Clark O’Bryan ’23 of Warren, Vermont, and Aubrianna Wilson ‘23, of Los Angeles, California, have each been awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which supports a year of international travel focused on a self-designed independent project. 

Clark O’Bryan

An architecture major with a minor in biology, O’Bryan will use his $40,000 Watson Fellowship to work with traditional builders around the world. His project, titled “Craft in the Climate Age,” will take him to Ireland, Rwanda, Bangladesh, and Japan. O’Bryan chose these countries because of their connection to four different building materials - stone, earth, fiber and wood - and for the range in ecosystem types they represent in regards to climate change. 

In each location, he will explore the relevance of traditional building craftsmanship in active climate adaptation efforts, working alongside  building craftspeople, architects, and historic preservationists to understand the benefits of using natural materials in place of manufactured supplies as a way to slow the negative impacts of climate change.

“By working directly with traditional builders across four natural materials – stone, earth, fiber and wood – I hope to understand how traditional methods of building can be mobilized to build the infrastructure we need going forward responsibly, resourcefully, and locally,” he explained.

O’Bryan’s undergraduate work with residential construction companies in Vermont impressed upon him the amount of manufactured material used in modern construction.

“It’s hundreds of buckets of screws and shank nails and loads of lumber and aluminum roofing and plastic wrap,” he noted, adding that he began to explore old building processes using traditional craftsmanship at a time when ​​high-tech and industrialized resources are the norm. “We need ways to build from the ground around us. This project is about uncovering and recovering those means.”

O’Bryan’s advisor and professor of architectural studies Pieter Broucke noted the environmental benefits of the project, “Clark’s project is a worthwhile ambition,” he said. “He will travel to three continents and work alongside local practitioners to explore experientially how these crafts can enable creative adaptation to climate change.”

Each country O’Bryan visits has a long-standing history of building craftsmanship. In Ireland, O’Bryan will focus his work on dry stone walling and masonry; in Rwanda, building with earthen brick; in Bangladesh, using bamboo and jute for structural framing and thatch; and in Japan, O’Bryan will focus on timber-framing.

O’Bryan says his goal for this project is to see the full path of a building material from source to destination. “Circularity is a term increasingly used in sustainable building and architecture. Here I want to see the term played out on the ground in real time, by real people.”

O’Bryan will maintain a blog during the year which may be accessed at  Upon his return, he will enroll at the Yale School of Architecture.

Aubrianna Wilson

Wilson, a neuroscience major with a minor in global health, will travel to Spain, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia. In each country, she will join different justice movements that empower disabled people and improve accessibility. 

Through her project, “Innovation and Empowerment in Disability Communities,” Wilson seeks to better understand how disability communities support and advocate for one another through various culturally-grounded practices. 

As an experienced actor, dancer, healthcare researcher, and disability justice activist, she uplifts historically marginalized communities. While at Middlebury, Wilson built a coalition of activists with the goal of “making Middlebury a home for all.” 

Wilson’s work as an ambassador for community care is recognized by Professor of American Studies Susan Burch, who said, “Aubrianna authentically considers the full personhood of our Middlebury and global community and has cultivated a leadership model in which care for others lights the path.”

During her fellowship, Wilson will visit Spain to join inclusive dance workshops to learn how disability-centered movement strengthens communities. In the United Kingdom, she will join deaf and disabled theater companies and learn how accessible theater can build bridges between disability community and broader society. While in Japan she will shadow visually impaired traditional healers and explore how disability communities grew through traditional Japanese healing practices. In Australia she will work with healers, activists, and care workers to explore the intersections of Indigeneity and disability community-building.

“Through advocacy, I want to create welcoming spaces where disabled people feel empowered to receive the care they wish for and deserve,” she noted. “My Watson year holds the possibility to make me a better advocate, researcher, and healer as well as develop a deeper understanding of myself and the communities I belong to.”

About the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship

Over 3,000 Watson Fellows have been named since the inaugural class in 1969. A Watson Year provides fellows with the opportunity to test their aspirations and abilities through a personal project experienced on an international scale. Students interested in learning more about the Watson Fellowship should visit the Middlebury College Fellowships office.