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ASU adventurer wins award to study abroad

April 07, 2011

A near-fatal illness when she was 16 led Beth Anne Martin to dream big dreams. She decided she wanted to make the world a better place.

Now 21, the ASU senior from Chandler has hiked through rainforests to study ecology in Costa Rica and has planted hundreds of trees as a farm intern in New Zealand. She has founded a student organization to fight slavery and trafficking, and has led volunteer efforts for a Tempe homeless program and an environmental action team.

Next year the young activist will head for Chile to study food security and community-based agriculture, having just won a $26,000 Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship.

She is one of more than 400 university students from 40 countries selected by Rotary International to study abroad. They will participate in community service projects and speak to civic groups, acting as “goodwill ambassadors” for their home countries.

Martin was sideswiped by an E.coli infection when she was in high school, and her doctor told her she had been days away from death. Always a healthy person, part of an active family with eight children, she says the experience made her reevaluate her life’s direction.

“My passion is for addressing issues of urban poverty,” she says. “I’d like to do research, to volunteer and eventually work in a setting that enables me to improve the quality of life and overall access to food for people living in poverty.

“In Chile, I hope to analyze how economic policies influence local food systems and community-based agriculture. One of my goals during my study abroad is to gain first-hand knowledge of the local food system and pour my time and energy into making the system more sustainable.”

In addition to studying at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaiso, Martin hopes to volunteer at a food bank or homeless shelter and teach classes in community gardening. Her award was sponsored by the Tempe Rio Salado Rotary Club.

Her wanderlust was sparked by family road trips to national parks and campgrounds, and sojourns to Mexico and Canada. It intensified after she enrolled at Barrett, the ASU Honors College, in the fall of 2008.

When she heard about the ASU Study Abroad program, she was determined to take part. Her environmental interests led her to Costa Rica the following fall, studying Spanish and sustainable development at the Universidad Interamericana. Gradually she became interested in food production, which led to her next adventure, working in New Zealand in summer 2010.

“I realized I had no knowledge of farming, so I sent out about 100 emails to farms all over the world. I heard back from Uma Rapiti, a small family farm of about eight acres on Waiheke Island off the coast of New Zealand.

“I spent last summer living there by myself in a wool shed, with an outdoor shower and toilet. My family was horrified, but it was wonderful. The people who owned the farm lived on the mainland and came out on weekends. I planted 300 to 400 fruit and native trees, and I planted seedlings in greenhouses for the next year.

“The ducks woke me up in the mornings. I did a lot of hiking and running, and it gave me time to reflect on what I wanted to do.”

Martin will graduate in December with degrees in sustainability from the School of Sustainability and history from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She hopes to get a master’s in history before deciding where her dreams will take her.

“I believe life is shaped by the dreams one follows,” she wrote in her Rotary essay. “I want to always dream big dreams; I want those dreams to motivate me to take action.”