Martin Medina is a young man with a lot of realized potential. A graduate of Pius XI High School, the

University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, he’s embarking on a career in healthcare that will involve a lot of service to the underserved.

But no matter how much potential a student has, it takes the right kind of guidance to unlock it. Luckily, said Medina, he had teachers and mentors at Pius who knew the right balance of expectation and encouragement to help him realize what he was capable of achieving.

“Sometimes you need someone to set that bar for you so that you have something to reach for,” said Medina.

Most parents who select Catholic high school for their children are seeking exactly the kind of environment that Medina said “set the foundation for the success I’ve had” — a constructive, inclusive atmosphere where Christian virtues and leadership skills are fostered by a careful model that combines expectations with support.

That’s an environment that many graduates say they found in their Milwaukee Catholic high schools, according to a recent study conducted on behalf of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The study compiled data from a four-phase research process, including focus groups and online surveys taken by 1,200 Catholic high school graduates, more than 800 Catholic parents of current high school students and more than 300 Catholic parents of alumni, all of differing socioeconomic backgrounds.

The study, which was conducted by local research firm Branding Breakthroughs, LLC, asked high school graduates to describe character traits fostered by their high school experience and to assign them a value on a five-point scale. Graduates of Catholic high schools consistently assigned these character traits a higher value than their public school counterparts: compassion (4.2 vs. 2.8), integrity (4.2 vs. 3.1), leadership (4.0 vs. 2.9), unity (3.8 vs. 2.7), teamwork (3.9 vs. 2.9) and inclusiveness (3.6 vs. 2.6).

Those values certainly were evident for Medina. “I think what was great about Pius was they really tried to foster that inclusiveness,” he said. “Oftentimes in high school, you hear stories about bullying and divisions between the different classes. I think Pius does a really good job of trying to integrate people in different grade levels so we can be one community.”

Martin Medina’s story

It was Pius’ academic standards that compelled Medina’s parents to enroll him and his older siblings at the school. “They wanted us to be set up for success,” he said. But it was the school’s extracurricular activities that helped to really round out his experience there. He took advantage of Pius’ reputation for artistic excellence, delving into jazz band, and he also participated in the Big Buddy program, which paired seniors with freshman students. “We met once a week, and we talked about whatever they wanted to talk about, played games — it’s a great way to build relationships between different classes and help get the freshmen off to a good start,” he said.

Medina also credited Pius’ TAC (Teacher Advisor Contact) system with giving him a solid network of peer and faculty support. TAC rooms are a mixture of students from all grade levels, overseen by a faculty member known as their “TAC teacher.” Students stay in the same TAC room throughout their four years of high school and participate in assemblies, all-school Masses and community service as a TAC room unit.

“You get to sit for an hour every single day with a group of people of different grade levels, different backgrounds, and you kind of developed a little family. It’s this great feeling of peer support,” said Medina. His TAC teacher, “Ms. ZG,” became a mentor for him. “You really develop a close relationship and they really kind of become your second parent, your advisor. They’re a great social and academic support.”

Following his graduation from Pius, Medina studied social welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was awarded a full scholarship. After achieving his bachelor of science degree, he applied for AmeriCorps, where he worked with the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin to launch a pilot program that would enable economically disadvantaged families to better navigate community health resources.

The experience helped him to realize that he wanted to spend his life in service. “Just growing up Catholic in general, there’s that mentality of giving back, being a community servant, helping your fellow citizens and your neighbors. I wanted to dedicate myself to my community,” he said. “I wanted to choose a career where I felt like I was making a difference and helping people.”

Medina received his masters of physician’s assistant studies (MPAS) and masters of public health (MPH) from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine in 2019, and this fall is beginning a year-long fellowship in emergency medicine at Aurora Sinai and CHW, through Marquette University. His plan is to help promote the values he learned at Pius — compassion, inclusiveness, leadership and integrity — in his work as a physician’s assistant who will minister to populations that face issues like poverty and unemployment.

“I’m pretty committed to Milwaukee; my career goals really involved helping to address some of the larger issues we’re having with health disparities in our city and our community,” he said. “I’m going to be treating patients who have a lot of things working against them, and I’m going to try to provide them with quality of life and healthcare that is equitable.”