Portrait shot of Autumn Martin.

As a teenager, Autumn Martin ’19 had to venture out on her own due to a difficult family situation. As a high school student, she juggled classes, varsity basketball and a nearly full-time job to help sustain herself and her family – all the while maintaining the high G.P.A. that would get her into Pomona College.

Upon arriving to campus from St. Louis, Missouri, Martin started out on the pre-health track, not because she wanted to be a doctor but she thought that’s what her family wanted for her.

After suffering a rock climbing injury at the beginning of her sophomore year, Martin was using a wheelchair and then a scooter that year. In addition, she had to learn to navigate a complicated insurance process, which in the end piqued her interest in medical health policy.

Portrait headshot of Autumn Martin.

Eventually, Martin’s interests led her to a philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) major that has allowed her the flexibility to explore public policy internships in a variety of sectors.

That’s when Martin’s mentor, Professor of Neuroscience and Associate Dean Nicole Weekes started to see Martin blossom as the young student took to critical thought, social justice and philosophy.

“Autumn is one of the most inspiring students I have ever had the honor of teaching and advising,” says Weekes.

As Martin was recovering from her injuries last year, she was also faced with a tough choice: take on a prestigious Capitol Hill internship to work for a U.S. Senator’s office, or take a gamble on local politics and intern for a city councilman in the Bay Area.

“I wanted to work my way up,” says Martin of her ultimate decision to spend her summer interning for the office of Ben Bartlett, city councilman for Berkeley, Calif. Bartlett represents a portion of south Berkeley, a historically African American community – another reason why Martin was particularly interested in gaining on-the-ground political experience.  

Martin spent a good portion of her internship researching and putting together proposals on issues the councilmember wanted to tackle. 

“They threw ideas at me and asked me to look at how other cities have done things and asked me to find ways that Berkeley could do them better.”

Eventually, Martin began to suggest policy ideas to her supervisor.

“I did a lot of proposals that didn’t go through,” she says, but a few made it further along, including a recommendation for an anti-idling ordinance that will prohibit vehicle engine idling while a vehicle is parked, stopped or standing. The City Council approved the recommendation in an 8-0 vote.  

Martin says she found the research to be fun even when not all the ideas came to fruition.

“You learn so much in the process,” she says. “You see what other cities are doing – how they each do it their own way.”

As Martin wraps up the fall semester, she is planning for some downtime during the winter break with her grandmother in St. Louis.

But she still has to get through finals and finish her fall internship with the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, where she’s a diversity and inclusion intern working on a special project to help startups that are 51 percent minority-or women-owned and related to sustainability.

Martin is planning a career in public policy – maybe going for her master’s in public policy or law school after Pomona. She’s taking advantage of her time now, trying her hand at different opportunities in the field to figure out what she likes and does not like.

That’s why she has a spring internship already lined up: law clerk at the Veterans Legal Institute in Santa Ana, Calif., a law firm and think tank that serves homeless and low-income veterans with housing, healthcare, education and employment services.

Martin says she has been able to pursue all of these internship opportunities thanks to the Pomona College Internship Program (PCIP), which covers the cost of travel and/or living expenses for students applying for unpaid or low-paid internships.

“PCIP has been key. I’m low-income and there’s no way I would have been able to do that on my own.”

Martin urges younger students to just “jump in” and says it’s OK if you don’t get the internship you want, adding that you could find that you like a field more than the one you thought you wanted or it could lead you to a career that is more interdisciplinary. 

“If it doesn't work out, then it's only not going to be working for the short term, and it's a win because you know you need to change paths soon, which is better than waiting until later when you've put in so much work to get the credentials for a career that doesn't fit you. If it does work out, then it's also a win because you know you're on the right track.”