Two Seniors Receive Watson Fellowships and Prepare to Travel the World

By Jane Godiner ’23
With their Thomas J. Watson Fellowships, Bowdoin seniors Clara Benadon ’23 and Arturo Linan-Martinez ’23 will each receive a $40,000 grant to pursue a year-long, self-guided project that will take them around the world.
Clara Benadon ’23 and Arturo Linan-Martinez ’23
Clara Benadon ’23 and Arturo Linan-Martinez ’23

They are among forty-two college students from across the United States to receive the prestigious award this year.

Watson applicants are supported by Bowdoin's Office of Student Fellowships and Research. “Each year, I continue to be in awe of the passion, ambition, and originality that our students bring to the table when applying for the Watson Fellowship," said Associate Director of the Center for Cocurricular Opportunities Corey Colwill.

"Watson seeks truly unique individuals. We seem to have them in spades here at Bowdoin, in the best possible sense! I’m so proud of Clara and Turo for their accomplishments and humbled to be a small part of their Watson journeys. I can’t wait to see where life, and the world, takes them,” Colwill added.

Benadon’s project, “Fiber Farmers and Artists Adapt to Climate Change,” will take her to Peru, France, New Zealand, and the Faroe Islands to explore the impacts of climate change on the international fiber artist network. Benadon, a biology major with a concentration in ecology, evolution, and marine biology, hopes that this year will encourage her to explore her academic interests through a more creative lens.

“I'm thinking that my year can provide me with some points of reference outside of the hard sciences for connections between environmental science, biology, people's day-to-day lives, and even art,” she said.

For Linan-Martinez, a pre-med biology major with a concentration in molecular and cellular processes, his Watson year will be a significant diversion from his usual course of study. His project, “Meanings of Masculinity Across Borders,” will allow him to explore the experience of being male in Sweden, Germany, Kenya, India, and Japan.

“At first, I wanted to do something around medicine, because that is something I'm always passionate about,” Linan-Martinez said. “Medicine is great, but this is an opportunity to do something that you’ll never do again.”

Benadon believes that the planning stages for her Watson proposal began almost a year ago, when she spent her spring semester participating in the Coastal and Ocean Studies Program of Williams College and Mystic Seaport Museum.

“I was going on a field seminar in California, and I was reading National Geographic on my phone as I boarded the plane. I saw an article about alpaca farmers in the Andes, and how the resources they depend on are being destabilized due to climate change and glaciers melting,” Benadon said. “I grew up in Maryland’s Agriculture Reserve, and I’ve been doing fiber arts for as long as I can remember, so I saw that connection.”

Linan-Martinez also found himself drawn to the opportunity, but ultimately settled on his project angle with the help of his siblings.

“Three of us are kind-of like the three musketeers—whenever we have an idea, we run it by each other,” he said. “They helped me reflect on my past experiences and the type of work I've done, and I realized that masculinity was something that was always important to me. It came together by having a deep, transparent, and vulnerable conversation with my siblings.”

In his Watson application, he writes, "I hope to gain a greater understanding of masculinity and how it is reproduced and enforced at multiple levels of society. I will then transfer my experience into my work as a pediatrician, and hopefully one day as a father."

“This isn't only a project for me and learning about my masculinity,” he said. “Obviously, I will learn things about myself, but I wanted to give back to my community and to my male family members who wouldn't have had this opportunity.”

Benadon predicts that the opportunity for meaningful, self-guided solo travel will be an exciting push out of her comfort zone.

“This fellowship definitely scares me, but I think that’s the biggest draw of it,” Benadon said. “You have a year where you are completely independent. You have to make all your own contacts and a lot of spur-of-the-moment decisions. I expect to come out of this year a different person.”

While learning this level of adaptability might be challenging, Benadon has a game plan for the year, and she is looking forward to the freedom that the fellowship will allow her.

“I want to leave myself open to receive new ideas and inspiration and to follow a choose-your-own-adventure path,” she said. “For my post-Watson self, it'll be really exciting to reflect on not only how much my project has changed, but how I’ll envision my own future afterwards.”

“I would tell my post-Watson self, ‘I am so proud of you,” Linan-Martinez added. “‘This has made your family proud, this has made you proud, and I know that, in some way, you’re going to change the world.’”