Maritza Martinez-Guerrero is associate vice president for Government and Community Relations, and director for the Office of Community Relations and Economic Development at UCF. A strategic and trusted public affairs executive, with more than 15 years of experience strengthening internal and external stakeholder relations in higher education. Over the years, she has represented the University on numerous boards and community-wide efforts, and currently serves on the boards of the National Entrepreneurship Center, Heart of Florida United Way, National Center for Simulation, Team Volusia, the Winter Park Health Foundation, and the Seminole County Chamber. Maritza received her bachelor’s, master’s and MBA from UCF.
When did you first get interested in higher education as a career?
I realized while in graduate school (the first time) a role in higher education was a viable career thanks to already being employed at UCF, a great higher ed institution and employer, and having a great mentor, and executive champion in my leader at the time (~2003), Helen Donegan. My time in graduate school coincided with a university re-alignment that resulted in the creation of a new division devoted to external affairs, and the appointment of my leader as its inaugural vice president. External affairs as a field had captivated me, and I was fortunate to be part of the growing external affairs division, and a supportive leader. Fast forward to present day and it’s been a great journey first as part of the Hitt administration (under which Helen served as vice president), and for the past 2+ years, as part of the Cartwright administration (under vice president for Government and Community Relations Janet Owen). It has been a privilege to have a front-row seat to all the milestones (the stadium, the establishment of the college of medicine, the downtown campus, etc.) that have positioned the University of Central Florida for success and even greater accomplishments for the next 50 years! Under the stewardship of President Cartwright, I have no doubt UCF will become a Top 50 Public Research University and a designated preeminent university by the State University System of Florida by 2027, and Top 25 (Public Research University) by 2033 (just in time for UCF’s 70th anniversary!).
Why are higher education institutions so important to the community?
Higher education institutions are important to the community (and society!) because they advance knowledge creation, promote and support civil discourse, fuel the talent pipeline (workforce), produce an educated citizenry, add to the cultural and artistic fabric of the communities they serve and beyond. Think — rocket scientists, teachers, nurses, game designers, performers, civic and civil servants, doctors, lawyers, dreamers, builders, communicators, entrepreneurs, and everything in between is made possible by higher education institutions.
Higher education institutions are also an important economic engine: powering research and the creation of IP, commercialization, innovation and job creation. And as it relates to dramatically increasing the earning potential of individuals — the evidence is overwhelming. As cited by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), “bachelor’s degree holders are half as likely to be unemployed as their peers who only have a high school degree and they make $1.2 million in additional earnings on average over their lifetime.”
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I enjoy many aspects of my job. I will highlight my top three:
(1) As a first-generation college student, I *get* to work for and represent THE university that gave me the opportunity to earn my bachelor’s degree. As we know, education lifts lives and livelihoods and the effect my education has had has been transformational not just for me as an individual but for my immediate and extended family, and community.
(2) Connecting industry partners, business leaders, area non-profits, and Central Florida stakeholders to our physical and intellectual assets to make sure they are fully leveraged. President Cartwright likes say that UCF is “of” the community, and I get to advance a piece of that by connecting our community with black and gold resources every day! And,
(3) Getting Knights employed! Ha! Connecting businesses and industry partners to our different colleges via my Career Services and Experiential Learning colleagues, career coaches, and one-on-one introductions. On average, UCF graduates 18,000 students per year – or as I like to call them — inspired members of the workforce. A point of pride of ours is that approximately ~73% of the students we graduate stay in Central Florida, and about 90% stay in the state. While there is always room for improvement (what’s the deal with that 10%! Ha!), our region does a good job of retaining the talent produced here in our market.
What advice would you give other women who are interested in careers in public/community affairs?
I would say identify the industry or sector you would like to represent. Engage with related professional organizations to learn best practices, emerging trends, relationship-build with thought leaders and decision-makers in the field. These efforts will likely position you to be in-the-know when opportunities arise. Understand that your relationships and reputation are your currency. Be impeccable with your word, aim to help others win, be a credit philanthropist.