Not These Watsons

by Robert Gillespie

Thomas J. Watson Fellows are among the most fortunate people in the world. The Watson Foundation, which administers the fellowships, grants them a year of personal exploration-a self-directed period of focused and disciplined reflection and travel abroad. But a candidate's road to a Watson-gathering papers and application materials, formulating a project, writing a proposal, interviewing with the campus Watson committee and then with a Watson Foundation representative-promises some tough sledding.

Last fall, four Colby seniors dreaming of Watsons submitted their proposals to the foundation, which will grant $15,000 to 60 applicants from 48 outstanding private colleges and universities around the country. Professor Jim McIntyre, Colby's faculty liaison with the Watson Foundation, says that successful candidates usually have some longstanding commitment or background that is relevant to their projects. Most candidates have had junior-year-abroad experience in the countries where they will pursue their plans. Seldom have they developed ideas only recently.

"Background, interest and real drive lead right into the proposal," said McIntyre. "Most Watson candidates are familiar with things a person normally wouldn't be familiar with. It's why Watsons are rare."

Hannah Beech, from Washington, D.C., who is part Japanese and has worked for Japanese newspapers and television, spent last spring semester in Hong Kong, where she intends to study the Chinese print media's coverage of the governments of mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Erin Mansur, who traces his interest to an 11th grade global ecology class in his hometown of Ashfield, Mass., proposes to examine sustainable development in the Netherlands and in Costa Rica, where he studied the first semester of his junior year.

"I know what I'm interested in," said Mansur, a double major in philosophy-mathematics and biology with an environmental science concentration, "but the hardest part was getting the details and just putting it together."

A proposal may demand some of the best writing a student does at the College. Candidates need to make the reader see how, where, and why they will be going about their projects creatively and resourcefully-how they will carry on "over there," as longtime Watson committee member Peter Harris said, "doing what fate put you there to do."

Delia Welsh says one professor told her, "'Writing a Watson proposal should be a three-credit course.' You go through a lot in thinking how you're going to carry it out," Welsh said, "and what you're going to do next July." The daughter of a military family currently living in Lynchburg, Va., Welsh attended 13 schools in 14 locations outside the country and spent her junior year in Morocco, where she proposes to study the effects of economic reform and privatization in the former French colony. A government and international studies major and also a candidate for a Fulbright fellowship, she discovered that her writing benefited from her Watson project.

"Pulling the project together and writing a concrete proposal in five pages, I learned an unbelievable amount about writing clearly and concisely and focusing," Welsh said. "It was definitely like taking a course."

Nerve-wracking as it may be, the interview on campus with the nine Colby faculty members on the Colby Watson committee was instructive, too. McIntyre says he advises candidates to be able to answer two key questions: "Why is this idea worth supporting? Why are you the person to carry it out?"

Welsh said, "It's really important that you sell the person along with the project. I didn't understand this at first. I thought these were random questions, but the Colby committee wants to see your personal side. They're not going to give fifteen thousand dollars to somebody who can't stand being away."

Meadow Dibble, an English and French major who traces the origin of her project in recycling in Senegal to her childhood environment in Orleans, Mass., was even more anxious after becoming one of the four Watson nominees. The increased pressure along with the constructive criticism that came out of the interview forced her to rethink her proposal, she says, and she started doubting herself.

"You've written how this ties in to your past and your present and your future," Dibble explained. "You see it so clearly. Everything starts making sense. But you're vulnerable. You've laid out yourself on the paper, and then nine people on this committee are saying, 'Have you thought about who you are, do you have experience, do you really think you can do this, are you being honest?' It's like telling you, 'Why don't you go and search your soul and figure out who you are and then come back and we'll talk."

Mansur says the interview helped him to see his personal interests and just how he would go about studying sustainable development. He says that the committee members, far from attacking his proposal, "were just curious. I just felt I never conveyed the idea of how important this is to me. I've dedicated my life to sustainable development, Watson or not." A candidate for the more strictly academic Rhodes Scholarship, too (he decided against applying for a Fulbright), Mansur called the Watson Fellowship "a stepping stone that will allow me to explore a field in a way I haven't been able to."

