From City to Rainforest: Boren Scholar to Study a Divided Brazil at an Environmental Crossroads

Cora Martin Headshot

Cora Martin ’21

In Brazil, the government and environment are at war.

As environmentalists fight to save the Amazon Rainforest, Brazil’s leader is fighting to cut regulations to protect it and the indigenous families that live there. He says development will encourage more farming and industry and boost Brazil’s distressed economy.

Cora Martin ’21 has followed the battle closely, reading newspapers from Brazil and the United States for the latest developments. In August, she’ll go to Brazil to witness it firsthand.

Martin has won a 2019 Boren Scholarship and will spend a year studying ecological economics and Portuguese. The $20,000 scholarship will cover tuition and living expenses. She’ll attend the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio De Janeiro.

Martin will live with a local family in the city and shadow environmental workers in the rainforest. She plans to explore sustainable steps that Brazil could take to protect the rainforest and support its indigenous peoples.

Far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who’s nicknamed “The Trump of the Tropics,” is often compared to American president Donald Trump in style and rhetoric. Bolsonaro has called environmental groups like Greenpeace enemies and has threatened to kick them out of the country.

“I imagine it’s going to be a tense time,” Martin said. “But I’m really excited to talk to the people who run these environmental organizations and see what they think about the situation.”

Superb Candidate

The National Security Education Program sponsors the Boren Scholarship. To comply, students must study less commonly taught languages of regions that are critical to United States’ interests and that are underrepresented in study abroad, such as Latin America or the Middle East.

Martin is proficient in Spanish and has been studying Portuguese independently at Davidson. She will go into an intensive language and cultural immersion program in Brazil to become proficient in Portuguese.

“Cora is an exceedingly bright young woman whose particular abilities and interest in history and language made her a superb candidate for this scholarship,” said James B. Duke Professor of History Patricia Tilburg.

“She is truly passionate about history and foreign languages and combines that passion with a curiosity and geniality which would be a boon to any abroad program.”

Tilburg said Martin caught her attention as a first-year student in an upper-level history class that weaves art history with the political and social upheavals of modern France.

“It is unusual for a first-year student to take a 300-level history class, let alone excel in that class as Cora did,” Tilburg said. “From the outset, she was an engaged and critical leader in class discussions and did stellar work.”

After graduation, Boren Scholars must commit to working for a year in a federal government agency that supports national security, such as the Departments of State or Defense. Martin says she’d love the chance to serve in the national intelligence agencies.

Family History

Martin is a native of Kansas City, Missouri, who majors in history and minors in economics. Her own family history includes relatives who’ve served the government in diplomacy, economics and foreign aid.

Her father, Richard Martin, is a political consultant in Missouri. Politics run deep in her family. She remembers when Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill won her first U.S. Senate bid in 2006. Richard Martin was her campaign manager.

Martin was eight years old and would drive with her mom, sister and dog to visit her dad at the St. Louis apartment he rented for the campaign.

“I have very clear memories of being in that apartment with my family and hearing progress about the race from my dad,” she said. “I thought my dad was a superhero. When Claire did win, I don’t think our family has ever been more excited. Our whole family was on Cloud Nine.”

Does she see a political career in her own future?

“I know inevitably I’ll get involved and I’ll get wrapped up in it,” she said. “But I’d want to be the person behind the scenes, not the candidate.”


  • May 23, 2019