MIDDLEBURY, Vt. ? The Thomas J. Watson Foundation has awarded 50 fellowships to college seniors of unusual promise for a year of independent exploration and travel outside the United States. Middlebury College seniors Dalal Al-Abdulrazzak, Carolyn Barnwell and Sathyavani Sathisan are among 50 recipients from 24 states and seven foreign countries.

Listen to an interview with two of Middlebury’s Watson Fellows on Vermont Public Radio’s “Vermont Edition.” Select the MP3 for the March 28, 2007, show.

Nearly 1,000 students from up to 50 selective private liberal arts colleges and universities apply for these awards each year. This year, 179 finalists competed on the national level, after their institutions nominated them in November. Each fellow receives $25,000 for a year of travel and exploration.

This year’s Watson Fellows will span 90 countries, exploring topics ranging from folk puppetry to the global fossil trade. “The awards are long-term investments in people, not research,” says Rosemary Macedo, executive director of the Watson Fellowship Program and a former Watson Fellow. “We look for people likely to lead or innovate in the future and give them extraordinary independence in pursuing their interests. The Watson Fellowship affords an unequaled opportunity for global experiential learning.”

Al-Abdulrazzak, a Kuwaiti national and environmental studies and biology major, will pursue her research, titled “Elasmobranchs Endangered: The Impact of Shark and Ray Conservation Efforts,” in the Bahamas, Fiji, New Zealand, Seychelles and South Africa. Her dedication to the subject embodies a long-term and abiding connection to a group of organisms that have been globally misunderstood and under assault. As a high school student, she participated in research at the Scientific Center of Kuwait, the largest aquarium in the Middle East and considered a center of excellence for environmental education in the Arabian Gulf region. In the future, she plans to explore research and conservation practices around the world, assess how they interact with and incorporate cultural perceptions of these creatures, and, ultimately, evaluate what works.

Barnwell, an environmental studies and sociology and anthropology major from Concord, N.H., will research her project, titled “Islands of Justice: Rising Seas and Climate Refugees in Oceania.” She will travel throughout New Zealand, Tuvalu, Mauritius, the Chagos Archipelago, Micronesia and Palau. Barnwell said, “When the resources that allow villagers to rely on themselves are no longer viable, who is responsible for creating a new kind of self-reliance?” She hopes to explore this socio-environmental issue during her fellowship year. Although she has not yet chosen a particular career path, Barnwell is committed to a life of work that contributes to battling the effects of climate change on people and environments.

Sathisan, a political science major from Singapore, will explore “Community Drama on the World Stage: The Socio-Political Usage of Theatre,” throughout Malaysia, India, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina. In her academic, extracurricular and personal opportunities, Sathisan has developed and implemented creative theater as a way to connect people to issues of political and ethnic conflict when discussion alone cannot. She is an experienced practitioner of conflict resolution strategies, and hopes to gain insight into the intersection of the arts and politics - in particular, how theater can be a resource for social change at the local, national and international levels. In the future, she believes it will be essential for her to train in international law, but she hopes to use every medium at her disposal to foster peacemaking efforts of all kinds.

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 life-long 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. More than 2,400 Watson Fellows have taken this challenging journey in the history of the program. They have gone on to become college presidents and professors, chief executive officers of major corporations, politicians, artists, lawyers, diplomats, doctors, journalists and researchers. A complete list of winners and their projects is available here.