Two Seniors Awarded Prestigious Thomas Watson Fellowships

March 15, 2018

Grinnell College students Artis Curiskis ’18 and Nomalanga Shields ’18 have been awarded the prestigious 2018 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for one year of postgraduate independent study and travel abroad.

Curiskis and Shields are among 40 students selected nationwide from 152 finalists to receive the $30,000 fellowship for postgraduate exploration from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation. The Thomas J. 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.

Grinnell has been a partner with the Watson Fellowship Program since its establishment in 1968. With the announcement of this year’s Watson Fellows, 79 Grinnell students have received this prestigious award.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Thomas J. Watson fellowship, with Grinnell College having been one of the founding partner colleges. Grinnell College alumni Watson Fellows will return to campus to celebrate the anniversary from April 19-20, 2018.

The projects of Grinnell’s 2018 Watson fellows will take them around the world during their Watson year (2018-19).

Curiskis, an economics major from Minneapolis and captain of the men’s soccer team, will travel to the United Kingdom, Russia, Georgia, India, Chile, and Spain to study “Global Soccer Diplomacy.” He will engage with soccer teams of unrecognized nations, ethnic communities, and other groups that are not represented by the United Nations and FIFA. He aims to discover how soccer functions as a diplomacy tool for countries attempting to resolve human rights issues, gain legitimacy, or pursue independence.

“Soccer has been a lifelong passion of mine that has introduced me to new people and a new outlook on the world,” Curiskis says. “It’s been a tool to foster and connect with communities that I am part of, and I am excited to continue building these relationships around the world.”

Shields, a sociology major from Chicago, will travel to Hungary, India, and South Africa, to study “Housing Sustainability and Activism in Displaced Communities.” While housing displacement is highly disruptive, there are organizations and communities around the world that fight this injustice. She will explore how these communities think, talk about, and tackle displacement; and how they advocate for their rights to equal access to housing while forming alliances within their communities.

“It is an extreme honor to be awarded the Watson Fellowship!” Shields says. “To brainstorm, plan, and now live out my Watson project is a dream come true. I am positive that this year will greatly inspire my future in housing displacement activism and interracial coalition building.”

Both students are leaders and active participants in the Grinnell College campus community.

In addition to leading the men’s soccer team, Curiskis is co-founder of Tiny Dorm Concerts and organizer of the 7 Day Film Challenge Event. Through service learning he worked with Mid-Iowa Community Action, Poweshiek Iowa Development, and Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell. He has received recognition through various organizations for his soccer and film achievements.

Shields is student coordinator for the Racing Iowa Conference and an intern in the Center for Careers, Life, and Service. She also is a committee member of the Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights, and serves on the Sociology Student Educational Policy Committee. She has taught classes through the Liberal Arts in Prison Program. In 2017, she participated in Pioneer Weekend 3.0 and her team won the competition sponsored by the Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership.

The Watson Foundation also selected Grinnell senior Jessica Black ’18, a sociology major from Washington, D.C., as an alternate.