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Evelin Toth Receives Watson Fellowship

March 22, 2017

Evelin Toth ’17

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Middlebury senior Evelin Toth has been awarded a 2017 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. The highly selective fellowship funds a year of independent exploration outside the United States.

During her Watson year, Toth hopes to gain insight into how island communities around the world are adapting to climate change. Her project, titled “Adapting to the Rising Seas: Climate Change and Island Communities,” will take her to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Taiwan, Samoa, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands.

“Though island communities are some of the first ones to feel the effects of climate change, they are also at the forefront of developing adaptation strategies to cope with the changing environmental conditions,” said Toth. “As such, they have a particularly important role in the current climate crisis.”

A native of Budapest, Hungary, Toth is majoring in environmental studies with a minor in French. Since arriving at Middlebury–via United World College of Singapore–Toth has been an active member of the campus community. She designed and led an alternative break service trip to Costa Rica to learn about sustainable agriculture in the coffee industry. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior and has served as a research assistant to Assistant Professor of Political Science Kemi Fuentes-George.

In 2016, Toth put her policy studies to work during an internship at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, funded by the College's Center for Careers and Internships. Her main research focus was to help the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary reapply for UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program, which, she says, gave her a new understanding of how these policies work.

“I can think of no student more deserving of a Watson Fellowship than Evelin Toth,” said Tom Van Order, professor of Italian, who has taught Toth in a number of classes. “Evelin possesses both exceptional intelligence and passion for learning, but equally important is her openness to differences of opinion, her kindness, her maturity, and her profound empathy not only for those whose suffering she has encountered, but also for the collective suffering implicit in the global warming crisis.”

Starting in August, Toth will spend 2-3 months in each of her five destination countries, beginning with Sri Lanka. She will connect with local NGOs to host her during her visits. Each country she plans to visit offers a distinct set of climate challenges and adaptation strategies, some of which will be most evident at the time of year she visits. She says she is particularly interested in visiting the Mihintale Sanctuary in Sri Lanka, which is believed to be the first wildlife sanctuary of the world, established more than two thousand years ago.

“I hope that the Watson experience will allow me to understand how people around the world take collective responsibility for the shared problem of climate change,” said Toth. “Though I am not sure which path I will take in the future to find solutions to this problem, I do know that understanding how climate change adaptation manifests at a community and individual level will provide me with invaluable insights on human vulnerability and resilience.”

In 1961, Jeannette K. Watson created the Thomas J. Watson Foundation in the name of her husband, Thomas J. Watson Sr, best known for building IBM. Since the Watson Fellowship program began, in 1968, more than 2,800 Watsons have been named. Watson Fellows have gone on to become international influencers in their fields including CEOs of major corporations, college presidents, Emmy, Grammy and Oscar Award winners, Pulitzer Prize awardees, artists, diplomats, doctors, faculty, journalists, lawyers, politicians, researchers, and inspiring leaders around the world.