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Earlham College's 2020 Watson Fellowship finalists Katie Jacobs, Megan Bennett and Celia Rayfiel.

Watson Fellowship

Our Newest Recipients

Earlham seniors Megan Bennett and Katie Jacobs are among 47 college seniors chosen nationwide for the prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for the 2020-21 academic year. The Fellowship awards college graduates $36,000 to support independent study and travel outside of the United States in pursuit of a personal passion.

Bennett and Jacobs are the 39th and 40th from Earlham to earn the Watson since 1981. They carry on Earlham’s rich tradition of producing global scholars who are passionate about some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Celia Rayfiel, a double major in history and women’s gender and sexuality studies from Brooklyn, New York, was among the elite pool of 147 finalists for the Watson Fellowship. Her project proposal was called "Understanding Resettlement and Finding Resilience," and was focused on the global refugee crisis.

Megan Bennett

Bennett’s project will explore women in STEM communities in Colombia, Rwanda, Oman, Russia, South Korea and Australia.

“I hope to go on a personal journey of what it means to be a woman in STEM myself, and I want to explore my long-standing interest in how communities compare in post-conflict nations versus more stable ones,” said Bennett, an English major and physics minor from Muncie, Indiana.

At Earlham, Bennett established Earlham’s chapter of Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) and won $10,000 from the  Earlham Peace Prizeprogram in her second year. Funding from that program supported a project that promoted interest in STEM fields among girls in Indiana and Nepal.

Katie Jacobs

Jacobs’ project is called “Wasted: Discovering Value in Trash” and is an extension of her interest in environmental sustainability and her creative pursuit of weaving plastic bags into useful enterprises. She is a biochemistry major from Loveland, Ohio, who also completed a course of study and exploration dedicated to art, nature and conservation.

“Waste is all around us, but where does it come from? Where will it end up? And why is it considered worthless?” Jacobs said. “My project will explore the global environmental impact of trash and the creative solutions employed to give use to the useless.” Funding will support travel to Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Gambia, Indonesia and the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

Jacobs successfully collaborated with students to restart Earlham’s Free Store, a place for usable items to be shared or exchanged. She also was the team leader of the Student Sustainability Corps for three of her four years on campus, and has been at the forefront of sustainability initiatives in the areas of academics, dining services, and student life.

About the Watson Fellowship

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship offers college graduates a year of independent study and travel outside of the United States in pursuit of a personal passion. Earlham is one of 40 participating colleges that may nominate recipients. The fellowship provides a grant of $30,000 to each recipient, who must remain abroad for the year of the grant.

Earlhamites are candidates for funding from the Watson Foundation, which began awarding the fellowship 50 years ago in honor of the late founder of IBM.  Forty Earlham graduates have earned Watsons since 1981.

Applicants from a diverse range of backgrounds and academic disciplines are welcome. Watson Fellows are selected from among the approximately 195 candidates nominated by the participating institutions each year.


Our 2019 Watson Fellow

Arish Mudra Rakshasa ’19 has been selected as one of just 41 undergraduates from around the country to receive the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship in 2019.

The Neuroscience and Biochemistry major from India will receive $30,000 in support of a year of independent study and travel to continue his campaign to eradicate HIV/AIDS. He is the 38th Earlhamite chosen for the award since 1981.

"My professional aspiration is to work at the intersection of science and society, as a science diplomat striving to unite science and government in the struggle to end HIV/AIDS," Mudra Rakshasa says. "I hope to lead intergovernmental organizations such as the World Health Organization as a scientist and diplomat in order to bring together people, communities, and nations in these efforts."

Enter the Watson. During the 2019-20 academic year, Mudra Rakshasa will travel to Australia, South Africa, Spain, Chile and France, to gain a break from the microscopic view of HIV and look at the impact that the disease has on the holistic human condition.

Arish Mudra Rakshasa ’19

Program Requirements

Graduating seniors may apply for the fellowship (including December grads.). It is open to both U.S. citizens and international students. Applicants come from a variety of academic disciplines and personal interests.

The award amount for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is $30,000 for one year of independent travel. The travel year begins in August following graduation.

Application materials are due on the second Friday in September. They include a five-page project proposal and five-page personal statement, unofficial transcripts and the name and contact information of an Earlham faculty member who may serve as a reference upon nomination.

Selected applicants are interviewed and up to four applicants are put forward for nomination for the fellowship. Final application materials are due to the Thomas J. Watson Foundation the first week in November.

Winners are announced in early March.

Kari Kalve

Professor of English Kari Kalve is Earlham’s Watson liaison. Email her at kalveka@earlham.edu.

