Steven Duong ’19 Receives $30,000 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship

March 16, 2019

Steven Duong ’19 has been awarded the prestigious 2019 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for a year of meaningful exploration and international travel to advance his project titled Freshwater Fish and the Poetry of Containment.

Duong, who is majoring in English with a concentration in American studies, is among 41 students selected nationwide from 152 finalists to receive the $30,000 fellowship from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation.

The College has been a partner with the Watson Fellowship Program since its establishment in 1968. With the announcement of this year's Watson Fellows, 80 Grinnellians have received this important award. The achievements of our students in this national competition stem from the College’s rigorous academic program and vibrant campus life, which emphasize individually advised learning, free inquiry, the open exchange of ideas, a diverse community, as well as social responsibility and action.

The Watson Fellowship program offers “college graduates of unusual promise a year of purposeful, independent exploration and international travel to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community.”

Duong’s Watson year (2019-20) will take him to Malawi, China, Thailand, and Trinidad and Tobago, where he will exchange stories with fish breeders, evolutionary biologists, aquarium hobbyists, and even fish fighters. Through the relationships he forms and the poetry he writes, Duong plans to immerse himself in human stories of movement, identity, belonging, and fish, finding common ground in all of these stories, as he assembles a poetry manuscript.

Growing up in San Diego, California, Duong was captivated by his family’s aquarium as the space in which fish from around the world co-existed. As he developed his writing skills and discovered poetry, the aquarist and poet worlds united.

“For me, poetry and creative writing in general have been vehicles for me to explore my own individual interests and experiences, but in a very collaborative way, especially here at Grinnell with so many talented fellow writers and artists,” Duong says. “I am honored and excited to be a Watson Fellow and to keep writing and learning as I travel.”

Duong is a leader and active participant in the campus community. He has been the manager of KDIC 88.5 FM Radio Station, editor of the Grinnell Underground Magazine, senior member of the English Department Student Educational Policy Committee, and student assistant for the Writers@Grinnell program.

His summer experiences include a poetry-writing Mentored Advanced Project with a professor and three fellow students, and a teaching fellowship with Breakthrough San Francisco, which trains outstanding college students for education careers. For several years, Duong also served as a teaching assistant at Van Lang Vietnamese School in San Diego.

Following his Watson year, Duong intends to enroll in a Master of Fine Arts writing program in fiction or poetry. He hopes to publish a full-length poetry collection, a novel, or even a short story collection, while also teaching writing.

For more information about the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, visit Students interested in the fellowship are encouraged to contact Ann Landstrom in the Center for Careers, Life, and Service for information about the nomination process and advising.

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