A 21-year-old Baylor graduate student and Waco native on the cusp of graduation died from COVID-19 complications Sunday, leaving behind a community to mourn and imagine what she might have accomplished next.
Alicia Martinez is the first Baylor University student to die as a result of COVID-19 and the youngest person to die from the virus in McLennan County. She was a first-generation college student studying at the School of Social Work. Her professors, as well as former teachers at Rapoport Academy Public School, remembered her as a passionate advocate for equality, a devout Christian and a natural leader.
“She had a smile that lit up a room, but also a passion that was always inviting and that pulled others in,” Jon Singletary, dean of the Baylor University School of Social Work, said. “She was able to share just how much serving others meant to her in any conversation. Her ability to inspire others to join her is what we will miss in our classrooms.”
Singletary said in a year full of isolation and emotional turmoil, Martinez gave her fellow social work students a sense of connection.
After she was diagnosed, Martinez's family kept friends updated on her condition through social media posts. Alicia's grandmother also contracted the virus. Updates Jan. 5-6 stated Alicia had pneumonia, and a followup Facebook posts on Jan. 8 from her mother said she was on life support. She received a tracheotomy Jan. 13 and her family planned to transfer her to a facility near Dallas to recover. Two day later her father, Jeremy Morales, posted an update about her passing.
Amy Murphy, an instructor for the school of social work, said Martinez had a lot of insight about inequality in Waco, bringing up local history like the predominantly Latino Sandtown neighborhood destroyed by Urban Renewal initiatives in the 1960s.
“She was reasonable, intelligent, and realistic about applying social work practice in real-life situations,” Murphy said.
Another instructor, Stephanie Boddie, said Martinez used her leadership skills to turn around a struggling group project in her class, which earned an A after a rocky start. She said Martinez was spirited and had “grit,” but kept an open mind and knew how to change her views based on new information.
“Alicia made her presence and dreams known the first day of my class. She was fearless in leading her group project on veteran’s services, in my class,” Boddie said. “She never hesitated to ask questions, even the difficult ones.”
Mallory Herridge, assistant director of Baylor’s Center for Church and Community Impact, said Martinez loved Waco dearly and seemed invigorated by community practice social work.
“I experienced her as assertive when necessary and yet humble always,” Herridge said. “She was able to mediate tension in the classroom with thought-provoking questions. She served as a conscience for us when our privilege unknowingly blinded our perspectives in class. She was a critical thinker with an unwavering heart for social justice.”
As a Rapoport student, Martinez joined the school’s robotics team, then served on the P-TECH Advisory Committee after she graduated in 2017 and worked as an intern for Grassroots Waco.
“She was truly a cornerstone to building RAPS as it is today,” Rapoport Academy Superintendent Alexis Neumann said. “She pushed for diversity, worked to take learning outside of the classroom and into the community, led the program to provide capstone experiences for senior students, completed her associate's degree before her high school diploma, and continuously gave back to RAPS and our Waco community.”
Her field supervisor for the internship, Elise Jones, said she can’t imagine the upcoming semester without her.
“Alicia was a bright light who deeply impacted our Grassroots family through her passion and enthusiasm,” Jones said. “Her openness put others quickly at ease and ensured that you felt like you really knew her moments after meeting her. Alicia’s critical thinking and poignant question asking pushed me to stretch, grow, and become a better supervisor because of my relationship with her.”
Clay Springer, STEM and Career and Technical Education Director for Rapoport Academy said he taught Martinez from fifth grade to her senior year.
“When you stick in the same place, you get to see them grow up,” Springer said. “... I’m sad I don’t get to watch Alicia grow up.”
He said she earned an associate’s degree before the end of high school, was captain of the robotics team for two years and helped bring the first robotics competition to Waco her senior year.
Alicia planned to help with a diversity and inclusion review at Rapoport. Since she’d been one of the first students to do a capstone STEM project for her final senior year project, he said she gave the school “invaluable” advice for bringing more diversity into the STEM program.
Springer, also a grad student, said Martinez was actually on track to graduate before him. He said she was outspoken when it came to inequality of any kind, and spoke up whenever she saw it.
“It’s not just race, it was gender, it was sexual orientation, it was people for people,” Springer said. “A 16-year-old would be sure to call me out. I think that’s what led her to lead at our school, the fact that everybody could connect with Alicia on those different levels.”