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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Final four Watson nominees chosen

After attending a secondary educational institution for a number of years, many graduates seek opportunities to continue their education through other means.
Since its inception in 1968, Grinnell has been a participating institution in the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. The Watson Fellowship works to fund a student’s disciplined year to travel abroad and explore a particular interest. Those chosen for the fellowship program are given $25,000 to visit a country in which they have neither lived nor studied for a significant amount of time.
“There are some awards that if students want to apply, they can’t just apply on their own,” said Director of Social Commitment Doug Cutchins. “The college has to put their stamp of approval on the student.”
For the past 11 years, Cutchins has been acting as the College’s liaison for the Watson fellowship.
In order to be nominated for the program, the individual must be a graduating senior at a participating institution in the nation. According to the Watson website, the fellowship seeks seniors who exhibit qualities such as leadership, resourcefulness, vision, independence and integrity.Applicants must endure three rounds of personal interviews along with the submission of a 1,500 word project proposal and a 1,500 word personal statement. Once the applicants have submitted these and interviewed, a committee of six faculty members reviews their interviews and decides upon four nominees.This year, 17 students from Grinnell applied for the Watson fellowship this year, but only four nominees were chosen–Asia Sample ’10, Latona Giwa ’09.5, Becca Bernstein ’10 and Filippos Tsakiris ’10.
Heading to Argentina, South Korea and Japan, Sample plans to go abroad and work with other female graphic artists to understand how they face being a woman in the male-dominated industry, along with documenting their and her experiences.
“Since a really young age, I’ve always been drawing,” Sample said. “I was very interested in comics and graphics when I was in middle school. I always dreamed of being a graphic novel artist since I was twelve years old.”
On the other end of the artistic spectrum is Giwa’s proposal to study Senegalese dancing communities around the world. As the daughter of an undocumented Nigerian immigrant, Giwa’s interest came from her family background.
“In the end, it’s not really about dance, it’s about community processes and migration and the ways that communities are formed and maintained and policed,” Giwa said. “I’m also interested in the power and control and who’s allowed to teach dance and who’s allowed to learn and who gets to say whose dance is whose.”
Following the Senegalese immigration route from Senegal to Argentina to Spain, Giwa hopes to take dance lessons, attend dance festivals and observe family gatherings and night clubs.
Bernstein desires to tackle the issue of sexual health education by studying sexual health peer education by working with formalized peer education efforts in second and third world countries. Planning to study in Ethiopia, South Africa, India and the Netherlands, Bernstein wants to embed herself in the daily conversations of communities there to better understand how information is spread.
“I’m versing myself in the cultures in seeing ways in which sexual health information and misinformation is spread­—specifically amongst adolescents, teenagers and college students,” Bernstein said. “That way I’ll be able to see how the informal spread of sexual health information contradicts the formalized efforts and see what the effects are.”
Bernstein’s interest in sexual health information has recently manifested itself in Bernstein’s implementation of the Sexual Health Information Center which opened just this month.
Tsakiris titled his proposed project “No Island is an Island” and wishes to study in the Bahamas, Maldives, New Zealand, Sweden, Iceland and the UK in order to observe potential economic independence in islands and find a holistic, sustainable solution for the island crisis.
“Islands are actually dying,” said Tsakiris. “The Mediterranean will be the first to be hit by global warming.”
Tsakiris hopes to better understand the driving forces behind the potential for economic and technological sustainability in island communities. He will accomplish this by working in a geothermal production company in Iceland, working with fishermen in other islands, engaging in the Swedish municipal system, as well as volunteering for a non-profit activist organization which spreads the message of global warming in Maldives.    
With usually only one or two nominees selected as fellows, Cutchins expects the other nominees take away more this experience other than disappointment.
“It’s got to be about the process. This is a phenomenal opportunity for students, at the beginning of their senior year, to sit down and take a very hard, long look at ‘Who am I? What matters to me? What do I want to do after graduation?’,” Cutchins said. “My concern is that students at the end of this process have a better idea of who they are, what matters to them in life and what they want to do after graduation. If they happen to win the Watson, terrific. But that’s a bonus to me.”

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