For the past year, Colgate alumna Jennifer Rusciano ’10 spent her time quite differently from the typical college grad: traveling the globe in the name of chocolate. Rusciano’s study, “Bittersweet: Exploring the Light and Dark Sides of Cocoa Production,” was made possible by a grant from the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.
The Watson Fellowship is a prestigious program founded by The Thomas J. Watson Foundation in 1968. According to the Fellowship, the goal of the program is to “provide Fellows an opportunity for a focused and disciplined year of their own devising.” The program focuses on encouraging students to “take stock of themselves, to test their aspirations and abilities, to view their lives and American society in greater perspective and, concomitantly, to develop a more informed sense of international concern.”
The Fellowship provides its recipients with a $25,000 grant to devise a travel and research plan regarding any topic of their choosing. Past Colgate alumni who were awarded a Watson fellowship have researched a host of subjects, including the reemergence of Rubik’s cubes to the whale market.
However, as a result of the highly unstructured program, Rusciano claims that she often had to “fly by the seat of her pants.” Moving country to country, accommodations were not always readily available, and often required a “reliance on hospitality culture … everyone was so helpful.”
During her participation in the Fellowship, Rusciano travelled to Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, South Africa, Madagascar, Ghana, France, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and the Netherlands. While in these countries, Rusciano spent her time making contacts with large- and small-scale chocolate producers, from Cadbury to an independent co-op in Costa Rica. The main goal of her independent exploration was to understand the relationship between societal choice in developed countries and how it affects the cocoa farmers in growing regions throughout the world.
Rusciano notes that one of the most interesting opportunities she encountered was her ability to act as a liaison between the higher-ups in the country such as “NGOs and Corporate” and the producers.
Many countries “had no one on the ground to advocate and communicate back” for fear of job insecurity, Rusciano says. “There was a huge divide between the people who made chocolate and those who grew it.” She claims because of her unthreatening status as a recently graduated female, she was privy to intimate production secrets and was able to make suggestions to the board.
Overall, Rusciano says the experience was “very work intensive … and totally worth it.” Not only did the program serve as “the capstone that brought together all the veins of things I’ve done in my educational career,” the extensive application process gave Rusciano the opportunity to “make time to get to know myself.” She encourages any other aspiring ‘Gate students to apply, if only for the aspect of self-discovery it promotes.
“If you are passionate about something, you can make it happen…take time to get to know yourself and the things you want to do,” Rusciano says.
Currently, Rusciano is working for Food Corp, an AmeriCorp subsidiary, “working to get healthy foods into school systems.”
Contact Maggie Grove at [email protected]