Three Grinnell College students have been awarded prestigious Watson Fellowships for one year of independent study and travel abroad.
The three Grinnell seniors were among only 40 students from 23 colleges nationwide to receive the $25,000 fellowships from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation: Natalie Ngoc Truong, a political science and English double major from Davenport, Ia.; Alex Reich, a biology major from Mahtomedi, Minn.; and Courtney Sheehan, an independent major in visual culture from Ohio.
The Watson Fellowship Program offers college graduates of unusual promise a year of independent exploration and travel outside of the U.S. to foster effective participation in the world community. Since 2000, 17 Grinnell students have won Watson Fellowships; not since 1991 have three Grinnell seniors won in one year.
Truong plans to study speechwriting in the governments of India, South Africa, Vietnam, and Australia, comparing how politicians in each country advance their political goals and help construct their nation’s images through words. “With the Watson, I want to explore how politicians in democracies and non-democracies use symbolic language in speeches to reinforce values and power,” Truong said. “I will study in countries with stark current issues, cultural beliefs, and nationalistic tendencies and see how they relate to the context, appeal, and style of speeches given in those societies.”
Truong has written for several of Iowa’s politicians and assisted with speechwriting in the Office of First Lady Michelle Obama last summer. Her other Grinnell activities include political organizing in Iowa’s Asian American communities.
Reich will use the Watson Fellowship to work with environmental research and cultural organizations in Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Greenland, and Russia. “I am eager to gain insights into the impact of climate change on traditional food systems,” Reich said, “so I will assist scientists as well as community activism groups in the Arctic with indigenous health initiatives and food security projects.”
As a Grinnell student, Reich co-founded EcoHouse, a sustainable living student residence; coordinated a local foods effort and community garden; and participated in cross country and track. He plans to work in science policy to promote effective social solutions to environmental issues.
Sheehan plans to use the Watson Fellowship to study the politics of film festivals in Croatia, India, Russia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Netherlands. At Grinnell, Sheehan has been heavily involved in programming for the campus films committee, filmmaking camps for children, and reviewing films for the student newspaper. She also completed internships with the Boston Jewish Film Festival, the Children’s Film Festival in Seattle, and a film magazine.
“My Watson project stems from my constant desire to approach film from new angles and directions,” Sheehan said. “The film festivals in each country represent distinctive political contexts, and I will draw on my past experience with festivals in the U.S. to volunteer at these international festivals.”
Grinnell College is a nationally recognized, private, four year, liberal arts college located in Grinnell, Iowa. Founded in 1846, Grinnell enrolls 1,600 students from all 50 states and from as many international countries in more than 26 major fields, interdisciplinary concentrations, and pre-professional programs.