“Underdog” PSU Business Grad Finds his Future in Shoes
Author: University Communications
Posted: February 21, 2018
Edwin Martinez Underdog StoryOne of the first things Edwin Martinez did when he started working at Adidas was track down and buy the retro basketball shoes he couldn’t get his hands on as a kid.

Growing up Latino in outer Southeast Portland, he always felt like an underdog, but he loved sports — and he loved those shoes. He never dreamed he’d someday join the company that makes them.

He credits Portland State University’s School of Business with helping him gain the experience and connections he needed to get there.

“It was life-changing,” he says. “It taught me how to think, ask the right questions and dig deeper. It was a great opportunity for me to come in prepared to work with all types of people.”

Martinez is one of the thousands of Portland State alumni bringing new perspectives and ideas to Portland-area businesses. Portland State University, the most diverse university in Oregon, is a pipeline for quality graduates ready to make a difference in their jobs and community.

“Diversity drives innovation, and that’s one of the reasons our students are hired,” says Jennifer Nolfi, executive director of PSU’s Center for Retail Leadership. “Employers are looking for the next generation of leaders who are curious, hard-working, and interested in solving problems.”

Martinez’s mom immigrated from Honduras before he was born and raised him and his sister on her own. He graduated from David Douglas High School and worked full time at a bank to pay his way through PSU, becoming the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree in 2017.

As a child, he felt like an outsider in mostly white Portland, and he always felt like he had to work a little harder to succeed, he says. At PSU, he learned to be proud of who he was and where he came from.

“I realized there were a lot of people who are like me, and there are also a lot of people who are not like me,” he says. “Most business schools will talk about the importance of cultural intelligence, but it’s a whole different thing for you to live it day to day and work together on different projects.”

His drive, hard work, and positive attitude helped him stand out in the Athletics & Outdoor Industry certificate program, Nolfi says. “You have to be driven and a team player in this highly competitive industry, and he is.”

The program, created in 2013, prepares students to enter Portland’s thriving athletics and outdoor apparel industry. An estimated 85 percent of graduates go on to work for companies such as Adidas, Nike, Columbia Sportswear and Keen.

Martinez, who majored in advertising, first landed a summer internship at Adidas and then was hired full time. In his role as an assistant business transformation manager, he helps the company foster a culture of creativity and turn ideas into action. He first met his manager when he was a guest speaker in a class at PSU, and they kept in touch until the right job opened up.

“That kind of thing would not have happened had I not gone to PSU,” he says.

Martinez, 24, also served as co-president of the Athletics and Outdoor student organization, A&O Connect; worked in the student-run advertising firm, FIR Northwest; and was chosen to represent PSU as a delegate to the 2016 Outdoor Winter Retailers Trade Show, where he met top industry leaders.

Those experiences and his cultural background gave him a different perspective on athletic apparel and an advantage in the hiring process, he says.

Now he encourages future students by volunteering as a mentor in PSU’s Summer Business Institute, a one-week program that introduces historically underserved high school students to college and the business world.  

"It’s important for me to tell them, "I’ve been through the things you’ve been through, and this is where I am now,” he says. “There isn’t anything you have to hold back. You should be proud of where you’re from. It’s one of your biggest assets."