How Global Studies helped Martinec on the path to success

Alyssa Martinec weighs in on the world with a globally minded perspective.

This page was made possible in part by a grant from Year of Pitt Global.

At the age of 21, Alyssa Martinec boarded a plane to Shanghai, embarking on her second trip to China. This time, she was going to conduct research about air quality and the system justification theory.

“Environmental issues are extremely global,” Martinec said. “The most obvious examples being climate change and water and air pollution. These issues transcend national borders.”

After graduating high school, Martinec spent 10 days in China, only a fraction in comparison to the three-month study abroad program she participated in this summer.

Martinec, who grew up in Westford, Massachusetts, is in her fourth year, working to earn her Bachelor of Arts in political science and Bachelor of Philosophy in International and Area Studies with a focus in sustainability and ecology in China. She also has a certificate in German with a Liberal Arts concentration.

The IAS is a research-based undergraduate major created through the collaborative efforts of the University Honors College and the University Center for International Studies. The major requires students to take three years of a language, complete a study abroad program or international learning experience and write and defend a research thesis related to their concentration.

During her first year, Martinec was part of the global studies academic community. Students in this community examine how nations interact on an international scale, while also learning about various study abroad and other international programs and global opportunities that Pitt has to offer.

“I told my adviser I was interested in global studies and she recommended that I join the community,“ Martinec said. “That’s how I originally learned about the BPhil.”

Pitt in Shanghai, a nine-credit study abroad program that partners with CET Academic Programs, allows Pitt students to spend roughly two months interning and taking classes in China. The program does not require students speak Chinese, but students take language courses while there.

Martinec was motivated to participate in this program for two reasons. First, the IAS BPhil requires candidates to complete their research abroad. She also wanted the opportunity to practice the Chinese skills she’s gained through taking language courses nearly every semester while she was at Pitt.

While there, Martinec conducted 16 intensive interviews to research public opinion on air quality to test the hypothesis of the system justification theory. Pitt in Shanghai is considered a Panther Program, which means the grades a student receives on this program affect that student’s grade point average.

“It’s awesome because the courses transfer, no problem,” said Martinec.

Martinec’s study had to do with system justification theory, which suggests people are likely to justify the status quo even at the expense of individual benefit. Martinec believes that a lack of effort in changing environmental issues is not related to free-riding — individuals’ unwillingness to fix problems because the cost doesn’t justify the individual payoff —  as political science tends to suggest, but rather that they know what the problem is and choose to justify the status quo.

“Air quality is very salient issue in China,” said Martinec. “System justification proposes that  people are justifying the status quo and why they’re not doing anything about it.”

Martinec has gone above and beyond just research in regards to the environment. Martinec is currently a sustainability intern at the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. According to the website, MCSI’s mission is to “create and nurture innovations that benefit the environment, positively impact the University and community-at-large and improve quality of life.”

As a first year, Martinec founded the Pitt chapter of Take Back the Tap. Take Back the Tap seeks to reduce plastic waste on campus while encouraging and protecting access to safe water.

Martinec also led the Real Food Challenge, which Pitt has participated in since March 24, 2015, and challenges the University to serve 20 percent real food by 2020. “Real food” in this context refers to food that is local and community based, fair trade certified, ecologically sound and humane. According to the Pitt Real Food Challenge Facebook page, Pitt met the goal in May 2018.

In the spring of 2018, Martinec was awarded the John P. Bracken Undergraduate Political Science Award, which is given to one junior and one senior each year for outstanding commitment and engagement to political or public service.

Martinec feels the Global Studies program has helped in setting her up for future endeavors, but is still unsure what she will do after she graduates in spring 2019.

“I’m obviously passionate about environmental work, and that’s something I’ve heavily considered, but I’m also very passionate about workers’ rights and immigration issues, both of which have very big global implications.”

Martinec is thankful for the perspective working with a Global Studies program has given her.

“I feel I’m able to see a bigger picture when I look at new situations. I don’t think of everything from a western Eurocentric point of view,” said Martinec. “Plus, not everyone can say they’ve been to China twice before the age of 22.”