Ralph Bray, a graduating student from the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas, has been awarded a National Security Education Program (NSEP) David L. Boren Fellowship to study Portuguese in Brazil.
Boren Fellowships provide up to $30,000 to U.S. graduate students to add an important international and language component to their graduate education through specialization in area study, language study, or increased language proficiency. Applicants identify how their study abroad programs or overseas projects, as well as their future academic and career goals, will contribute to U.S. national security.
International travel is nothing new for Bray; he has lived in four different countries and has traveled to 25 countries in total. This summer, he will visit his 26th when he spends eight weeks in Sri Lanka as part of his International Public Service Project. Bray will work with Gammada, an organization that seeks to uplift rural Sri Lanka through sustainable community development, carrying out an in-depth study on the impacts of the human-elephant conflict on rural farmers.
It's the challenges and personal growth, Bray said, that excite him most for international travel and his upcoming Boren experience.
“Pushing your comfort zone in new environments teaches you how to connect with strangers and see the world under a new lens,” Bray said. “Now, I am getting funded to do just that. There is so much to do and explore in Brazil. For instance, the language school I am getting funded for offers cultural excursions with locals on learning how to dance Samba or Capoeira. They also offer weekend trips to explore and help support the sustainability efforts on bringing back the mostly deforested Atlantic Forest and allow students to volunteer with the orphaned children living in the favelas. To make a long answer short, I am most excited to make new Brazilian friends, learn a third language (Portuguese), and immerse myself in Brazilian culture while continuing to do public service internationally.”
The Boren Fellowship is the latest opportunity that Bray has been connected with through the Clinton School. His time with at the school has included a field service project with the City of Little Rock researching best practices for increasing women-owned or minority-owned business enterprises (WMBE) vendor participation and contract spending. In September 2021, he was named the recipient of the Randall Mathis Scholarship from the Arkansas Environmental Federation.
“I appreciate the school’s support and the school bringing up all these wonderful opportunities like Boren, or my research with the Mayor on equitable procurement, or my upcoming summer conservation project in Sri Lanka,” Bray said. “The Clinton School is an institution I am proud to be a part of and it has been a fantastic experience thus far.”
Bray, who is also pursuing a concurrent Master of Business Administration through the University of Arkansas Sam M. Walton College of Business, said that he plans to take skills from both the Clinton School and Walton School programs and apply them to his future experiences.
“This experience will be a part of a bigger goal,” Bray said. “The reason I left corporate sales was to pursue my interest in bridging the gap between sustainability and for-profit business. Learning Portuguese for a year will better allow me to network in the country with our world’s lungs. Additionally, this experience will hopefully lead to a job with the federal government in USAID where I can work on international programs focused on environmentalism and community development specifically in Brazil and the Amazon Rainforest.”
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