Joshua Anderson likes things simple. The mechanical engineering major helps run his parents' self-sufficient farm in Maine, spent part of winter break traipsing around Paris with little but his backpack and doesn't own a cellphone.
Shilpa Darivemula loves medicine and dance. A pre-med student majoring in biology and Spanish, Darivemula has performed Kuchipudi, a classical Indian dance, since she was eight years old. She has also taught dance to inner-city youth and interned in dance therapy.
The two students are among 40 nationwide who have been awarded a prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to spend the next year pursuing their passion.
The fellowship offers a one-year grant to seniors “of unusual promise” to study independently outside the United States. The stipend for individual award winners is $25,000.
The newest fellows, chosen from among 148 finalists, come from eight countries and 14 states. They’ll traverse 75 countries exploring topics from coastal disasters to synthetic biology; from music therapy to the ethics of extinction; from digital landscapes to the global shark trade; from youth criminalization to independent film making.
Anderson will travel through the United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium, Nepal and Tanzania in support of his project, "Holistic Self-sufficiency: Exploring the Intersection of Community, Innovation, and Self."
Tapping into his engineering background, he plans to immerse himself in ecovillages, monasteries and other self-sufficient communities to see how they provide basic necessities like utilities, shelter and farming.
"I'm interested not only in what methods they use, but how they foster that individuality," he said.
Anderson doesn't expect a difficult transition to that lifestyle. In addition to helping out with his parents' farm in Washington, Maine, the family lives in a solar house. Anderson built a two-floor cabin in the woods on the property and is designing a system to provide power to the structure.
"I've been relatively self-sufficient my whole life," he said.
For her independent study abroad last winter, Darivemula lived with indigenous Mapuche communities in Chile. There, she witnessed the power of communal healing through traditional dance.
Her Watson project, "Of Medicine and Mudras: Exploring Healing through Traditional Dance Cultures," continues that theme. Darivemula plans to visit Bolivia, Ghana, Indonesia and Cambodia. She will fuse her background in medicine with the mudras, or hand gestures, used to narrate stories in four traditional dances.
"Traditional dance has something powerful to offer," said Darivemula, who is from Vienna, Va. "Once you have had the opportunity of living in a place that relies on communal healing, it makes you rethink the approach to medicine."
Two other Union students, Mikaela Coburn and Sam Williams, also were nominated by the College for a fellowship, noted visual arts professor David Ogawa, chair of Union’s Watson Fellowship Committee.
"Applying to a prestigious fellowship like the Watson is a lot of hard work," said Maggie Tongue, Union's Watson liaison. "We are very proud of all four of our nominees. These students spent countless hours creating their projects and articulating their personal statements."
Past Watson winners from Union include Frederick (Rahde) Franke ’10, who researched the intimate connection between food and culture; James Morton ’10, who combined his love of photography and the sea by photographing the shipping industry; Andy Krauss ’08, who researched the development of outrigger canoes and paddles in Tonga, the Cook Islands and the French Polynesia; Noah Eber-Schmid ’06, who investigated punk music and culture in Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway and Finland; Adam Grode ’05, who studied long-necked lutes in Central Asia; and Nori Lupfer ’03, who photographed circuses in motion on several continents.