For MSEA-SEIU Member Chris Martinez, a screener for Maine’s Capitol Police, his union membership has provided him and his family with more than a voice in his wages, benefits and working conditions. It also was his ticket to earn a free college degree through the SEIU Free College Benefit, a program available to MSEA-SEIU members through our affiliation with the Service Employees International Union.
Earlier this year, Chris completed all the requirements to earn an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Eastern Gateway Community College in Ohio, one of two participating colleges. The other is Central State University; both are affiliated with the University System of Ohio. Through the SEIU Free College Benefit, eligible SEIU members and their spouses, domestic partners, children, parents, siblings and financial dependents, as well as retirees and their families, are eligible to earn free bachelor’s or associate’s degrees.
Chris said he started working on his online degree in 2019, taking the necessary coursework while working full time as a screener not just at the State House but also at the Augusta Civic Center, where the Maine Legislature held sessions at the height of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I heard about the union benefit from Jeff McCabe, our union’s political director, as I was screening him into the State House one day,” Chris said. “Once I heard about it, I was like, I probably should jump on this.”
Chris, who began working for the Capitol Police in 2018, also works as a part-time patrol officer for the Hallowell Police Department. He previously served as an animal control officer for nearly a dozen communities in Kennebec County.
Raised in California, Chris said he tried college there but wasn’t able to complete a degree as he was raising two siblings. “There wasn’t much support to help me go to college, either,” he said. While in California, Chris worked as a park patrol officer for the Los Angeles City Park Rangers and for the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
After moving to Maine in 2010, Chris secured his certification through the Maine Criminal Justice Academy to become a part-time police officer. He’s been working for the Hallowell Police Department ever since.
He began working on his free associate’s degree in criminal justice in 2019 through the SEIU Free College Benefit. He needed to take 13 classes to complete his degree as he had earned several credits for courses he had taken through the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. He earned straight As in his online coursework except for a B in statistics. He made the dean’s list and president’s list every semester.
“Honestly, I was worried to go back to school,” he said. “I didn’t know how my writing would be, but I got nothing but compliments on my writing. What I found out is if you’re doing your work, and you’re turning it in on time, you’re going to pass.”
With the requirements for his associate’s degree in criminal justice completed, Chris is now considering his opportunities for career advancement within the Capitol Police. “Now that I have it, I can think ahead,” he said of his degree. “I would never have done it if it wasn’t available. But now I’ve got it under my belt, and it’s great.”
The free college program is just that – it really is free. “I put out no money other than (for) a calculator or some flash drives,” he said.
Chris and his wife, Melanie, have two children, Gabby, 13, and Kaileigh, 8.
Facts about the SEIU Free College Benefit:
• The SEIU Free College Benefit is available to SEIU members who are full dues-paying members in good standing, and their spouses, domestic partners, children, parents, siblings and financial dependents. Retirees and their families are also eligible.
• Associate’s degrees are available in accounting, business management, criminal justice, teacher education, individualized study, paralegal, patient home navigator, healthcare administration, healthcare services, and paralegal certificate.
• Bachelor’s degrees are available in business administration, criminal justice, education – early childhood, education – intervention specialist, and interdisciplinary studies/humanities.
• For more info or for assistance in enrolling: contact MSEA-SEIU Organizer Sarah Watson.