Two Swarthmore Seniors Awarded Watson Fellowships

Stacey Kutish

Two Swarthmore Seniors Awarded Watson Fellowships

by Stacey Kutish
3/19/2009

Helen Chmura and Jessica Engebretson were recently awarded Watson Fellowships for the 2009-10 academic year. The Watson Fellowship provides $28,000 for a full year of independent exploration and travel outside the United States. Begun in 1968, the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program identifies prospective leaders in education and world affairs. Chmura and Engebretson were two of just 40 college seniors in the country to receive this honor.

Helen Chmura '09

Helen Chmura '09

Chmura is an honors biology major and political science minor from Geneva, N.Y. Her Watson Fellowship project is entitled "Vanishing in Thin Air: Climate and Culture in Sacred Mountain Conservation." She will spend her fellowship year studying the evidence for and effects of climate change in mountain ranges and investigate how cultural and religious practices in mountain communities have changed in response to global warming. The fellowship will afford her the opportunity to travel to Peru, Chile, India, China, Papua New Guinea, and Argentina. Chmura believes that "it is important to understand how both science and society respond to climate change, because ultimately these two forces, often coming from very different perspectives, need to cooperate to make effective conservation and community development decisions in light of climate change."

Chmura's focus on climate change in alpine ecosystems and the impact on surrounding communities developed last summer while studying animal behavior at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado. As she learned about how that ecosystem is impacted by climate change, she began to think about how the plants, animals, and local communities were being influenced by the changing landscape.

Jess Engebretson '09

Jess Engebretson '09

Engebretson is an honors English literature major and philosophy minor from Great Falls, Va. Her Watson Fellowship project is entitled "Producing Peace: Radio and Reconciliation in Post-Conflict Societies." She will spend her fellowship year traveling to Indonesia, Rwanda, and Liberia to consider the role of radio in promoting peace and reconciliation in post-conflict societies. "By working with local producers on unconventional programs like serialized radio dramas, I want to begin to understand how radio can help communities find ways to knit themselves back together in the aftermath of violence" she says.

Engebretson developed a significant interest in the power of radio through her involvement in Swarthmore's Darfur Radio Project and War News Radio. "Working with those two projects has taught me an unbelievable amount about the power of radio as a means of sharing stories-how deeply important that sense of direct, human connection can be." She shares that "Radio has an incredible intimacy that just isn't possible in, say, a newspaper-actually hearing someone's voice break when he tells you about his brother's death is very different from reading a transcription of that quote on the page."

Learn more about the Watson Fellowship from the Fellowships and Prizes Office.