Watson Fellowship Fuels Adventure for Zhengyang Wang '14

by Ryan Dougherty
Zhengyang Wang '14
Zhengyang Wang '14

The classmates of Zhengyang Wang '14 will be hard pressed to beat his post-graduation plans: a year on the beaches of locales such as Costa Rica and Australia. But it won't be all fun in the sun.

Recently named as one of this year's Watson Fellows, Wang will conduct a project on butterfly ranching. By the sound of it, a most-excellent adventure.

"I told my parents I was applying to this thing that would allow me to go on vacations to all of these countries with fabulous beaches," says Wang, a philosophy and biology major. "But now the secret is out, and the whole world knows my proposal includes rainforests, farming, poaching, and the black market.

"I have to convince my family and, most importantly, myself," he adds, "that I will survive this just fine."

Wang's successful proposal, "Children of Butterflies: Ranching Beauty around the Globe," will also take him to Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, and Tanzania, in exploration of their butterfly ranching communities.

"At a technical level, I will uncover the mysterious techniques used in rearing some of the most awe-inspiring butterflies around the world," he says. "At a social level, I will document how butterfly ranching is changing the livelihood of the communities involved. At a metaphysical level, I will plunge into the ranchers' cultural perception of human-butterfly interaction."

The Watson Foundation describes the project as a "year in search of an ideal human-butterfly interaction that offers tangible yet beautiful solutions to the modern challenges of sustainable living."

It also sheds light on Wang's backstory: "The single child of a western China family, Zhengyang started bumping around the mountains with a butterfly net at the age of five. During secondary school, his amateurish collections turned into serious conservation efforts. He led a project ranching Teinopalpus aureus, the most endangered butterfly in China, which made him wonder whether he was a loner in this pursuit."

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a one-year, $28,000 grant for independent study and travel outside of the United States awarded to graduating seniors nominated by participating institutions. It offers "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."