Photo of College Hall Bell Tower
University News

From Childhood Tragedy to Commencement Triumph

Graduate Spotlight: Student Trustee Mariana Luna-Martinez’s inspiring journey of service and leadership

Posted in: College for Community Health, Homepage News, University

Student Mariana Luna-Martinez in graduation cap and gown with a gold honors stole.
Student Trustee Mariana Luna-Martinez is graduating with honors from Montclair State University, where she demonstrated excellent leadership skills through various programs and activities. ( (Photo by University Photographer Mike Peters.)

Senior Biology major Mariana Luna-Martinez never forgot the outpouring of love and support she and her family received when her childhood home in Newark burned down years ago. That and volunteering alongside her grandmother sparked her passion for giving back.

“Even though we had so little, sharing those resources can definitely make a big difference in someone else’s life,” she says. “My family and also my community have definitely influenced my community and public service. It’s just become second nature at this point.” 

As a member of the Bonner Leader Program at Montclair State University for four years, Luna-Martinez gave back many times over. From organizing beach cleanups, homebuilding with Habitat for Humanity and toy drives for underprivileged children, Luna-Martinez has worked on dozens of service projects, including Montclair’s MLK Jr. Day of Service. She also found the time to serve in the Student Government Association as the voting student representative on the University Board of Trustees – all while holding down three jobs, as Bonner’s senior intern of Community Partnerships, part-time sales at Indigo Bookstore in Short Hills, New Jersey, and part-time medical scribe at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey.

Luna-Martinez, who will be graduating at Spring Commencement on May 13 at Prudential Center, also has served as an admissions ambassador, traveled to Italy to learn about its health-care system and to Panama to assist physicians as part of the Global Medical Brigade. 

“Anywhere you need her, she’s there,” says Bonner Leader and Service Coordinator Mikaela Guzman who supervised Luna-Martinez as Bonner’s intern of Community Partnerships. “She had two additional jobs on top of Bonner and SGA and her commitments with the trustees, and somehow, she’s also found a way to get her jobs involved in our community work. The bookstore where she works donated over 100 toys to our toy drive. She’s a hub for different connections and gets everybody involved.”

Student Mariana Luna-Martinez holds a computer as Bonner Leader and Service Coordinator Mikaela Guzman looks on while holding a Montclair sweatshirt.
Mariana Luna-Martinez, left, worked as senior intern of Community Partnerships for the Bonner Leader Program alongside Bonner Leader and Service Coordinator Mikaela Guzman, who credits her with making an impact on service projects and students. (Photo by John J. LaRosa for Montclair State University.)

Guzman also credits Luna-Martinez with organizing Bonner’s first collaboration with Next Generation Service Corps students both at Montclair and Arizona State University, after traveling to Arizona for the Habitat for Humanity service project.

“She has such natural leadership skills,” she says. “Mariana was pretty integral in helping create tons of service opportunities for the students, getting them involved with things like the SGA and talking to them about some of the things that the foundation has to offer.”

In fact, Guzman credits Luna-Martinez with making her new role as a Bonner Leader easier. “Without her, my first year would have been really difficult. She’s always there to lend a helping hand, and she does so in a way that makes a big impact on people.”

A first-generation college graduate, Luna-Martinez is grateful for all of the opportunities Montclair has afforded her, including the study abroad program in Italy. “It was definitely an unforgettable experience, and without Montclair, I would have never gone,” she says.

She also credits Montclair and the Bonner program with changing her future. As a freshman, she majored in Biology because it was a subject she liked and excelled in. After her involvement in many service projects, she has decided to pursue a master’s in Urban Planning at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Mariana Luna-Martinez paints a ceiling while standing on a ladder.
Mariana Luna-Martinez brushes up on her drywall skills as part of a Bonner service project in Galloway, New Jersey. (Photo courtesy of the Bonner Leader Program.)

“Bonner definitely changed my life. I was involved in different projects throughout my four years that included housing insecurity, food insecurity, and because I am a product of public service and a recipient of different resources and because of my work with Bonner, I want to pursue a career in public service.”

 Luna-Martinez is among the first Montclair students to win a Bonner scholarship to help cover half the cost of her master’s tuition. “She’s a super hard worker. The whole office was literally overjoyed when we found out that she got into graduate school,” says Guzman.

A participant in the Bonner Leader Program since her freshman year, Luna-Martinez has received numerous other accolades, including being named a Presidential Scholar and a member of the Honors Program.

Ana Garcia, the grandmother who influenced Luna-Martinez to give back, along with several family members, will be at Commencement to celebrate their star graduate when she receives her Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Leadership Development through Civic Engagement.

Mariana Luna-Martinez pets a therapy dog.
Mariana Luna-Martinez in a moment of relaxation with therapy dogs at Montclair State University. (Photo by University Photographer Mike Peters.)

Story by Staff Writer Sylvia A. Martinez

You may also like: 

N.J. Quints Make History as the Graduate From Montclair State University

Triumph Over Trauma to Achieve the American Dream 

Montclair’s SGA President Advocates for Change from Campus to Capitol Hill 

N.J. Grandmother Earns Her Degree after five Decades

Montclair Football Stars Score Big in Business