Watson Fellowship candidates announced for national review
Published: Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Updated: Friday, October 29, 2010 13:10
Four seniors were notified last Wednesday that they are in contention for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a one-year grant for independent study and travel outside the United States. After the internal selection process was over, the College nominated Madeline Weeks '11, Michele Bornstein '11, Emily Firgens '11 and Debbie Chen '11 to the Watson Foundation for the national competition.
"The fellowship offers college graduates of ‘unusual promise' a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel—in international settings new to them—to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community," according to its website.
Forty colleges participate in the fellowship program, which provides fellows a stipend of $25,000 on the condition that they may not return to the United States during their 12 months abroad. Candidates are expected to endure an application process that spans from September to March.
"The application is really intense," Weeks said. The College's internal selection process involved a round of essays and interviews, including personal statements and project proposals from applicants. Weeks explained that each applicant had to convey why the project is important to her and demonstrate that the topic has been a longstanding interest. Once a pool was selected from the written applications, the college's review committee held a round of interviews and forwarded the four seniors' names to the Foundation. In the meantime, the four nominees will contact professors who are willing to mentor them and develop a detailed plan for their year abroad.
Weeks, a Spanish and economics double major, hopes to look at sustainability issues of cacao production in Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Ghana and Indonesia.
"There are a lot of chocoholics in the world," she said. "I differ from them in that I'm not just crazy about chocolate for eating it. I see a connection for my love for the environment, to food in general, to economics and anthropology."
Weeks's fascination with chocolate began when she was in high school. She started a culinary club as a way to unify her school's "diverse" community and initiated Chocolate Month. She researched production methods and learned that not only does cacao need a bio-diverse environment in order to thrive, but also that industry is increasingly threatening these key environments.
"If we continue to destroy the environment, there's a possibility that there would be no more chocolate in the world. I felt like something needed to be done."
Although she plans to explore how environmental effects of cacao production relate to economics, she still hopes the Watson will help clarify her interests in travel and anthropology.
"I began to see [chocolate] as this window into other cultures," she said. "I don't travel to places to see the big sites. I really want to know how to get to know the people. One of the beauties of the Watson project is that it will involve a lot of interviewing." Weeks plans to interview farmers who are part of small-scale family operations and get referrals from them. "By doing so, I can get to see what the culture is like. It's a very intimate experience." She also hopes to visit plantations and warehouses to gain a holistic perspective of chocolate production.
Michele Bornstein, a history and Middle Eastern studies double major, proposed to travel to Egypt, Turkey, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy to study a glassblowing technique that originated in 1527. Bornstein plans to study how the technique, which involves the application of cane to glass, originated. She will relate her research to Jewish studies by tracing the connection between glass and Jewish trade networks.
Bornstein has been blowing glass since she was 13 years old. She spent a semester studying in an artist's colony in Penland, N.C., where she blew glass for 80 hours a week.
Emily Firgens, a political science major, proposed to travel to Egypt, Croatia, Finland, Russia, Ireland and Mexico in order to experience an election in each of those countries.
"I want to look at varying rates of voter participation in these countries, and go out and observe what sorts of methods campaigns other third-party political groups use to get people motivated and what sort of effect this has on how voters around the world view voting and the electoral process," she wrote in an email from Amsterdam, where she is currently studying abroad.
Firgens has volunteered and participated as an intern in many U.S. elections.
"I am interested in exploring elections beyond the context of the American political system in order to get a sense of what other challenges and successes other countries face during their respective electoral processes," she wrote. "I love politics and elections despite all the frustrations that come with an American election."
Debbie Chen, an economics major, plans to travel to Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, the Canary Islands and Brazil where she will practice a martial art unique to each country. Chen has practiced the Chinese martial art of Wushu for the past ten years.
"Doing martial arts is my default and most natural state of being," she wrote in an email. As a first-year, Chen assembled a Wushu act for the [Chinese Students Association's] Culture Show. "Wushu is a comprehensive martial art that encompasses virtually the entire array of movements known to the martial art world," she said in an email. Wellesley Wushu then formed and has been a fully-constituted organization for the past year and a half.
"I have always connected with people through the shared experience of practicing martial arts," she wrote. Chen went to China to train at a Shaolin Temple Wushu school several years ago. "The friendships I established there continue to be some of my closest and most enduring. I truly believe in the ability of martial arts to cultivate understanding between people, to transcend what sometimes seem to be insurmountable differences in culture and background."