March 25, 2008


AMHERST, Mass.—Amherst College senior Calista McRae, an English major from East Brookfield, Mass., is one of just 40 students across the United States to have received a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for the 2009-10 academic year. McRae will use the award—which comes with a $28,000 stipend—to study abandoned buildings in Germany, Bangladesh, India, the Czech Republic, Australia, the Ukraine and Belarus.

McRae’s project, titled “The Characters of Ruin,” will explore ruins and their suggestive power, which she says is responsible for a “millennium of poetry and art, often sentimentalized, allegorized or picturesqued out of all proportion.” She will draw and write about the uninhabited building found in desolate mining towns, industrial districts and anywhere else she can find them. “I hope to emerge from the year with a clearer sense of how to express—verbally, visually, emotionally, aesthetically, critically—such a moving subject.”

“I cannot imagine a student in North America more qualified for a Watson Fellowship,” said David Sofield, Samuel Williston Professor English at Amherst, in his recommendation for McRae. “She is not merely what I and my senior colleagues have encountered annually, the best literary student in her college cohort. Rather, she is a once-in-a-lifetime reader and writer. She will do the Watson Foundation proud.”

McRae was home-schooled by her parents before enrolling at Amherst. During her college career, she has served as a research assistant for English professors Anston Bosman and Howell “Chick” Chickering and an art/graphic designer for student publications The Indicator, Circus and Pepper. An accomplished violinist, she participated in several music ensembles and gave violin lessons. She reads Latin as well as Old and Middle English, studied Hindi and is currently learning Bengali. She is conversant in German.

In addition to the her Watson, McRae has received a Beinecke Scholarship, which provides substantial funding for graduate study, and the college’s James Charlton Knox Prize, which is given to “the student whose record through the junior year demonstrates the greatest integration of scholarship, interest and creativity in the study of English.” She has also been elected to Amherst’s chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

This year, the Thomas J. Watson Fellowships will give 40 exceptional college graduates, from America’s leading liberal arts colleges, the freedom to engage in a year of independent study and travel abroad. The fellows come from 21 states and three foreign countries and exhibit a broad diversity of academic specialty, socio-economic background and life experience. They will traverse 78 countries, exploring topics from the poetry of Arab women, to endangered religions, to wolf/human interaction, to green entrepreneurship, to wildlife tracking. The program itself was established in 1968 by the family of Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder of IBM, to honor their parents’ interest in education and world affairs. More than 2,200 Watson Fellows have studied all over the world with the support of Watson Fellowships.

Founded in 1821, Amherst is a highly selective, coeducational liberal arts college with approximately 1,600 students from most of the 50 states and more than 30 other countries. Considered one of the nation’s best educational institutions, Amherst awards the B. A. degree in 34 fields of study.