MIDDLEBURY, Vt. ? Middlebury College has announced that senior William Hunt of Providence, R.I., has received a Thomas J. Watson fellowship for 2008-2009. Nearly 1,000 students from up to 50 selective private liberal arts colleges and universities apply for these awards each year. This year, 175 finalists competed on the national level, after their institutions nominated them in the autumn. Each fellow receives $25,000 for a year of travel and exploration.
Hunt, who graduated from Middlebury in February 2008, majored in English with a minor in Portuguese. His project, titled "Notes from the Underground: Unearthing the Stories of the Subterranean," will include travel to a wide variety of historic underground sites throughout Europe, including France, Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey.
"The urban underworld is a breeding ground for all sorts of wonderful stories and legends," says Hunt. "I'll be going underground to investigate these stories, then writing a narrative of everything I find."
Although he is still planning his itinerary, Hunt will begin his travels in July and visit Paris to seek out the guerrilla artists of the catacombs; Amsterdam to see an underground arts festival; Berlin to search for the Geisterbahnhöfe or "ghost subway stations;" Naples and Rome for their ancient underground ruins; Budapest for its old escape tunnel systems from World War II; and Cappadocia, Turkey, to explore a network of ancient pagan underground cities.
Hunt says he has a lifelong fascination with the urban underground. Growing up in Providence, he used to explore derelict train tunnels. He has written about the worldwide sub-culture of so-called urban explorers who focus on underground infrastructure. He says that with the exception of the Providence tunnels and a few excursions under New York City, he has not done nearly as much as he would like.
"The fellowship gives me the chance to strap on a headlamp and check out all these amazing places for myself.then have time to write about it, which is wonderful," said Hunt.
The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program was established in 1968 by the children of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., the founder of International Business Machines Corp., and his wife, Jeannette K. Watson, to honor their parents' long-standing interest in education and world affairs. The Watson Foundation regards its investment in people as an effective contribution to the global community.
The year of travel provides fellows an opportunity to test their aspirations and abilities and develop a more informed sense of international concern. Approximately 2,500 Watson Fellows have participated throughout the history of the program. They have gone on to become college presidents and professors, chief executive officers of major corporations, MacArthur "genius" grant recipients, politicians, artists, lawyers, diplomats, doctors, journalists, innovators and researchers across a wide range of sciences and engineering disciplines.