Submitted on Monday, 6/16/2014, at 1:28 PM

April 8, 2014

By Daniel Diner ’14

Meghna Sridhar ’14 and Gus Greenstein ’14

Amherst College seniors Gus Greenstein and Meghna Sridhar have been awarded Thomas J. Watson Fellowships for the 2014–15 academic year. The awards fund independent study and travel for self-designed projects.

Greenstein, an environmental studies major from Santa Rosa, Calif., will use his award on a project titled “Hydropower-Induced Displacement and Livelihood Effects: Where Specific Places Warrant Specific Restoration Strategies.” He intends to travel to India, Chile, Paraguay and Thailand in order to investigate and analyze effects of hydroelectic dams in relation to sociocultural, economic and political systems. “[T]he Watson represents the perfect vehicle for exploring the extent of the consequences … and, more generally, for increasing my awareness of the challenges to crafting policy that balances development goals with environmental and social well-being,” Greenstein wrote in his fellowship application. “In exploring this [issue] in diverse contexts, I will be able to gain a more complex understanding of the kinds of community-specific characteristics that necessitate highly individualized attention in compensation planning.”

Sridhar, a law, jurisprudence and social thought major from New Delhi, India, will explore the pervading worldwide popularity of the Sanskrit epic poem Ramayana through her project, “Retracing Rama’s Journey: Mapping the Hindu Epic Ramayana as a Global Tradition of Mythmaking and Storytelling.” She will visit Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Italy and South Africa, exploring the distinct Ramayanas and their sociopolitical roles in each region and eventually putting together a version of her own. Her ultimate goal, she wrote in her Watson application, is “to gain a sense of what both the Ramayana is (through performance, translation and art) and what it means to the people of each culture and community.”

She added: “My Ramayana, growing up, has not been a static 24,000-verse poem in an ancient tongue, but a living, breathing narrative encountered through festivals, grandmother’s tales and street plays. I want to unpack, untangle, and weave together all these divergent Ramayanas, and at the end of my journey, produce my own. I wish to put myself in a unique position to understand, translate and craft a new Ramayana, a global, multicultural retelling suited to the modern age.”

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. Each Watson Fellow receives $25,000 for 12 months of travel, college loan assistance as needed and an insurance allowance.

Amherst has had 87 Watson Fellows during the program’s history. “Amherst is one of the strongest schools in our program,” said Jennifer Ludovici, former assistant director of the Watson Fellowship. “Amherst is exceptional at fostering an interest among the student body in pursuing such an unusual postgraduate experience.”