Three Wellesley Seniors Win Watson Fellowships

March 25, 2014

Beatrice Denham, Mayrah Udvardi, and Audrey Wozniak Receive Funding to Travel the World to Pursue Dream Projects

Vintage suitcase with travel stickers from all over the world

A year to travel the world in pursuit of a dream project: This is the opportunity that the prestigious Thomas Watson Fellowship provides to approximately 40 graduating college students annually. This year, Wellesley seniors Beatrice Denham, Mayrah Udvardi, and Audrey Wozniak have each won a Watson Fellowship.

The Thomas J. Watson Foundation was established in 1961, in honor of the late Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM. The Fellowship program began in 1968 and since then has been awarded to 2,700 individuals. Watson awardees come from select private liberal arts colleges and universities across the United States. From nearly 700 candidates for the 2014-2015 year, 150 finalists were nominated to compete on the national level from which 43 Fellows were selected. These 43 Fellows will travel to a total of 81 countries, pursuing a wide range of independent projects. Each Fellow receives $28,000 for 12 months of travel, college loan assistance, and an insurance allowance.

Many Wellesley women have won Watsons in past years, but rarely does any college have more than one or two winners in the same year. For the 2014-2015 fellowship year, only Wellesley and Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., have three winners. When hearing that Beatrice, Mayrah, and Audrey were all awarded a fellowship, I was nearly speechless,” says Lauri Wardell, senior instructor in physis laboratory. “There are no guarantees that what our Wellesley committee sees as promising in a nominee is what the selection committee will see as promising. I think I can speak for all our committee members in saying that we’re always relieved when we get at least one winner. Three winners is really, really awesome.”

Wardell serves as the Watson liaison for the college and on the Watson committee, which selects the Wellesley nominees. Joining her on the committee this year were Martin Brody, Catherine Mills Davis Professor of Music; Barry Lydgate, professor of French; Joe Swingle, senior lecturer in sociology; and Amy Chandler-Nelson, budget and academic operations manager in the Provost’s office.

“Now it’s time for the next prospective Watson Fellows to begin their journeys,” says Wardell, who advises any students interested in the Watson fellowship to speak with her and Liz Mandeville, director of fellowship programs. “The Watson Fellowship requires a significant amount of time spent in developing and writing a competitive application, so starting now on an application due the first or second week of October really isn’t starting too soon–just ask Beatrice, Mayrah, or Audrey. Yea for them!”

Beatrice Denham ’14

Building with Brick: Clay, Community, and Craft

Peru, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Uzbekistan, India

“I'm interested in architecture made out of earth,” says Beatrice Denham ’14, “that includes brick, adobe, mud, compressed earth, and rammed earth structures... the list goes on and on. Actually, by some counts over half the earth's population lives in structures made of earth. It's a cheap, democratic building material with the potential to be really sustainable.”

An architecture major, Denham plans to become a designer, one equally adept in creativity and responsibility in the materials she uses. She is particularly interested in the possibilities of clay structures. “Some of that comes from the half-the-world thing,” she says, “some from my love of making pottery and my desire to get my hands back in clay after four years of books, and some is, I don't know, a kind of unexplainable attraction. I was always that kid off playing in the mud.”

For her Watson year, Denham will travel to visit communities where people build with their hands, in methods both traditional and innovative. She will pay attention to the environmental and social effects of sustainable and unsustainable practices, and learn from masters of the craft. Asked what one item she’ll be bringing with her as she travels, she says, “Hmm, sketchbook? Actually, I've been thinking I will want gifts to give to the families and organizations that will host me, but I also have limited space, so I'm looking for suggestions.”

Mayrah Udvardi ’14

On Fragile Architecture: Exploring Causes of Housing Insecurity in Indigenous Communities

Malaysia, Peru, Ethiopia, Russia

“I've known for a long time—since I was seven—that I've wanted to practice sustainable architecture,” says Mayrah Udvardi ’14, who double-majors in environmental studies and architecture. “Through my time at Wellesley, I've come to envision myself designing and building affordable, sustainable housing for underserved communities around the world. Like many emerging millennial architects, I have a vision for a more just and stable world and see design as a powerful tool to affect change in communities that are facing the environmental and cultural externalities of unsustainable development.”

Udvardi will spend her Watson year practicing a discipline called visual journaling, drawing to analyze community structures, human spatial patterns, and the built environment as a means of studying problems in these areas.

“Let me start by telling you what I won't be bringing,” she says when asked what she’ll be bringing with her on the Watson year. “I won't be bringing my laptop, camera, iPod, smartphone, or any other portable electronic device. I also won't be bringing my black cocktail dress, heels, or my red lipstick. Lest you might think I won't have any fun: I will be bringing my sketchbook, ukulele, and as much of the outdoor equipment in REI's catalogue that I can fit in my hiking backpack.”

Audrey Wozniak ’14

Hearing the World through New Ears: Exploring the Musical Cultures of Gamelan, Muqam, and Cimbalom Bands

Indonesia, China, Azerbaijan, Hungary, Czech Republic

Audrey Wozniak ’14 has spent her time at Wellesley immersed in the intertwining worlds of culture, music, and communication. A winner of MIT’s prestigious Concerto Competition, the double major in music and East Asian Studies plays with both the MIT Symphony and the Wellesley Chamber Music Society. She has interned with the ABC News Beijing bureau and with the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou, and was an Albright Fellow in the 2013 Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs.

Wozniak plans to experience three musical traditions—gamelan, muqam, and cimbalom band—in five different countries. Gamelan is an Indonesian style of music involving a percussive musical ensemble; muqam is a mixture of song, dance, folk and classical music originating with the Uighur people in Xinjiang, China; and cimbalom is an instrument used in Hungarian folk music.

She will examine the roles of these traditions in local culture, as well as their intersection with outside musical influences, with a desire to connect and play with musicians who perform works from both the local and Western art music traditions, and learn how the two music styles can be seamlessly intertwined to create a cohesive musical whole that crosses geopolitical boundaries. 

"Over the next year, I hope to learn, experience, and participate in a wide variety of musical styles," says Wozniak, "and through that process grow as a musician and better understand how different cultures interact." We asked her what she'll be taking with her as she travels. "Of course, one thing I will undoubtedly be bringing with me is my violin!"


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