Watson Winners Announced

As the school year comes to a close, several seniors are preparing for the journey of a lifetime. The recipients of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship were announced on March 12, and they will begin their 12-month expeditions in June.

This year, Colgate seniors Shae Frydenlund and Jennifer Rusciano both received the fellowship. Frydenlund plans to study “The Yarsagumba Effect: Documenting the Ecology of Medicinal Plant Markets,” and Rusciano intends to explore her love for chocolate with the proposal “Bittersweet: Exploring the Light and Dark Sides of Cocoa Production.”

“Jen and Shae are two outstanding Colgate students who will touch many people’s lives as they go on their Watson travels and, in turn, will learn so much about themselves and the world around them,” Director of the Colgate Office of National Fellowships and Scholarships Ann Landstrom said.

This Fellowship Program grants $25,000 to graduating seniors who demonstrate a propensity to take on independent travel and exploration. Each student must design an independent, focused and purposeful proposal and have a desire to interact in an effective and humane manner throughout the world.

Each year, Colgate is able to nominate up to four candidates. Nationally, 40 applicants are selected from a pool of 150. Since the Fellowship Program was established in 1968, 67 Colgate students have received the prestigious grant.

During this period of great independence and self-sufficiency, Frydenlund and Rusciano will immerse themselves in new and unique cultures when they carry out their proposals. In order to keep with the purpose of independence, participants are not permitted to return to the United States, nor to their home country if they are international students, during the 12-month period. Participants also cannot take part in any formal study with a university. The idea is for them to truly jet out on their own.

Frydenlund, an environmental geography and art double concentrator, plans to spend her time putting her passion for the environment into action. She plans to pursue a project on the effects of the complex ecologies of medicinal plant markets, as well as to promote conservation and sustainability in such a market. To capture her work and her findings, Frydenlund plans to make a documentary film.

During her time with the fellowship program, Frydenlund plans to travel to Ecuador, Russia, China, Tanzania and Albania. The effect of the yarsagumba fungus really sparked Frydenlund’s interest in this topic. In Nepal, this fungus sells for $1000 per kilo. Due to over-harvesting the fungus, used as a traditional cure for impotency, it is nearly extinct.

During her travels, she hopes to show that this phenomenon is not exclusive to Nepal, but is widespread and has a large impact not only on the economy, but also the environment.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to dedicate my life to conservation and sustainability,” Frydenlund said.

Accordingly, she will spend her year learning about the thriving market for medicinal plants and exploring its effects on the natural world.

Rusciano, a geography concentrator with a minor in religion, plans to follow the production of chocolate through Europe, Africa and Latin America. She will travel to the United Kingdom, France, Ghana, Madagascar, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Ecuador in order to study chocolate in a cultural context.

Through her year-long cultural immersion, she plans to learn about how chocolate connects communities and cultures around the world, and how these relationships shape the production of chocolate itself. In addition, Rusciano will explore how the various values of manufacturers, consumers and organizations in developed countries affect the lives of cocoa farmers in developing countries.

“I’m excited to have the incredible opportunity to take everything I have learned during my four years at Colgate and apply it while exploring my passion for chocolate and cocoa across the globe,” Rusciano said.

Participants in the Watson Fellowship are able to learn in a setting very different from the classrooms they are used to and in a truly independent environment.

“More than anything, I look forward to having the adventure of a lifetime that will teach me about myself and help guide my steps towards a meaningful future,” Rusciano said.

“The alumni that return from this fellowship every year feel deeply honored and certainly empowered as world citizens,” Landstrom said.

Contact Christine Hebert at [email protected].