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Four to compete for coveted Watson Fellowship


Watson nominees: From left are Timothy Connelly, Aria Walfrand, Rebecca Wentworth and Samuel Merlin
Watson nominees: From left are Timothy Connelly, Aria Walfrand, Rebecca Wentworth and Samuel Merlin

Film, food, dance and recycling are among the topics four Union seniors would explore if chosen for a coveted Watson Fellowship.

Their proposals to pursue their specific passions across the globe will go up against others from around the country in the prestigious competition, designed to send exceptional students on a journey of self-discovery and personal challenge.

“The Watson Fellowship is an extraordinary opportunity for our students and a great privilege for us,” said visual arts professor David Ogawa, chair of Union’s Watson Fellowship Committee. “It makes it possible for students to spend a year exploring the passions they have developed here at Union.”

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program offers a one-year grant to graduating college seniors “of unusual promise” to study independently outside the United States. The stipend for individual award winners is $25,000.

Union’s Watson committee also includes Maggie Tongue, director of Postgraduate Fellowships, and professors Charles Batson (Modern Languages and Literatures), Seyffie Maleki (Physics), and Elizabeth Garland (Anthropology), a former Watson Fellow.

Union’s most recent Watson winners include Frederick 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; and Andrew Krauss ’08, who explored “Evolution in Outrigger Canoeing.”

In addition, Noah Eber-Schmid ’06 investigated the punk music culture in Europe and Scandinavia; Adam Grode ’05 studied long-necked lutes in Central Asia; and Nori Lupfer ’03 photographed circuses in motion on several continents.

Here are the four members of the Class of 2011 who were nominated by the Union committee, with a brief description of their projects:  

TIMOTHY CONNELLY:

Hometown: Schenectady, N.Y.

Major: English

Minor: Mathematics

Activities: General manager, WRUC; Orientation Committee member; Ozone Cafe volunteer

Project: “Both Sides of the Screen: Finding My Filmic Voice through World Cinema”

Description: Connelly proposes a global study of the language of film at various foreign film festivals, including the Avignon Film Festival in France; Flickerfest in Sydney, Australia; Reel Earth in Palmerston North, New Zealand; and the Yasujiro Ozu Short Film Festival in Sassuolo, Italy. He will gain experience and an understanding of new foreign films, how to set up and run a festival, and how the movie-going experience of other countries compares with that of the United States. Connolly, who grew up as “the family cameraman,” plans to make his own documentary on the topic using techniques and styles learned during his Watson year.


SAMUEL MERLIN

Hometown: Sharon, Mass.

Major: Political science

Minor: History

Activities: Culinary House, “Building Up Ghana,” Senior Week committee

Project: “Slow Food and Subsistence Farming in the French Culinary World”

Description: With a lifelong interest in the culinary world, Merlin has observed restaurant food and food production from different perspectives. While working at numerous restaurants, including a four-star French bistro near his home, he was exposed to ingredients imported from around the world. He got involved with locally farmed ingredients and began thinking about slow food practices and the future of food. Over the years, he gained experience working with varied cuisines in Boston, Chicago, Romania, Italy and Israel. If awarded a Watson, he would use his French culinary training and language skills to travel throughout France and its former colonies, including Morocco, Vietnam and French Polynesia, to observe the slow food movement and subsistence farming. He would work on farms, visit markets and work in restaurants that practice slow food values.


ARIA WALFRAND

Hometown: Buffalo, N.Y.

Majors: Psychology, Spanish

Activities: Co-captain of Bhangra Union, head Fox Hall residence advisor, Minerva Council student representative for Green House, Philanthropy chair for Alpha Delta Lambda sorority

Project: “Discovering the Roots of Bhangra”

Description: Walfrand would like to travel to India, Malaysia, Australia and England to learn how Bhangra dancing developed and changed in each country and how it shapes personal identities. She is also interested in studying the cultural and religious significance of the dance in each country. Walfrand’s Watson year would include meeting with the president of the Punjab Cultural Society and attending the Baisakhi festival in India; learning how to play the dhol (the percussion instrument used in Bhangra) with the Platinum Dholis in Australia; and taking part in a Bhangra Showdown Competition in England.


REBECCA WENTWORTH

Hometown: Monson, Maine

Major: Mechanical engineering

Minors: Math, Chinese

Activities: Crew, Engineers Without Borders, Ski Club, Chabad co-president

Project: “Trash Tramping: Investigating Innovative Recycling in the Third World”

Description: Wentworth proposes traveling to sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia; in particular, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Laos, Cambodia and India. In these countries, she would explore how people reclaim their trash, create pioneering ways of consuming it and understand the “business” of trash. She plans on living the life of a recycled material, from the exact time it is thrown away to the instant its use is complete. She would study the recycled product’s hierarchical waste stream systems by engaging with buyers of the materials.