Watson Fellowship Winner to Explore Grief and Loss Across Cultures

May 2, 2022

Yvonne Gay

A portrait of a female college student sitting next to flowers on a brick wall.
Molly Gleydura '22
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Molly Gleydura’s desire to understand the grieving process and gain strategies that will assist families with the loss of a child will take her to New Zealand, Senegal, El Salvador, and Ireland this summer on a Watson Fellowship.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant for purposeful, independent exploration outside the United States, awarded to graduating seniors nominated by one of 40 partner colleges. Fellows conceive original projects, deciding where to go, who to meet, and when to change course. The fellowship provides a one-year stipend of $40,000.

Gleydura, a spring 2022 Oberlin College graduate, will work with palliative care teams, researchers, community organizations, counselors, and hospitals to understand mourning across cultures and uncover resources to assist families dealing with the loss of a child. Gleydura, a double major in psychology and French with a concentration in education studies,  plans to pursue a career as a child life specialist, where she can educate patients on their diagnosis, the procedures they will have, and the medical equipment and personnel they will encounter. 

“I want to make sure children feel as calm, comfortable, and normal as possible while facing medical hardships,” she explains. “Death is uncomfortable to many, so conversations about it are avoided. I want to offer care and compassion in those moments. I know the power of a strong support system in helping you persevere. In a world where 15,000 children die each day, there is an urgent need to understand the most effective and compassionate practices to support the bereaved.”

Gleydura’s understanding of the deficits of care for children in the U.S. was heightened shortly after earning a Stamps Scholarship at Oberlin—an award that provides recipients with a $5,000 enrichment fund to benefit academic, professional, and personal development. In the fall of 2020, as many people worked and studied from home during the early phase of the pandemic, she used her scholarship to take online classes, which included an eye-opening course on death, dying, and grief in pediatric care.

The need to promote change continued to propel her throughout her time at Oberlin. She tutored Eastwood Elementary School students in math and reading and worked as a classroom assistant at the Oberlin Early Childhood Center, helping to care for children between the ages of 3-18 months. 

“One of my favorite parts of working in the infant room was watching the rapid development of the children and getting to assist them in meeting the appropriate milestones such as sitting unsupported, rolling over, and talking,” she says.

Meanwhile, Gleydura’s academic research at Oberlin helped forge relationships with professors who quickly became mentors. 

A student and teacher read a paper.
This past year, Gleydura worked with Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling on her Continuity of Close Relationships project, and spent the semester doing background research and evaluating data on adolescents’ behavioral and attachment continuity to determine if these are more influenced by parents, peers, or romantic partners. Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

In a research project with psychology and environmental studies professor Cindy Frantz and environmental studies and biology professor John Petersen ’88, Gleydura took the lead on an effort to increase a person’s sense of “systems thinking” in an attempt to increase their likelihood of engaging in sustainable actions and behaviors. In two other projects with Frantz, Gleydura assisted with measuring the effectiveness of various high school educational programs and messaging from a social psychology perspective. She also performed data collection for a study that examined the effect of including pronouns in email signatures on feelings of inclusivity both for gender nonconforming people and gender-conforming people. 

Her French research project, completed in spring 2020, involved a team of her peers and Associate Professor of Sociology Greggor Mattson, who investigated the social and legal implications of prostitution in France during the 19th century. For her part, Gleydura transcribed and translated passages from literary texts, police archive documents, and other materials. The project was later compiled into a presentation titled “Economic Desperation, Moral Apocalypse, and Everyday Paranoia: the Filles Insoumises of Paris.”

“The most significant things that helped shape me as a person and a scholar were the connections I made with amazing professors, peers, and community members,” she says. “I could not have gotten to where I am today without the support, guidance, and mentorship that I received along the way.”

Gleydura is currently completing an End-of-Life Doula Certificate. She hopes to find ways to improve pediatric care and interventions from an intellectual, cultural, and professional standpoint during her Watson year.

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