Meet Our Researchers: Dominique N. Martinez

Dominique N. Martinez childhood photoDominique N. Martinez is a senior research assistant who focuses on the well-being of Black and Indigenous children, youth, and families. We talked with them to learn about their research, both at Child Trends and earlier in their career, and to find out more about their life outside of work.

Can you tell us about your primary research interest(s)?

Broadly, my research interests lie at the intersection between child welfare, resilience, and mental health and well-being. Specifically, I’m interested in how a child’s early life environment and experiences influence development, behavior, and cognition in adolescence and adulthood. I hope to learn more about how we can best promote resilience in children and youth facing adversity by reinforcing protective factors at the family and community level.

What sparked your interest in psychology and child development?

My nephew was born in 2007 when I was just 9 years old. Although I was a child myself, I was fascinated by his development and loved watching him learn new skills like sitting up and walking. In fifth grade, my elementary school hosted a speech competition, where we were told to speak about something that interested us. For me, this was my nephew and the milestones he’d reached at that point. The “research” I conducted to write my speech was my introduction to the fields of psychology and child development. As I grew older, my interests took a more formal route. In high school, I took classes in early childhood and later enrolled in undergraduate courses on developmental psychology. I established my specific interests through lab work studying the development of effort and persistence in young children. Sixteen years later, I have four nephews and I am constantly amazed by all of them.

Can you tell us a fun or interesting fact about yourself or your family?

While I was born and raised in Tampa, Florida, my family is from Colombia. My mom was born in Medellín, and my dad was born in the capital, Bogotá. I’d like to share their immigration stories, which help explain my interests and the ways in which I move through the world. I carry their experiences and lessons as I explore research questions regarding early life environments and the development of resilience in the face of adversity.

On October 5, 1975, my late maternal grandmother and grandfather—or mi mamita y mi papito—packed up and moved the entire family 2,000 miles away to New Orleans, stopping in Miami on the way. My grandparents, mom, and her five siblings began their new lives in an unfamiliar place and boldly navigated a distinct culture and language, growing older, starting their own families, and moving around the country in the process.

My dad’s story is a bit different. He arrived in the United States alone as an adult and worked in New York City for many years before moving to Tampa. He struggled to learn English but did so by reading John Grisham books and carrying a dictionary everywhere he went, frequently writing down the words he learned throughout the day. I largely attribute my love of reading to him.

To wrap up, what are your hobbies or interests outside of research?

Cooking and sharing meals together is a huge part of the Colombian culture. I’ve been passionate about cooking since I was a child and have fond memories of me and my mom pretending to run a diner from our kitchen while preparing dinner—answering calls and keeping up with all our “orders.” I love to make dishes like sudado de carne and sopa de lentejas. Next on my list of recipes to try is my mamita’s arroz con leche cooked with three types of milk and lots of spices!