May 4, 2001

Three Middlebury College students awarded Watson Fellowships


MIDDLEBURY, VT.--For the fourth year in a row, three Middlebury College students were awarded Thomas J. Watson Fellowships. Seniors Jonathan Reiber of Dedham, Mass., Molly Holmberg of Orono, Maine, and Elizabeth Harper of Leawood, Kans., are the recipients of the 2001 fellowships. Each student will receive $22,000 to travel outside the United States and explore a topic of his or her own design.

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.

Reiber, a religion major whose proposal is titled "Faith-Based Peacemaking Communities and the End of Estrangement," will travel to Italy, Northern Ireland and South Africa. In his personal statement to the fellowship organizers he wrote, "My Watson Fellowship would help me further discover the ways that we come to know and value each other despite the differences and conflicts that come between us. If it is in the shelter of each other that the people live, and I believe that it is, I want to see how I can help build that shelter." Reiber would like to continue seeing people move toward peace and conflict resolution through community dialogue, and inter-faith and multi-cultural tolerance.

Reiber has experience working on community issues, including his role as a student organizer of the annual Middlebury College Peace Symposium on both the local and national levels. "I have seen how dialogue and story telling can help bring people together despite boundaries of race, religion, and other social, economic and political differences," he said.

Holmberg's project, "Mapping Footsteps: Travel Routes of Rural, Highland Communities," will take her to Peru, Mongolia and Madagascar. A geography major, she plans to study and map the design, function, and local significance of traditional travel routes of isolated, highland settlements. Holmberg stated in her application to fellowship organizers, "I believe the most effective and provocative tool to communicate community-scale patterns of

travel and movement is the map. Maps speak clearly and directly; they are grounded in the physical landscape, are accessible across languages and cultures, and can creatively represent complex lifestyle patterns in a succinct geographic image."

Holmberg declared, "Map-making is my passion … I plan to create hand-drawn maps that represent local travel routes between villages as well as smaller scale maps of movement patterns within settlements. I also will collect or document spatial representations or maps made by villagers themselves."

She will spend much of the next year travelling on foot. According to Holmberg, her devotion to backpacking stems more from the experience of walking the trails themselves rather than the thrill of reaching the summit-a perspective she discovered on a trip to Mount Everest.

Harper's project, "Exploring the Diversity of Tropical Frogs," will offer her the opportunity to study puzzling declines in amphibian populations in Tanzania, Guyana and Thailand. "These decreases are occurring all over the world, even in lush, protected areas," said Harper. According to her, it is important to study environmental cues, such as climate changes due to global warming, because charting such data may hold implications for humans.

"There is so much yet to be learned about tropical frogs that the information I could gain in the span of a year might, in some ways, seem minimal. However, because so little is known, such data might easily double our existing knowledge of the frogs in many of these areas," notes Harper.

The product of her year-long work will be original data and a host of new questions which she hopes to answer over the course of her career in the field of herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles. Harper's long-range goal is to make this topic more accessible to the greater community outside of the scientific world through field guides, travel guides, children's books and conservation material.

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.