STUDENTS: 3L Sarah Martinez aspires to help minority communities and the environment

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone but one thing that 3L Sarah Martinez has learned this year is that she is exactly where she needs to be.

“I am so committed to this,” she said about finishing her J.D. at the S.J. Quinney College of Law. “Environmental justice is my passion.”

Martinez came to law school with a desire to pursue environmental law, but law school wasn’t always in her plans. In fact, Martinez was committed to joining the Peace Corps upon completion of her undergraduate studies. Those plans changed, however, as Martinez studied environmental law and realized the need to advocate for minority communities to have the privilege of enjoying the outdoors and the equal protection of environmental laws.

Martinez decided to attend the College of Law, motivated in part by her love for the Rocky Mountains and the many opportunities she saw emerging in the area. She also was impressed by the school’s top-ranked environmental law program.

“I couldn’t pass up the value and the proximity to the mountains,” Martinez said. “The state of Utah has a unique geographical history and a unique city-rural environment. In the end, SJQ was too good to pass up.”

Martinez hasn’t regretted her choice. “Environmental law at SJQ has been a dream for me,” she said. But law school hasn’t been exactly easy either.

“Overall, I’ve experienced my highest highs and lowest lows during my law school experience. I’ve met the most incredible people, but it’s been the biggest challenge. COVID-19 and law school have forced me to grow in different ways than I could have imagined,” she said.

Like many students, Martinez met unexpected challenges in 2020. After securing a notable out-of-state summer internship, she learned the internship would be canceled due to unforeseen COVID-19 circumstances. So when the opportunity came to apply for a scholarship with the Utah Minority Bar Association recently, Martinez was hopeful to turn around her difficult situation.

She reflected on all the lessons she’s learned over the past year in her scholarship essay.

“Despite all the challenges that came in the last 8 months, I realized I’ve gained some massive life lessons and learned a lot about my ability to persevere and be patient. I recognized while writing my paper that I’ve really grown in my self-worth and already pulled on all of the lessons that I’ve learned throughout law school,” Martinez said.

Martinez’s essay resulted in a scholarship award from the UMBA and proved to be a silver lining in a chaotic year. She was recognized at a virtual banquet earlier this month, along with U students Ana Amitay Flores, Kari James and Zachary Scott.

“The scholarship was a great validation that I am on the right path,” Martinez said.

The scholarship award has also further motivated Martinez to continue on her path of exploring environmental justice. More specifically, she would like to explore how the lack of enforcement of environmental law adversely affects humans and especially people of color.

“I want to be a light in my community and use my skill set as a lawyer to better the lives of minority communities across the country,” she said.


Editor’s note: Sarah Martinez was recently awarded a scholarship from the Utah Minority Bar Association (UMBA). The UMBA awards scholarships based on the applicant’s academic achievement, record of service to racial and ethnic communities, and potential to positively impact and represent Utah’s racial and ethnic communities in their future legal career. This year, four students from the S.J. Quinney College of Law were awarded scholarships from UMBA. This is the first profile in a series.