‘Soul sisters’: a friendship from kindergarten to Newman University

Nov 09, 2023
Ibarra and Martinez point to their family roots on a map of Mexico. (Courtesy photo)

First-year Newman students Ashley Ibarra and Kassandra Martinez have been best friends since attending Payne Elementary School in Wichita.

Attending middle school together was a highlight for both Ibarra and Martinez.

“We got to ride the bus together and it was always so much fun,” said Martinez. 

When Ibarra’s family moved, the friends attended different high schools. That’s when the pair pledged that they would never go to different schools again.

(Left to right) Ibarra and Martinez point to where they have family roots in Mexico.
(Left to right) Ibarra and Martinez point to where they have family roots in Mexico.

During their high school years, they found that they were always missing each other. While Ibarra attended Wichita North High School and Martinez attended Wichita West High School, they were constantly at the other’s school — whether it was for a school dance, a sporting event or simply to eat lunch.

“We don’t depend on each other but it was hard without her support. When we attended different high schools, it was like I had separation anxiety. We would share things about each other’s days and there was a small disconnect,” said Ibarra. 

“We had never been apart before and it was hard. We were trying to make up for the lost years by promising to go to college together,” said Martinez. 

Ibarra and Martinez point to where they have family roots in Mexico.
(Left to right) Ibarra and Martinez point to where they have family roots in Mexico.

The college of choice quickly became Newman University.

Both students had visited Newman University many times, but never together. Ibarra visited three times saying that it “felt like home.” Martinez visited twice and said that she felt the same pull to attend. 

“The people and the environment were a big reason why I decided on Newman. I had toured a lot of schools and liked them, but Newman always caught my eye. The people here always made me feel comfortable,” said Ibarra.

When Sonja Bontrager, assistant professor of Spanish and co-director of Hispanic initiatives, learned of the lifelong friendship between Ibarra and Martinez, she referred to the two as “soul sisters.”

“Kassandra and Ashley´s friendship seemed special — deeply rooted, and a source of understanding and strength for both,” Bontrager explained. “I love seeing young women encouraging one another during challenging times, and they gave me hope at the start of this semester.”
She continued, “As we walked through Eck, the Bishop Gerber Science Center and McNeill together that afternoon, Newman staff and faculty welcomed them with joy and empathy. I so appreciate our colleagues and their heart for students!”

At Newman, Ibarra and Martinez have already joined two clubs, the Hispanic-American Leadership Organization (HALO) and the newly formed Corazón. Martinez was the president of HALO at her high school so she knew going into college it was something she wanted to be a part of. 

“I wasn’t involved in HALO at my school but I went to all the HALO events at West High School (even though she attended North High School),” Ibarra said. “When I saw Newman had this club I knew I wanted to join based on the events I went to in high school,” said Ibarra. 

Ibarra is majoring in nursing and Martinez is majoring in business. So far they like their professors, the buildings and the students at Newman. 

“I like my professors, they are all super understanding. I like that they are able to have a one-on-one relationship with their students,” said Ibarra. 

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