As all four candidates focused on the future, they knew their course work suffered. Sixty hours or more preparing and refining an application was not unusual.

"Everything got put on hold. Now I really have to get serious," said Welsh. Beech, who was taking five courses as well as facing deadlines every week for her column in The Colby Echo, said her involvement in her project "definitely affected my school work. I lost a lot of sleep over it. I'm always working until the last minute. Papers I turn in are still warm from the laser writer."

"I know I should try and divorce myself from this," Dibble said, "but it really is my life."

Dibble says she even felt disconnected from her family and from other students. Because of school work, you don't usually have time to think about these things, she explained, and when you do, you feel set apart. "But I suppose it's true that working on anything intensely, not everybody can follow you there," she said. "It's high high-ups and low low-downs-but mostly ups."

After the interview with the Watson representative on campus in December, it was all in the hands of the Watson Foundation until awards are announced in mid-March.

Beech, who worked at U.S. News & World Report and returned there for a Jan Plan, wondered what to do if a job offer comes along before the Watson decision. She said she doesn't even know whether to mention the Watson possibility in job applications. Nevertheless, she knows that a Watson is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She says that one of the people she worked with told her, "If you get a Watson, the job will wait."

Dibble thought the intensity of the Watson application process has made her more realistic about limitations and obstacles. She added, "It's part of what you have to go through to find your direction. What is so painful also is wonderfully rewarding-because rarely are you forced to make the connection between your past and your present and your future. You get caught in this wave. It was like being elated. I felt like I knew where I'm going. It gave me energy for an extended time. I have a cause-a very personal one."

Dean's in Jeopardy
Associate Dean of Students Mark Serdjenian won the first-ever Chaplin Commons Jeopardy game, organized by Andy Vernon '95, of Windsor, Conn. Serdjenian pulled out the victory during Final Jeopardy, besting Dean of Students Janice Kassman and Associate Dean of Students Paul Johnston. Serdjenian, whose first-place trophy sits proudly in his office, called the victory "a beautiful triumph."

The Jeopardy game, played before a packed house at the Spa, was hosted by Vernon and Chris Loman '95, of Marlborough, Conn.

What Would Kirk Think?
Apparently tired of reading sub-titles at Star Trek movies, seven students, when asked which foreign language they were most interested in learning, said "Klingon." The responses came from a Student Association opinion poll November 2. At least one other student was more down to earth: He picked "Minnesotian."

Paper Chase
Every few mornings, a strange phenomenon occurs in Dana dining hall. Students run to various tables, scurrying to find an issue of The Boston Globe.

According to senior Emily Goetchus, of Brooklyn, N.Y., the appeal of reading the newspaper at breakfast is a matter of timing and habit. "I think part of it is because we don't have much time to watch the news," she said. "A little time to catch up on what's going on in the world is precious. Reading the newspaper in the moring is ideal, since you're most likely to be alone. And, of course, there's always the comics."

Extended Families
Each year, during orientation, international students may choose whether to have a host family. Dean Judy Carl-Hendrick matches students with families, according to their interests and preferences. "The really nice thing about it is that it includes faculty, staff and administration. It makes it easy for the students to form a close relationship with their families," Carl-Hendrick said.

According to Carl-Hendrick, over 75 percent of international students choose to have families. Depending on the relationship, the student and the family determine how often they will meet.

Carl-Hendrick also coordinates multiple events throughout the year, including the fall dinner at Associate Professor of Government Jane Curry's house, a winter party at the home of Associate Professor of Administrative Science Leonard Reich in February, and an end-of-the-year formal dinner at Colby.

An article by Katrien Van der Hoeven '95, of Pound Ridge, N.Y., about her experience as a woman studying science, will appear in a book published by the Department of Health and Human Services. Van der Hoeven is a geology major and a chemistry minor.

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