Four Students Nominated For 2015–2016 Thomas J. Watson Fellowships

December 16, 2015
Huiying Bernice Chan '16, Alyssa Brody '16 and Emma Howey '16.

Wellesley has nominated four seniors for prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowships, which fund a year of independent study and travel outside of the United States.

"The Watson Fellowship provides a unique opportunity for Wellesley students to travel immediately after graduating," said Lauri Wardell, the College's liaison to the fellowship program. "The program enables young people to grow personally and intellectually by making a solo journey to countries where they've never been, in order to carry out a project of deep personal interest."

Awards of $30,000 are given to 50 recipients nationwide from participating schools. Wellesley can nominate four students annually. The 2015–2016 nominees are Alyssa Brody '16, Huiying Bernice Chan '16, Beba Cibralic '16, and Emma Howey '16.

For her Watson project, Brody, a political science and environmental studies major, has proposed investigating when and why the farm-to-table system works, and how some communities have come to prioritize this sustainable, small-scale form of agriculture and traditional means of sharing family meals despite busy lifestyles, rising food demand, and the encroaching factory farm systems. Brody grew up in a very busy family that rarely had time to eat dinner together. "For this reason, meals that were shared around the dinner table hold a very special place in my heart, as they provide a chance to connect with your food, your family, and your culture," she said.

She plans to study food systems in Japan, Thailand, Italy, Iceland, and Chile by living, farming, and cooking with families, and joining them at their dinner tables. "My environmental studies courses have taught me the importance of using sustainable growing practices, but I hope to use my Watson year to show that when we make choices to preserve the physical environment, we also strengthen and preserve the familial environment as well," she said.

Chan is a second-generation Chinese American who was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. She calls New York City’s Chinatown her second home because of her family's roots in that community. "Chinatowns are home for so many Chinese immigrants, and they hold such a rich history of the migration of Chinese people, especially from Guangdong, where my family is from," she said. "Yet today, Chinatown residents across America are being displaced by gentrification."     

Chan, an ethnic studies individual major, spent last summer working with immigrant tenants in New York’s Chinatown to organize around those issues. Her proposed Watson project would allow her to investigate the importance and social meaning of Chinatowns across the globe, specifically the themes of community organizing and the construction of race among the Chinese diaspora populations in Peru, South Africa, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, and China. "I will use my love of writing and the creative arts to share stories, poems, and portraits of the people I meet," she said. "I am amazed when I learn about different Chinatowns and how my family and community's story is connected on an international level."

Cibralic is a philosophy and political science double major. Her proposed Watson project is to explore queer empowerment projects in Georgia, Russia, Morocco, Egypt, Peru, and Nicaragua, as well as the social, historical, political, and religious factors that shape the treatment of queerfolk in those countries.

"While queer rights are often championed as inalienable and universal, the lens through which we understand queerness is usually filtered through the Western cultural experience," she said. "It is my sincere hope that this project will add texture and depth to my current understanding of what it means to be queer, how queerness can be reconciled with allegedly 'traditional' values, and whether global queer solidarity is possible."

Howey said her proposed project was inspired by her younger brother, Ian, who is developmentally disabled and recently turned 18. "He won't ever live independently, but I want him to have agency in his life," she said. "Attending Wellesley and finding a supportive residential community here has helped me develop confidence, personal agency, and big plans for the future. I think Ian and his peers would benefit hugely from a community that allowed them those gifts."

A geoscience major and computer science minor, Howey plans to travel to communities in Ireland, Ghana, Ecuador, and India where adults with and without disabilities live together, work together, and enrich one another’s lives. "I want to become a part of four communities that meet the needs of all their members holistically. Then, I aim to return home to Ian, our family, and the rest of our community, to create an equitable future for us both," she said.