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Two Students Win Watson Fellowship Grants

Graduating seniors Nathan Leamy and Sarah Politz are among 49 college students nationwide who were named in March to the 2007-08 class of Watson Fellows. Each will receive a $25,000 grant—funding that will allow them to spend 12 months following graduation engaged in independent study as they travel the world and work on self-directed projects. 

Leamy, whose project is titled “From Farm to Fork: Eating in the Wake of the Green Revolution,” will travel to Mexico, India, and France to study and experience the effects of worldwide agricultural policy.

Politz, meanwhile, will immerse herself in the musical culture of Ghana, Senegal, Benin, Guinea, and South Africa, where she’ll sit in with local jazz groups as part of her project “The influence of African-American Music on Contemporary African Society.”

“It’s experiential—that’s what attracted me from the beginning,” says Politz.  “My plan is to get settled into each town, check out the music scene, and let people know that I brought my horn and want to sit in.” 

A double-degree student in jazz trombone performance and English, Politz says that although the Watson Foundation does not impose requirements on what must come of the fellowship, she plans to build on the experience by studying ethnomusicology in grad school and perhaps writing a book.

Leamy, who is majoring in history and minoring in comparative American studies and politics, plans to inject himself into farming, agriculture, and food production in Mexico and India during his year abroad. “I want to look at the cultural impact of changes in farming technology,” he says. “Things like the effects of GM (genetically modified) foods and NAFTA.” His plans include working in everything from wheat fields to inner-city bakeries.

“One of the great things about the Watson is that it discourages you from planning too much,” says Leamy, who transferred to Oberlin from Deep Springs College in California during his second year. “Hopefully this will lead me toward finding out what I want to do with my life.”

The Watson Fellowship necessitates both geographical and personal exploration, giving new graduates a period “in which they can have some surcease from the lockstep of prescribed educational and career patterns in order to explore with thoroughness a particular interest.” The Fellows remain unaffiliated with a college or university during their year abroad and instead plan and administer projects entirely on their own.  They cannot work in a paying job and are discouraged from joining organized volunteer projects like Habitat for Humanity.

Since 2000, a dozen Oberlin students have received the Watson Fellowship Grant. Past Oberlin projects include Kevin McHugh’s study of jazz in the megacities of Brazil, Egypt, India, and Japan in 2006; Scott Ewart’s project on the architecture of extreme climates in Mali, Russia, and Bangladesh in 2005; Stefan Kamola’s study of Tuvan throat singing in southern Siberia in 2002; and Aya T. Kanai’s project on experimental puppet theater in Japan, The Czech Republic, and Poland in 2001.

Watson Fellowship Website

The Watson Fellowship web site at watsonfellowship.org.

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