her from her poverty-stricken hometown in Michoacan, Mexico through Arizona to California and eventually to Live Oak where her family would settle.

On Tuesday, the Chico State University junior got the answer to the question she had once asked as she found herself on a very different journey. She woke up early to travel to the airport and fly to Long Beach to accept the 2016 CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement at a CSU board of trustees meeting. The 20-year-old was one of 24 students to receive the award, which recognizes students for their academic performance, personal accomplishments, and community service. Winners received scholarships ranging from $6,000 to $12,000.

For Martinez, the recognition is the reward not only for her accomplishments at the university but for everything she did to get there too. After her family’s move from Mexico, they made Live Oak their home. While she excelled in school and quickly mastered English, as an undocumented immigrant, she struggled to determine how she would accomplish her longtime dream of attending college in the U.S.

“I feel like I was just hungry for success,” Martinez said. “I had gone through so much to make that journey and I think that’s what motivates me today.”

From Mexico to the US

Martinez was born in Michoacan, Mexico. Her father moved to the United States for work, while Martinez, her mother and brother stayed behind in Mexico. After several years of this arrangement, her parents saw that visits and phone calls made it difficult to maintain the family and that there was no future for their children in Mexico, Martinez said.

“With my dad being here (the US), it wasn’t really a family. It’s not the same to speak to a person over the phone,” Martinez said. “And it was difficult for my parents to make ends meet. My dad knew there wasn’t a future in Mexico for me and my brother. When I consider the sacrifice and risk, I know there was no other option for my parents.”

After her parents made that decision, her mother decided to take the family to the United States, anyway, she could. She left their home and everything they had behind, Martinez said, to cross the border by foot with her two young children. Martinez’s grandfather accompanied them to ensure they made it through the dangerous journey.

“As a 5-year-old, you’re scared. It was pitch black, but there was someone guiding us through. I wasn’t allowed to talk,” Martinez said. “I remember walking and feeling the cactus hit my feet and having to be quiet.”

The group ran out of water, and halfway through the trip Martinez became so weak that she couldn’t walk and her grandfather had to carry her, but eventually they made it through the desert and across California to Live Oak.

Within a year of her arrival, Martinez mastered English, and by the time she was in fifth grade she was certain of one thing; she wanted to attend college. Her hopes of attending college only grew over time as she spent hot summer days working in the fields.

“I would work in the fields and I would think, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ I have to get an education,” Martinez said.

Getting to Chico State

While most of the kids that Martinez attended kindergarten with in Mexico are now married with children, she is a junior at Chico State majoring in concrete industry management. She attributes this primarily to her efforts as a young student and access to programs like AVID in junior high and high school that helped her figure out how to achieve her goal of attending college.

“I knew it was either a win or lose situation. It wasn’t assured,” Martinez said. “You have to do double the work to make up for not having a social security number.”

Her status as an undocumented immigrant made it difficult to apply for college and to receive financial aid. Her junior year, however, she received a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals visa, which allows her to work in the U.S. and hold a driver’s license.

She began applying to scholarships during her sophomore year of high school and has gained some financial assistance from grants made available through the California DREAM Act.

“Without the scholarships I received and the DREAM Act, I would not be in college,” Martinez said.

Excelling in college

At Chico State, Martinez has become heavily involved in her major and numerous campus clubs and organizations. The concrete industry management program gave her a home on campus, she said, and provided her with the tools to succeed and obtain internships.

She’s a student ambassador, peer educator and student assistant in the Educational Opportunity Program, where she helps other first-generation college students work toward their goals.

Her work on campus has not gone unnoticed, which became clear to her after the school notified her in late May that she had been selected to receive the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Scholar trustee award. She had been nominated by two people, including a professor in the concrete industry management program.

“At first I thought it was a scam,” Martinez said. “Then I looked up the award, and saw the people who won in the past. It felt unbelievable — to be selected and nominated for something I didn’t apply for, I have no words to describe it.”

She received her award during a CSU board of trustees meeting on Tuesday along with a $6,000 scholarship. Her parents were unable to attend the ceremony.

“They can’t be there because of work, but if they could they would be. I feel like this award belongs to my parents,” Martinez said. “They left everything they had in Mexico, their house, everything.”

Martinez will graduate next spring and said she hopes to earn a master’s degree and start a foundation to provide opportunities to other minority women and DREAM students to accomplish their dreams.

“I’m looking forward to graduating. It’s what I’ve been working toward my whole life — to be able to go to college and graduate, and continuing to do good things and help others,” Martinez said. “I just think you should never stop believing and dreaming. Because I couldn’t stop dreaming of college, and now I’m on my way to receive an award that’s very prestigious, and it means so much more than an award.”

Claudia Martinez with award

Article by Dani Anguiano, Chico ER.