By Cathy Rainone
Raymond Martinez grew up in foster homes and never had anyone to talk to about his future. He didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life and he felt overwhelmed in his first semester at LaGuardia Community College.
But things changed when he met Maria Riggs, a Student Advocate and Ombuds Officer in the Office of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Advocacy.
Martinez met Riggs in 2007 through a friend, Mina Akter, who had taken Introduction to Computers, a class Riggs has been teaching for 10 years.
“Raymond was kind of scared; he didn’t know anything about the college,” says Riggs, who’s been working with students at LaGuardia since 1987. “I told him there’s a gym, there are resources here” that could help him, and before long “he became the social butterfly on campus, everyone knew him; he was everyone’s favorite.”
Martinez is just one of many students Riggs has taken under her wing to help navigate the maze of programs and activities at the college, which serves more than 13,000 students. She has worked in several areas: international programs office, the English department, division of administration, the grants office, development and alumni affairs — positions that usually involved assisting students.
Riggs said she would always see students in the hallways and sometimes they were at a loss for what to do. If they had come on Friday, for instance, the people they needed to see could have other administrative work to do that day.
The students had taken “the day off from work to come to the college to find out some information, and I just didn’t have the heart to say come back Monday. I just never wanted to send them away like that. I would try to give them an answer,” says Riggs, who started her current job in August 2010.
Martinez told Riggs about growing up in foster care and that at that moment he was living with his aunt but was desperate to move out. She referred him to a social worker on campus who found him housing, and she helped him obtain three scholarships through the LaGuardia Community College Foundation and extra funds for textbooks and transportation. She also helped him find two jobs on campus. Martinez graduated from LaGuardia and is now a sophomore at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, majoring in Computer Information Systems.
“She’s my guardian angel,” says Martinez, 21, who works at LaGuardia’s Center for Teaching and Learning as a technology mentor, and plans to pursue a master’s degree in Computer Forensics. He wants to be a cyber crimes investigator. “She’s a big lifesaver. She did so many things for me and she’s a very sweet person. I don’t know anyone like her.”
Riggs deals with lots of issues and every year more students come in as others graduate.
“It’s nice to see them when they succeed and they come back with some good stories,” says Riggs.