Story posted March 12, 2010
Two Bowdoin seniors—Sarah Ebel '10 and Skye Lawrence '10—have been awarded prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowships. The two were among only 40 students selected from a highly competitive pool of 825 applicants from 40 liberal arts colleges and universities nationwide.
"This is an incredibly competitive fellowship and it's actually quite remarkable to get two awardees in a year," noted Jennifer Ludovici, assistant director of the Watson Fellowship.
The award includes a $25,000 stipend to support a full year of self-designed study and travel outside the United States following graduation.
During their year abroad, fellows have an unusual, sustained, and demanding opportunity to take stock of themselves, to test their aspirations and abilities, to view their lives and American society in greater perspective, and develop a more informed sense of international concern. Their project is completely self-directed and there is no institutional affiliation.
Ebel '10, a biology/environmental studies major from Simsbury, Ct., will travel to Belize, Argentina, New Zealand, and Tanzania—all of them regions with collapsing fishing industries—to explore the role of experiential community education in stemming environmental and economic degradation associated with the collapse.
She plans to work with NGOs to understand new teaching techniques and to increase her knowledge and creative approach to curriculum development.
"I became interested in collapsing fisheries through a marine biology class at Bowdoin, which got me really invested in the oceans," says Ebel. "I wanted to go abroad and study the collapse of fisheries and chose communities that are dependent on fisheries and world economy fisheries. Each country is experiencing a different problem: In Belize, it's overfishing; in Argentina, coastal development.
"I hope to develop the leadership and imaginative resourcefulness to create new environmental education curriculum."
News of the fellowship reached Ebel as she was heading out for Spring Break: "We pulled over at a Holiday Inn to try to get an Internet connection and that's when I found out," she says. "We were running around in the parking lot screaming. My whole life, I wanted to go around the world. There are so many wonderful things to do. This is pretty cool."
Skye Lawrence '10, an anthropology/Spanish major from Kentfield, Calif., will travel the globe visiting public health projects to evaluate the cultural contexts that sometimes cause them to fail to achieve their transformative potential.
"Why is it that so many well-intentioned public health projects go awry?" asks Lawrence, who spent a summer working in Ecuador on a water purification project. "I want to go and live in communities with very different public health projects and really learn about them from all sides, so that in the future I can really do something. I want to understand more about why certain health projects are successful and how you can achieve cultural acceptance of solutions."
Lawrence will be immersed in communities in Guatemala, Peru, Tanzania, Thailand and Morocco, where she will participate in and observe three water purification projects, a maternal health program, and a child health project. "I want to be a part of the lives of people who are in these projects, as well as actually working on the project. I also want to talk with the people who strategize and implement to understand what their hopes are."
Like Ebel, Lawrence was dumbstruck by news of the award. "It is so unbelievable," she said. "It's exciting. It's scary. There's no way I could have done it without help from all the people at Bowdoin—my professors, the Student Fellowship office—they helped me refine what I wanted to do and helped me identify what I'm passionate about."
The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program was begun in 1968 by the children of Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder of IBM Corporation, and his wife, Jeannette K. Watson, to honor their parents' long-standing interest in education and world affairs. The Watson Foundation regards its investment in people as an effective contribution to the global community.