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.
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.
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.
“These students all worked extraordinarily hard on their proposals and have strong recommendations from their professors,” said Kari Kalve, a professor of English at Earlham and the college’s Watson liaison. Earlham’s Watson committee also includes faculty members Meg Streepey-Smith (geology), Jennifer Banning Gose (global and career education), Vince Punzo (psychology) and Patty Lamson (global and career education).
“Megan is an English major but has a long-standing interest in math and the sciences. She is quietly excellent in all that she does,” Kalve said. “Katie has a broad range of interests and her knowledge about botany, geography and art, in addition to biochemistry, make her a delight to talk with. She’s an effective campus leader in part because she is so warm and optimistic.”
This new class of Watson Fellows hails from 20 states and 8 countries and exhibits a broad range of academic specialties, socioeconomic backgrounds and life experiences. The foundation began awarding the Fellowship 51 years ago in honor of the late founder of IBM.