Honoring her heritage

Scholarship enables Corinne Martin (’23) to design a meaningful future

A member of the Sappony tribe of North Carolina, Martin is double-majoring in English and Native American History, Culture, and Narratives and has a minor in Environmental Humanities.

Corinne Martin is paving the path to her future with her family’s past. That path hasn’t always been clearly marked, and sometimes it veered into the unknown or unexpected. But as a big believer in fate, she trusted her father when he told her that she would end up where she was meant to be. She didn’t imagine that place would be JMU.

Martin always knew she wanted to attend college but with six siblings, she was also aware that her family wouldn’t be able to help her pay for it. With that in mind, she dedicated herself to working hard for what she wanted by taking advantage of her county’s Advance College Academy program, which allowed her to earn college credit for her high school classes. After picking up an associate’s degree along with her high school diploma—and still worried about how to pay for a two-year college without going into debt—she started applying for scholarships to help with the final cost.

Her high school guidance counselor urged her to apply for JMU’s Centennial Scholars Program, which offers scholarships and support to recruit and retain under-represented students. During the interview, she says, “I felt very seen, and I felt like they were seeing the potential in me. And they were seeing all this hard work I'd put in and I was talking about all these things I was passionate about. I was like, wow, like, all the stuff I've been doing seems like it's paying off.”

She was awarded a full scholarship, which immediately allowed her to focus on what she wanted to do with her opportunity rather than how she would pay for it. It also brought others into her life who would guide her along her path to defining her passions and goals. Now, with the help of the Centennial Scholars Program and her professors, Martin was able to concentrate on choosing her major and making the most of her Madison Experience. She originally majored in International Affairs, but that didn’t seem to fit, so she switched to English.

Martin had always loved writing, and had spent the previous four years exploring her Native American roots. She wanted to find a way to connect the two so that she could use her writing to speak about Native peoples and their issues in a meaningful way. But there didn’t seem to be a major that fit. That is, until she shared an original poem about her Native heritage with a professor, who asked if she was aware of the Independent Scholars Program, which would allow her to determine her course of study.

“I was like, ‘This is insane,’” she said. “I never thought I would be able to double major, let alone be able to create my own major that directly aligns with my passions. I’ve really enjoyed … working on expanding my understanding of Native people and their problems, and also expanding my abilities as a writer, and trying to intersect those two things. I really make it what I want, which has been awesome.”

By reconnecting with her Native American roots, Martin hopes to serve as a role model for others while honoring her family’s sacrifice. Her paternal great grandparents left their entire family and tribe to move to another state so that their children and grandchildren could have more and better opportunities.

“So, seeing that I've worked so hard, and I'm able to be at a four-year university, and not going into debt, I feel like it's honoring them and showing them like, this is the payoff for what you did,” she said. “And I'm so grateful for it. And it's a way of showing them that your sacrifice didn't go in vain; like it very much has made a huge impact on my life.”

Martin acknowledges that she’s received much more than financial assistance from JMU.

She said, “Centennial Scholars definitely makes a big effort to say, ‘Just because of your background, just because your family might not have enough money for you to go to college, you still belong in these places. We still believe in your potential, and believe in the fact that you belong here. And you are [in] no way lesser than other people at this university.’”

Knowing that others have invested in her and believe in her potential reinforces her own belief in herself and allows her to trust that she is where she’s meant to be.

Her path after JMU looks promising. She’s considering becoming a college professor because of all of the JMU professors who have been so supportive and encouraging of her. She notes that there are few Native American professors, as well as few professors generally who teach about Native American issues.

“I want to be in a college setting to teach people who might not be familiar with Native people about Native people,” Martin said, “and also, to hopefully be a role model to any Native students who might come to me like, ‘Oh, you have a place here. You can do this, you're represented here.’”

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Published: Friday, October 1, 2021

Last Updated: Friday, January 14, 2022

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