April 12, 2000

 

Three Middlebury College Students Awarded Watson Fellowships

MIDDLEBURY, Vt.¾For the third year in a row, three Middlebury College students were awarded Thomas J. Watson Fellowships. Seniors Amelia Berry of Frankfort, Ky., Jenna Sigman of Danvers, Mass., and Adina Racoviteanu of Focsani, Romania, are the recipients of the 2000 fellowships. Middlebury was one of only four colleges to have three students selected for the award. Each student will receive $22,000 to travel outside the United States and explore a topic of his or her own choosing.

Watson Fellows are chosen in a two-step process that requires nomination from one of the participating 50 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.

Berry's project, which is titled "The Steel Drum as Liberation," will focus on studying the cultural importance of the steel pan, the proper name for the steel drum. She will travel to Tobago and Trinidad to play with steel pan bands and learn about the pan's community significance. According to Berry, the steel pan was invented in Tobago and Trinidad. She will then travel to Barbados and Jamaica to learn to play related percussion instruments.

Berry, a joint major in East Asian studies and women's and gender studies, lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, until she was 13 years old and then moved to her current home in Frankfort, Ky. She became interested in the steel pan when, at age 10, she joined an after-school program that taught inner-city children to play the instrument. "The steel pan is a good medium for kids to use their energy," said Berry. "It gets them off the streets, and I am grateful to have had that opportunity." She said she hopes to start a program of her own someday.

According to Middlebury College Director of Student Fellowships and Scholarships Arlinda Wickland, the Middlebury selection committee was impressed with Berry's motivation

and talent. "Her project is particularly striking because she plans to use steel drums as a vehicle for change, as a positive outlet for inner-city children," said Wickland.

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Racoviteanu, the first international student from Middlebury College to receive the fellowship, plans to study the geography and religious importance of mountains. Titled "Exploring Sacred Mountains," her project will bring her to Nepal, Tanzania, Cameroon, Peru, and Bolivia. She plans to study different peoples' religious beliefs and ceremonies to understand how the mountains around them affect their cultures.

A joint geography and environmental studies major, Racoviteanu said that she developed an interest in the geography and cultural importance of mountains at an early age. She grew up in Romania and has been climbing mountains since childhood. Racoviteanu plans eventually to pursue a masters in geography as well as a career in mountain studies.

Sigman, whose project is titled "Penguins: Catalysts for Conservation Awareness," plans to combine her love of penguins and her interest in the environment by studying how penguins can be used to promote a cleaner world. Her fellowship will take her to Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and South Africa. Sigman will volunteer and talk with people, mostly children, in areas where there are penguin colonies. "My main point is to learn through volunteering how indigenous cultures use penguins as a conservation tool," she said.

In South Africa, Sigman will be working with an organization that helps to rehabilitate penguins that have been injured from oil spills. She also plans to try to do some teaching in the local school district. Sigman is an environmental studies major with a minor in elementary teacher's education, and is in the process of getting her teacher certification.

Sigman has been fascinated with penguins since she was two years old. She spent one college semester working with them at the Boston Aquarium. Her ultimate goal is to write a children's book about penguins and conservation in each country, she said.

The Watson Fellowship Program was begun in 1968 by the children of Jeannette K. Watson and her husband Thomas J. Watson, Jr., the founder of IBM, 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, academic record, leadership potential, willingness to delve into another culture, and the personal significance of the proposed project.

In the history of the foundation, more than 2,200 Watson Fellows have taken this challenging journey. They have gone on to become college presidents and professors, chief executive officers of major corporations, politicians, artists, lawyers, diplomats, doctors, and researchers. "We look for bright, creative, independently minded individuals who have the personality and drive to become leaders," said Tori Haring-Smith, the executive director of the Watson Foundation and a former Watson Fellow. The Watson Foundation continues to believe that the investment in Watson Fellows is an effective contribution to the global community.

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