Meet the Watson nominees: Four seek to follow their passion

Publication Date

Four students have been nominated by the College for consideration of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program.

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 four seniors’ projects range from the role of dance in social justice movements to the cultural perceptions of people with disabilities.

This year’s selection committee included: Ann Anderson, the Agnes S. MacDonald Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Brad Bruno, associate professor and chair of the Mechanical Engineering department; Doug Klein, the Kenneth B. Sharpe Professor of Economics; Cheikh Ndiaye, associate professor of French; JillMarie Murphy, the John D. MacArthur Assistant Professor of English; Rahde Franke, assistant director of Alumni Relations and 2010 Watson winner; Maggie Tongue, director of the Scholars Program and Academic Internship Support; and Lynn Evans, director of National Fellowships and Scholarships.

Union’s most recent Watson winners include Joshua Anderson ’13 with "Holistic Self-Sufficiency: Exploring the Intersection of Community, Innovation, and Self." Shilpa Darivemula ’13 was also awarded the fellowship for her project, “Of Medicine and Mudras: Exploring Healing through Traditional Dance Cultures.” Other recent winners include Rahde Franke ’10, James Morton ’10 and Andrew Krauss ’08.

Here are the four members of the Class of 2014 who were nominated by the Union committee, with a brief description of their projects:


Hometown: Flagstaff, Ariz.

Majors: Mathematics, History

Minor: Dance

Project: “Choreographing Change: Exploring the Movement of Social Justice”

About her project: Dance and social justice have long been two major passions in my life. Growing up with two sisters with special needs and volunteerism sparked my interest in social justice. I have also been dancing for many years and am actively involved in the Dance Department classes and productions. I would like to combine these two passions because dance has long been a source of healing and empowerment for me, and I want to learn how people around the world also experience that. I became interested in how dance can motivate social justice on a big scale after assisting in choreographing a show my junior year about sex trafficking.

How has Union shaped your academic interests?

My time at Union has certainly developed my interests in dance and social justice. Dance Director Miryam Moutillet has particularly shown me that dance can be so much more than fitting steps to music, but can also express intention and is an avenue in which we can find ourselves. Also, many of my classes and professors have challenged me to expand my worldview and understanding of what social justice is, and my term abroad to Tanzania made me excited to explore this topic internationally. This year has especially developed my interest in social justice as I am currently writing my history thesis about contemporary slavery and my math thesis about statistical modeling of HIV/AIDS.


Hometown: West Nyack, N.Y.

Major: Bioengineering

Project: “What Moves You: Exploring the Value of Human Motion Through Cultural Perceptions of Disabilities”

About his project: The purpose of my project is to explore cultural perceptions of physical disabilities in the United Kingdom, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, India and Japan. I want to understand the ways in which these perceptions influence the lives of individuals with limited mobility. I hope to develop a better understanding of how cultures mold the identity of the disabled, and the role of human motion in each of these countries. This project lies at the intersection of my two biggest interests: healthcare and human motion. Majoring in bioengineering has exposed me to a broad range of health topics, and I've developed an interest in physically limiting conditions through various research experiences. I've always valued motion as a source of creativity and expression, and I am excited about the opportunity to explore how physically disabled individuals overcome challenges to continue defining themselves this way.

How has Union shaped your academic interests?

Through the past four years, I have had the freedom to pursue these interests in a way that would only be possible at a school like Union. As an undergraduate, I was able to research fracture healing in Professor (Jennifer) Currey's lab, and I am currently designing a low-cost prosthetic arm for amputees in developing countries. The combination of the liberal arts with engineering is a unique experience that has allowed me to become a well-rounded aspiring engineer.


Hometown: Kunming, Yunnan, China

Majors: Computer Science, Studio Art

Project: “The Fading Color: Learning and Documenting Natural Dye Production Around the Globe”

About her project: Natural dyes create non-toxic and eco-friendly colors that are sadly being replaced by synthetic coloring. Extracting natural dye from plants and animals is a traditional art that contains the combined wisdom of many. I will live with dye-producing communities to learn more about natural dye from artists who are using these eco-friendly pigments. At the same time, I want to use my brushes and camera to document this amazing art and present this ancient media in new ways. As an art student, my world is colored with oil paint, watercolor, pastels and printmaking inks. I have always enjoyed learning about color through mixing, creating and using.

How has Union shaped your academic interests?

I wasn’t even thinking about becoming an art student before I came to Union. Luckily, I’ve had some great professors who helped me to find my passions and interests in the past few years. Professor (Sandra) Wimer, my dearest art advisor, is always there to encourage me and help me. Without her, I probably would never have been an artist. Professor (Walter) Hatke, Prof (William) Zwicker and Professor (Valerie) Barr also helped me significantly in terms of finding my passion. With their help, I realize that I can be an artist and scientist at the same time. I want to find out how to merge traditional art and technology.


Hometown: Clifton Park, N.Y.

Major: Theater

Minor: History

Title: “Catharsis Across Cultures: Exploring Theater’s Power to Produce Profound Emotional Experiences”

About his project: By exploring a range of acting styles and theatrical genres in six different countries, I hope to understand what is essential in creating cathartic theater. I also want to better understand the effect culture has on an artist’s theatrical approach. I hope to travel to Argentina, Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Italy and India to answer these questions. Theater has been my passion I was cast in my first play in fourth grade. When I started researching catharsis, I was surprised to learn that one of the first uses of the word is in Aristotle’s Poetics. He said that watching good tragedy was a cathartic experience. Once I knew I had Aristotle on my side, I ran with the idea.

How has Union shaped your academic interests?

I’ve grown so much as an actor over the last four years thanks to Union’s wonderful Theater Department. All of the professors are consummately professional and fantastically talented, so the chance to get so much personal attention and training from them has been invaluable. Prof. Bill Finlay and Patsy Culbert in particular were hugely supportive and helpful in developing my project. Also, Union’s liberal arts education is what fuels my desire to explore the world of theater on my Watson. This fellowship is my chance to apply the lessons I’ve learned in the classroom to the real world, and I really see it as the capstone to my Union liberal arts education.