2013 Watson Fellowship Winners Aim to “Give Voice to the Voiceless”
April 26, 2013
Lindsay Stern ’13 is a lifelong writer. The English and philosophy major has served as editor-in-chief of The Indicator, Amherst’s student-run magazine on social thought; co-editor-in-chief of Circus, a campus literary magazine; and an editorial assistant at The Common literary journal. She has mentored high school students in classic literature, designed a free creative arts program for disadvantaged middle-school children and volunteered as a math and reading tutor, among other ventures. She has received multiple honors for her writing—including three prizes from her alma mater— and even published her first novella, Town of Shadows, last fall.
History major Keri Lambert ’13 describes herself as a “runner, fisherman, sister, student, daughter and daydreamer.” She has been a member of the cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track teams since her first year at college; held the position of captain in all three sports for the past year; and participated in LEADS, a college athletics leadership program. She has worked as a resident counselor, an agriculture and education intern, a geriatric caregiver, a teaching assistant and an Ultimate Frisbee coach. She has received a Beinecke Scholarship for graduate studies and the college’s Samuel Walley Brown Scholarship for scholarship and citizenship, among other awards and honors.
So what do these very different young women have in common? “A passion for giving voice to the voiceless,” says Denise Gagnon, director of fellowship advising at the college.
In addition, Stern and Lambert have both been named Thomas J. Watson Fellows for 2013–14. After graduating from Amherst, they will embark upon months of adventures and learning around the world. Stern plans to use her award to write about, and gather the writings of, children in South Asia, South Africa and Central America, while Lambert will visit and blog about the experiences of farmers, fishermen and factory workers in Africa and Asia.
According to its website, Watson Fellowships offer college graduates of “‘unusual promise’ a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel—in international settings new to them—to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community.” They also provide each winner with a stipend of $25,000 to fund the fellowship year.
Stern and Lambert will join a rarified group of 83 other Amherst alumni who have received Watson fellowships since the program’s birth in 1968.
“I’m always struck by the number of outstanding applications we receive for the Watson Fellowship,” said Gagnon, noting that Amherst may nominate only four candidates for the fellowship each year and that narrowing the field to four nominees is always a difficult task. “But we’re told by the Watson Foundation that Amherst is one of the strongest schools in the program and that the college is ‘exceptional at fostering an interest among the student body in pursuing such an unusual postgraduate experience.’” What’s more, the college’s undergraduates are “tailor-made” for the award, she added. “They are analytical thinkers who are genuinely interested in people and the environment in which they live, and Lindsay and Keri are no exception.”
Lindsay Stern ’13
Stern’s Watson project aims to “explore the reparative capacity of language both in solitude and the company of children.” To that end, she plans to introduce her creative arts program, WORDBOX, to five orphanages in various spots around the world. Between visits to those facilities, she will live and write in neighboring cities; the goal is to return home after the Watson year with a new novel and an anthology of her students’ creative work.
The young woman’s connection to her project is a particularly personal one: Her own sister was adopted from an orphanage in China, and the adoption instilled in her a “feeling of obligation—an urge to honor and acknowledge my sister’s past,” she wrote in her application. “The Watson Fellowship will enable me to answer this sense of responsibility” and bring the stories of the children she meets to a Western audience. “It is difficult to fathom the sense of humility and understanding that such a project would afford me.”
Rebecca Sinos, professor of classics and chair of the Faculty Committee on Student Fellowships, noted in the college’s endorsement letter that Stern’s “poetic sensibility, her unusual empathy, her careful skills of observation, her maturity of intellect, imagination, and her handling of practical matters will suit her supremely well for the experience she envisions.”
“There is an image in Plato of an admirable young man, with a quick mind and gentle spirit, who goes about what he does making progress with perfect quiet, like the noiseless flow of a stream of olive oil,” Sinos wrote. “This steady, gentle motion is a rare quality, one represented beautifully in Lindsay.”
Keri Lambert ’13
Lambert’s project also involves writing and giving a voice to those typically not heard: the producers of rubber, Nile perch and palm oil in Ghana, Tanzania and Malaysia. The history major plans to listen to the stories of harvesters and producers of these commodities and make them public via a blog throughout the year. Her project, she said, will “unveil the interconnectedness of Earth’s community and the profound implications of our insatiable appetites.”
“Eventually, I hope to work to promote social justice and improve standards of living in rural communities,” she wrote in her application. “I must first, however, experience life in such places to better understand what ‘improved’ means and, subsequently, what it will take to achieve. During my year abroad, I hope to realize how I should direct my passion—for the environment, for exploration, for discovery—and use my voice to promote equality and sustainability in today’s globalizing world.”
In Lambert’s letter, Sinos remarked upon the student’s respect and deference for other cultures. “She has a strong desire to immerse herself in the situation and not impose her own belief systems,” Sinos wrote, describing an experience that Lambert had in Sierra Leone with the One Village Partners internship program researching food security and training of village staff members: “It came time for the rice to be planted—back-breaking labor that Keri took part in although it was not expected of her. After working all day long in the paddies, the villagers brought a meal of rice to the farmers which Keri ate with mud-covered hands, declining the offer of utensils by her supervisor and earning the respect of the her fellow workers. Keri’s default position is to listen to and learn from those around her, approaching new experiences with no personal agenda or preconceived biases. She will face any adversity with aplomb and bridge any cultural barriers with her devotion to the task.”
The Thomas J. Watson Foundation was created in 1961 as a charitable trust by Mrs. Thomas J. Watson, Sr., in honor of her late husband, the founder of International Business Machines (IBM). In 1968, in recognition of Mr. and Mrs. Watson’s long-standing interest in education and world affairs, their children decided that the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program should constitute a major activity of the foundation.
More than 2,700 Watson Fellowships have been awarded in the program’s history. 433 candidates at select private liberal arts colleges and universities across the United States submitted proposals this year. Of that number, 187 finalists were nominated to compete on the national level, and Stern, Lambert and 38 other fellows were selected.