Digital NEST founder receives distinguished award for leadership and vision

Alumnus Jacob Martinez honored with 2020 James Irvine Leadership Award

Jacob Martinez (Oakes '04, evolutionary biology), founder and executive director of Digital NEST, has received a prestigious 2020 James Irvine Leadership Award for empowering youth through digital innovation. 

Martinez opened Digital NEST, a hip and innovative learning center, in Watsonville six years ago. The nonprofit helps young people from rural areas master skills like programming, game design, filmmaking, and graphic arts. It also guides them as they create their own projects.

The leadership awards recognize and support individuals who are advancing innovative and effective solutions to significant economic and social issues in California. The foundation provides each recipient’s organization with a grant of $250,000 to support his or her work benefiting the people of California, and helps recipients share their approaches with policymakers and practitioners.

The foundation hailed Martinez as “a leader in the fight against social, educational, and economic inequities in the underserved rural communities of Northern California.” The foundation also praised Martinez for his work on behalf of  “forgotten communities” that have been historically locked out of the economic opportunities and digital innovation brought by the technology industry.

As the foundation noted, some of those families have been pushed out of their own neighborhoods as a side effect of a booming digital economy. 

“There are youth in forgotten communities across this state that have the heart, skills, and talent needed to drive California’s future,” Martinez said. 

In an interview, he mentioned that Watsonville is only an hour's drive south of Silicon Valley.

“Why are these companies continuously looking for talent in other parts of this country when there is brilliant, young, and diverse talent that exists right outside their corporate headquarters?”

Digital NEST creates physical tech hubs for youth, giving them places to go for training, education, and access to technology.

In the last 5 years, over 2,500 youth have gone to the Digital NEST for services training.

“We have students coming here during the high school day, getting elective credit, but also getting workforce training at the same time,” Martinez said.

Last year, Martinez launched a partnership with a local school district and community college to integrate technology curricula for K-12 and higher education institutions. This program allows students to receive both high school and college credits for specific technology classes. Martinez’s ultimate goal is to work with businesses to create job opportunities that enable students to stay and drive economic development at home.