Growing up, Eva Martinez Powless ’06 dreamed of going to college. As the daughter of migrant worker parents who did not attend college, she understood the social mobility that higher education could provide.
Not only did Martinez Powless attend and graduate college, but she has focused her career on making that dream possible for others. Today, Martinez Powless is the first-ever diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) executive at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), where she will help guide the two-year college as it continues to serve a diverse student population.
“DEI work is everyone’s work,” she says.
In the 18 years that Martinez Powless has devoted to DEI work, she has implemented over 450 programs dedicated to demolishing barriers and addressing inequalities, especially in higher education.
Her own higher education journey began after she graduated high school and moved to Milwaukee, where she started work as an interpreter and translator for a non-profit organization called Bilingual Communications. A colleague there, Sister Marjorie Anne, asked Martinez Powless if she was going to college. Martinez Powless said yes, but she didn’t know where to start. Sister Marjorie Anne told her not to worry because she would set up a tour for her at Alverno.
Sister Celestine Schall ’48 gave the tour and told Martinez Powless: “If you really want to come here, you can. We’ll make it happen for you.” Martinez Powless, who had fallen in love with the campus, applied that spring and started attending Alverno the following fall semester.
“I think Alverno was the place where I grew the most,” says Martinez Powless, who majored in community leadership and development with a Spanish language and cultures minor.
In addition to all she was learning at Alverno, Martinez Powless worked at the non-profit La Causa Inc., where she began to think critically about education and higher education. She asked herself: “Why is that we have beautiful children of color, but most of them will not go to college? And students of color who do enroll in college, many will not graduate? There’s only a small percentage of students of color that make it to graduation — a systemic barrier and inequity we need to fix.”
For that reason, Martinez Powless decided to work in higher education and applied to an admissions job at Marquette University, which included multicultural recruitment. There, she found her passion.
“I fell in love with higher education and multicultural affairs. I felt higher education was my calling and the right thing to do — to give a voice to people that have historically been marginalized in our society” she says.
Martinez Powless says her Alverno education, including the 8 Abilities, has prepared her to create policies and processes to make education more accessible to multicultural students. At Marquette, she helped create educational pipeline for undocumented students at Marquette, including financial aid opportunities. She later went on to oversee the university’s intercultural engagement department, where she and her team implemented more than 100 diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
“I am extremely humbled because it is an honor and privilege to work in higher education,” she says. “As a former first-generation and low-income college student, my accomplishments are not just for me. Instead, they are for my family and the community. If I can help break the cycle of generational trauma, poverty, and lack of education, then I know I am making a difference in people’s lives.”