Destination UGA: How one student brings joy to campus

Marina Martinez poses for a graduation photo at Sanford Stadium. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

By Sara Freeland/UGA Today

Like many younger siblings, Marina Martinez followed her older brother to college.

She always looked up to him and saw how much fun he had attending the University of Georgia, being on the spike squad and taking business classes.

But Martinez, already a lifelong Dawg fan, didn’t think UGA was for her because she was born with Down syndrome.

UGA’s Destination Dawgs program

Her brother, Juan Carlos Martinez, a 2018 graduate, encouraged her to apply to UGA’s Destination Dawgs program, where students with intellectual disabilities can attend UGA for two years and learn life skills, independent living and career development.

Two and a half years later, Martinez is finishing up the Destination Dawgs program, offered through UGA’s Institute on Human Development and Disability.

“I feel honored to do this. I wanted really badly to come here,” she said.

She loves “everything about UGA. It’s my home. It makes my heart happy.”

UGA classes

At UGA, Martinez has taken classes in marketing, public relations, advertising and journalism. Some of her Destination Dawgs specific classes have been health and wellness, healthy choices, learning for success, and “Work Ready, World Ready.” She’s met people from across campus and participated in the UGA Mentor Program.

She’s particularly interested in marketing—a subject she was introduced to in high school. “It is my passion,” she said. She’s learned about principles of marketing, consumer marketing and multicultural marketing. She loves learning and talking to people.

Marina Martinez records video for her vlog at Sanford Stadium. Marina is an intern in the Institute of Human Development and Disability. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Helping others

Through her time at UGA, Martinez has done video blogs, known as vlogs. She tries to show what her life attending UGA is like—from riding the bus to getting a caramel macchiato at Starbucks, from taking classes in the Terry Business Learning Community to watching “The Bachelor” on Mondays with her roommates.

She is an advocate for Down syndrome, and part of her work is to educate the community about what living with the disability is like. The other part is to inspire others to take advantage of opportunities and grow their skills.

“If I could sit with others with Down syndrome, I’d say, ‘Go to college.’ I want to show them how they can do it themselves. Because I socialize with people of all abilities,” she said. “I know I can live independently. I keep structure [in my day]. I keep track of my life. I’m trying to use all opportunities [I’ve been given] for 22 years now, and I really love what I am doing and try to be the best that I can be.”

She’s worked incredibly hard to get to where she is now—undergoing heart surgery, physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.

“I’ve improved all my skills since day one,” she said. “At first, I didn’t know what’s going to happen to me, but now I’m doing fine. I’m really proud that I’ve made it so far.”