March 20, 1998

Two Middlebury College Students Awarded Watson Fellowships

Two Middlebury College students, seniors Shruthi Mahalingaiah, of Southbury, Conn., and Timothy P. Bartlett, of Ridgefield, Conn., have been awarded 1998 Thomas J. Watson Fellowships. Senior Michael P. Doyle, of Westfield, N.J. was selected as an alternate.

Watson Fellows are chosen in a two-step process that requires nomination from one of the participating 51 top liberal arts colleges in America, followed by a national competition. After more than 1,000 students applied to the first round of selection, 60 Watson Fellows were chosen from 193 candidates, the largest nominee pool in six years. Each student will receive $19,000 to travel outside the United States and explore a topic of his or her own choosing.

A double chemistry and Spanish major, Mahalingaiah will defer her acceptance at Harvard Medical School for one year to study the role of movement and ritual on healing in Ecuador, Java and Bali. She will begin her studies in Indonesia, where she will focus on trance, exorcism and masked dance. Later in the year she will study shamanism in the Andean region of Ecuador.

Mahalingaiah hopes her research will enrich the lives and health of her future patients. "I have noticed a huge trend of alternative practices in the United States," she said. She would like to learn to what degree such practices as yoga, meditation and herbal medicine are dependent upon culture and society. Mahalingaiah plans to document and perhaps publish her findings.

This summer Bartlett will travel to the United Kingdom to spend 12 months creating a 30-minute documentary film on British change ringing, a particular method of ringing bells used for more than 300 years. For Bartlett-a joint film/video and English major, music minor, and president of the Middlebury College Carillonneurs-the Fellowship offers the opportunity to combine his many interests in one project.

"The nature of the documentary is so exciting because you can learn unexpected things as you interview people," said Bartlett, who became fascinated with bells in England during a trip there with his father as a 12-year-old boy. He is interested in both the technical aspect of change ringing, which is based on mathematical patterns, and the social history of the tradition. Very few change ringers practice their craft outside of Britain and the U.S. In Britain, where the tradition is strongest, there are roughly 6,000 bell towers as opposed to about 30 in the U.S.

Doyle, a theatre major, will become eligible for an award if one or more of the 60 students originally selected declines the Fellowship.

The Watson Fellowship Program was begun in 1968 by the children of Thomas J. Watson, Jr., the founder of IBM, and his wife, Jeannette K. Watson, to honor their parents' long-standing interest in education and world affairs. The Thomas J. Watson Foundation selects students based upon each nominee's character, leadership potential, willingness to delve into another culture, and the personal significance of the proposed project. "When we speak to prospective applicants for Watson Fellowships," said Noreen Tuross, the foundation's executive director, "we ask, 'What would you do if you could do anything for a year?' Watson Fellows respond with serious, creative proposals."