Olga Galperin ’15 was recently awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to explore how environments facilitate and inform the expression of female identity through music.
The project is entitled “Girl Power: Music of Matriarchal Societies.”
“The countries I have chosen are Republic of Congo, Mexico, China, India and Iceland, where I plan to explore the musical traditions of female-empowered societies from all across the globe to gain a better understanding of how such environments facilitate and inform the expression of female identity through music,” Galperin says. “My Watson Fellowship application arose out of my interest in gender and improvisation and my senior thesis.”
Galperin is the 11th Earlhamite to earn a Watson Fellowship in the last 10 years, and continues the College’s tradition of producing well-prepared, post-graduate scholars. A music and psychology double major at Earlham, she plays electric bass and admits to having difficulty finding her identity in music as she was growing up because her role models were often males.
“Olga’s application demonstrated that she could put her passion for music, as well as her personal experience as a woman playing an instrument typically played by men, to effective use by exploring women’s empowerment around the globe,” says Jennifer Seely, associate professor of politics and the Watson faculty liaison.
At Earlham, Galperin created and convenes Music House, a themed friendship house off-campus, whose mission is to provide a communal creative space for Earlham students.
“We have consistent open mics every two weeks that have been a great success, with even some folks from Richmond stopping through,” she says. “We just in general have been a space for students to come hang out and play music.
“My major project that I’ve been incredibly proud of is my almost all-women’s funk band (everyone except the drummer), the MuthaFunks, with the idea being to create a space where female musicians are in charge and work collaboratively in a band-setting, serving to normalize the idea of women in music, specifically instrumentalists, and create a safe space to jam and work on improvisation.”
The group is a for-credit ensemble, which grew out of Galperin’s senior thesis, which discusses the relationship between gender and improvisation, a psychosocial perspective on the discrepancy of women playing and participating in music that involves improvisation, she says.
“I actually reap a lot from my studies in psychology for this thesis, specifically from my social psychology and psychology of prejudice class,” she continues.
Galperin is a member of Psi Chi, the international honors society for psychology and has served as a teacher’s assistant and research assistant in psychology.
This year 50 Thomas J. Watson Fellows were selected from nearly 700 candidates. Fellows receive a $30,000 stipend to conceive and execute original yearlong independent study projects outside of the U.S.
More than 2,700 Watsons have been named since the program’s beginnings in 1968, when the children of IBM founder Thomas J. Watson decided that the fellowship program should be a major activity of the Watson Foundation, which was created in 1961