Mishel Mussali ’15 (pictured right) traveled the world to learn what food and land mean to people of different cultural and religious backgrounds and discovered how societies and food systems would change if the spiritual roots of food and farming were reclaimed.

Mishel Mussali

Recent Watson Scholars

Olga Galperin ’15 explored how environments facilitate and inform the expression of female identity through music as part of her Watson Fellowship. Her project was entitled “Girl Power: Music of Matriarchal Societies.”

“My Watson Fellowship application arose out of my interest in gender and improvisation and my senior thesis,” Galperin, a Music and Psychology double-major said in 2015.

At Earlham, Galperin created and convened Music House, a themed friendship house off-campus, whose mission is to provide a communal creative space for Earlham students.

Liam Cutler

Liam Cutler '13, a Politics major from Iowa, traveled to France, Greece, Turkey, Thailand and Argentina to research his project entitled “Gayborhood Watch: An Inquiry Into Queer Localities.” As an undergraduate, Liam interned at London’s Equal Rights Trust and worked at Georgia Equality, where he wrote the first published guide for transgender and genderqueer voters.

Wilmer Chavarria

Wilmer Chavarria '13, a self-designed cinematographic arts major from Nicaragua, studied “No Budget Films: Exploring Local Independent Filmmaking in Europe and Latin America.” Chavarria traveled to Chile, El Salvador, Costa Rica, United Kingdom, and the Netherlands to meet with directors and artists working on independent films in their communities.

Cheyenne Stewart

Cheyenne Stewart '14, a Biology major, project was titled, “Parto Humanizado (Humanized Birth): Exploring the Birth Justice Movement in the Americas.” She studied in
 Chile, Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Trinidad-Tobago, and the Bahamas.

Earlham's 40 Watson Fellowship Recipients

  • 2020 Megan Bennett '20, English
  • 2020 Katie Jacobs '20, Biochemistry
  • 2019 Arish Mudra Rakshasa ’19, Neuroscience and Biochemistry
  • 2017 Imani Lewis-Norelle ’17, Peace and Global Studies
  • 2016 Mishel Mussali ’15, Sociology/Anthropology
  • 2015 Olga Galperin '15, Music and Psychology
  • 2014 Basil Farraj '14, Peace & Global Studies
  • 2014 Maggie Jesme '14, Peace & Global Studies
  • 2014 Cheyenne Stewart '14, Biology
  • 2013 Wilmer Chavarria '13, Cinematographic Arts
  • 2013 Liam Cutler '13, Politics
  • 2010 Jonathan Jenner '10, Economics, and Peace & Global Studies
  • 2010 Eva Jimenez '09, Latin American Studies
  • 2008 Juan Navarrete '08, Art and Interdepartmental — Peace & Global Studies/Philosophy
  • 2006 Laura Sweitzer '06, Spanish & Hispanic Studies, Economics
  • 2005 Sandra Hartmannsgruber '05, Art, German
  • 2004 Megan Kennedy '04, Economics/Peace and Global Studies
  • 2003 Matthew Christensen Schreiber '03, Philosophy and Wilderness
  • 2001 Sara Elizabeth Thorp '01, Sociology/Anthropology
  • 1999 Sky Rogers '99, Latin American Studies
  • 1998 David Seymour '99, Spanish and Latin American Studies
  • 1997 Andrew Overbeck '97, Politics
  • 1996 Scott Buquor '96, Sociology/Anthropology
  • 1995 Sonat Hart '95, English
  • 1995 Catherine Stratton Treadway '95
  • 1994 Tiffany Harris '94, History
  • 1993 Mathew Johnson '93, African and African American Studies
  • 1992 Jesse Kahn '92, Art
  • 1992 Nathan Treadway '92, Computer Science and Math
  • 1991 Lisa Porter '91, Management and Theater Arts
  • 1990 Pacey Foster '90, Peace and Global Studies
  • 1989 Linda Hutchins-Knowles '89, Philosophy and Spanish
  • 1988 Glenn Hoetker ’88, Math and Japanese Studies
  • 1987 Rob Richardson ’87, English
  • 1984 Andres Thomas Conteris ’84
  • 1983 Carlos Guindon ’82, Biology
  • 1982 Janet Darmour-Paul ’82, Religion
  • 1982 David McConnell ’82, Cross Cultural Studies
  • 1981 Jon Ebersole ’81, Peace and Conflict Studies
  • 1981 Maire Durkan ’81, English

Earlham College, an independent, residential college, aspires to provide the highest-quality undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences, shaped by the distinctive perspectives of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

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