“To embrace accountability and responsibility”: An Interview with Liz Martinez

I met with Liz Martinez (CRSM ’12, Lake Forest College ’16) during her first visit to the new campus on Belvidere Road. Our conversation covered a lot of territory; from her extracurriculars at CRSM, through a family health crisis, to her successes at First Midwest Bank.

The following conversation has been edited and condensed.


First of all, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. It was great walking through the new campus with you.

Thanks, I love the new facility. The natural light is wonderful, what a change from the old campus!

You’ve also experienced some big changes here in Waukegan.

That is really true. Moving from Lakeshore Catholic to public school took some adjustment – but attending Cristo Rey College Prep signaled the beginning of real change.

Let’s talk more about that, but I’m also interested in why you decided to attend CRSM.

My brother and I (Oscar Martinez CRSM ’11) met with Cristo Rey St. Martin when they visited our middle school. My parents always wanted us to go to college, and they love what CRSM stands for. We are a working class family; Dad works in the construction business and Mom works as a housekeeper. Our family hadn’t saved any money for college because we just didn’t know that college was an option – until Cristo Rey.

How did CRSM impact you and your family?

As a Cristo Rey Family, we began talking about college and how we could go about it. Is it expensive? What do we need? Things like FAFSA, the actual applications, essays and recommendations were completely new to us. We had no clue on how to proceed with any of it. At CRSM, there was always conversation about what was needed. Workshops were always happening. It was an eye-opening experience. Even the terminology was difficult for us – what does gross income mean? It didn’t take long for us to adjust.

The financial issues associated with college are so significant. Can you talk a little about the the academic side?

Sure. Going to school four days a week instead of five and waking up extra early for work study, all while taking a challenging course load, took some getting used to. I wanted to be involved in extracurricular activities as well, so I was forced to become very organized. I learned how to prioritize – to embrace accountability and responsibility.

It appears that you were successful at that. Good grades, a trip to the volleyball finals – with time left over for Campus Ministry. How did work study go for you?

It was quite an experience. I found myself working in the State’s Attorneys office in Waukegan as a 14 year old. Working in that environment required me to develop my people skills very quickly. In my sophomore year I worked at the Boys & Girls Club. They were very supportive and offered me a summer job. In my junior and senior years I worked as a teller for First Midwest Bank, where I now work as a personal banker.

You graduated from Lake Forest College with a double major, Communications and Spanish. Was that always your plan?

No. I started in International Business at Marquette University. At the time of my transfer to Lake Forest College, my mother became very ill. My father was working day and night, my little sister was in middle school and my brother was in Milwaukee, so it fell to me to take care of my mom. I would go to school in the morning, pick up my sister from school in the afternoon, take care of my Mom and then work a night shift as a waitress in the evening.

My grades began to suffer and I was on the verge of quitting, but my parents insisted that I finish. Luckily, I had significant Spanish and AP credits, so without too much catching up I was able to graduate with a double major in Spanish and Communications.

I’m not sure how you were able to handle that for a year and a half.

 My parents had a lot to do with it.  Their attitude was, you made it this far – why are you going to stop? In the end, things have turned out great. My mother got better. My brother and sister are doing well and I found out how much I enjoy working in the banking industry.

Any new and exciting plans you care to divulge?

I’ve been working with Waukegan To College (W2C) for quite awhile now. I’m impressed with the work they’re doing. I’ve just joined their alumni board. Regarding my work, I’m looking at a number of different areas at my company; and a master’s degree may be in my future.