Wellesley’s 2021-22 Fulbrights Prepare to Launch into the World

donna dodson working in her studio
Author  Josh Idaszak
Published on 

Two alumna and four members of Wellesley’s Class of 2021 have been awarded Fulbright Fellowships for the upcoming academic year. Donna Dodson ’90 was granted a research fellowship to pursue artistic work in Vienna; Emily Prechtl ’20 and Ashley Anderson DS ’21 received English Teaching Assistantships (ETAs) to Kosovo and South Korea; and Xue Fang Deng ’21, Yu-Jin Cho ’21, and Olivia Lewis ’21 each earned ETAs to Taiwan. Founded in 1946 with funds from the sale of surplus government war property in the wake of World War II, the Fulbright Program is led by the United States government in partnership with more than 160 countries. It offers international educational and cultural exchange programs for students, scholars, artists, teachers, and professionals of all backgrounds to study, teach, or pursue research and professional projects.

Dodson ’90, who is currently a resident scholar at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center, will be an artist-in-residence at Q21/MuseumsQuartier from February to May 2022 with her host organization, Tricky Women, the only animation film festival in the world that focuses on animation movies made by women.

“Vienna is an artist’s mecca,” Dodson said. “It is a dream to win a Fulbright US Scholar award in Austria to work at the center of this internationally renowned city. Besides this unique host organization, there are many research opportunities that are located in Vienna, such as the Venus of Willendorf statue at the Natural History Museum, the Albertina Museum—which has the largest collection of works by Albrecht Durer in the world, and a notable Durer specialist with whom I hope to work—and the Vienna Secession Building, a historic and contemporary site of artistic resistance, independence, and self-expression.”

While at Brandeis, Dodson completed a multiyear project that focused on the Amazons of the ancient steppes. Her research for that work, which ranged from art history to archaeology to the pop culture depictions of mythic Amazonians, led her to create a series of wood sculptures that reimagine the figures in Albrecht Durer’s famous woodcut “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” as Amazon warriors. Her four wood sculptures premiered at the Boston Sculptors Gallery in May, in a solo exhibit titled “Amazons Among Us.”

“It seemed logical to reimagine the four horsemen as Amazonian warriors because horse-riding prowess is one of the things that defines Amazons,” Dodson said. “Amazons or women warriors have existed in every culture around the world. ‘Amazons among Us’ refers to these women. My hope is that viewers will be inspired to think of the powerful women in their own lives that are often overlooked or marginalized due to dominant cultural narratives of damsels in distress or princess tropes that pervade mainstream animated films and female characters.”

During her fellowship, Dodson will work on “Amazons, Goddesses, and Wonder Women,” a project that involves translating her four wood sculptures into digital avatars, developing the storyboard and script for a short animated film titled “The Amazons Among US: An Animated Antidote to Gender Misconceptions of Women,” and ultimately producing the film in partnership with Catriona Baker, an award-winning filmmaker and the chair of animation at Lesley University and K. Melchor Quick Hall, a Fulbright alumna and resident scholar at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center. “I am in search of creating a new type of woman heroine in my animated film I will be making through this grant,” Dodson said. Dodson, Baker, and Hall hope to submit their film to the Tricky Women film festival in 2023.

Dodson began sculpting after Wellesley, during a time in her life when she was fighting to quit smoking. “I was trying to quit and I felt guilty about littering cigarette filters on the ground, so I began picking them up, and other trash I would find, like hubcaps, metal, and plastic bits, on my daily walks around Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston. I started assembling them into faces and figures. Eventually, I met Joseph Wheelwright in his South End studio, where I began studying woodcarving. I chose wood because it was more sensual, it has its own voice, and with wood, my work took a turn towards the personal and autobiographical, and my mature voice emerged. By using a historically charged medium that evokes the ancient, I wish to say that women warriors and powerful women have been with us forever, but gender misconceptions have prevented us from recognizing them.”

Wellesley’s ETA Fulbright fellows are as excited to pursue their work as Dodson.

“As an aspiring bilingual educator, I was captivated by Taiwan’s strong ETA program and the opportunity to immerse myself in Taiwanese culture and Mandarin Chinese,” said Deng. “At Wellesley, I had the opportunity to learn from Professor Stephen Chen’s research team the ways in which sociocultural and sociopolitical factors interact with children and family’s development.” Deng added that she was looking forward to finding avenues to engage in her host community. “I’m looking forward to seeing the ways in which culture and policy influence young people’s educational experiences and development,” Deng said. “I’m also excited to explore Taiwan’s well-known night markets, cuisines, and landscape.”

Cho, whose interest in living abroad took root after experiences studying abroad in Moscow and London, is equally excited to explore Taiwan. “Considering Taiwan’s expansive and affordable rail system, I’m excited to explore different cities and new landscapes across the country,” she said.

Prechtl, who will be headed to Kosovo, first visited the country in 2019 as part of a study abroad course on international humanitarian law. “Every Kosovar we met during that experience cared deeply about the future of their young country, and despite their many challenges to be recognized by the international community and to get on their own feet economically, they had so much hope for their future,” Prechtl said. “It was an idealism that seemed so energetic and uncomplicated in comparison to the doubt and fatigue we see here in the U.S.”

Prechtl taught digital and handmade photography workshops for Phocus Photography Club while at Wellesley, and will be working with Kosovar college students on documentary photography. “Part of my original application posited the importance of photography in self-expression and identity,” Prechtl said. “I hope that some of my skills can translate into teaching Kosovar teens how to document their lives and their communities.”

While Dodson and Wellesley’s five ETA Fulbrights from the Class of 2021 might be embarking upon different projects, they feel a common sense of purpose in the Fulbright program’s mission.

“Fulbright’s message of fostering cross-cultural communication and understanding is especially important at this moment,” Cho said. “As cultural ambassadors, I think it is important to show a more nuanced portrayal of the diverse array of experiences in American society beyond its traditionally stylized monolithic portrayal. Likewise, I want to learn more about the nuances in Taiwanese society by living abroad and making meaningful connections with community members.”

“I believe that seeking a place of mutual understanding in the midst of polarization has become even more important over the last few years,” Prechtl said. “As members of a global community, there’s so much that we can learn from one another.”

Dodson holds a similar view to Prechtl and Cho, and even sees art as a kind of language. “Artists break down linguistic and cultural barriers with ease since we speak a common language: art,” Dodson said. “One does not often have the opportunity and privilege to represent one’s country abroad. I wish everyone would have that chance. It is life-changing to readjust one’s perception of one’s self and one’s own country when witnessing how people live in other parts of the world and how other countries operate.”