Tiyé Pulley caught wind of his Watson Fellowship from a most unlikely source: his mother, in their family group text.
“I was like, ‘Mom, you’re trippin’,” says Pulley, an art major from Annandale, N.J. “But then, two hours later, I got the email, and I was like, ‘Whoa.’ It’s pretty surreal.”
The fellowship sends Pulley to Tokyo, Japan, Ethiopia, and Jamaica, where the budding filmmaker will document through film and photography how skateboarding culture influences these places’ other art and subcultures.
“I’m open to see what happens, though,” says Pulley. “I’m sure I’ll find myself investigating other scenes.”
The Watson provides “a year of unparalleled, purposeful international discovery for graduating college seniors in any discipline.” Pulley joins 40 other scholars who will travel to 76 countries to explore topics ranging from artificial intelligence to food insecurity to neonatal-to-end-of-life care.
“A record number of students initiated this year’s application process,” says Chris Kasabach, the Watson Foundation’s executive director. “The new class is remarkable. They reflect the diversity, imagination and cross-disciplinary nature of our next-generation leaders.”
This class is also helping the Watson to mark the 50th anniversary of the fellowship’s founding. Swarthmore has been closely aligned with the program from the beginning, with Nancy Bekavac ’69 earning one of the first fellowships before going on to become president of Scripps College and executive director of the Watson Foundation.
Swarthmore has produced 81 Watson Fellows, says Fellowships and Prizes Advisor Melissa Mandos, including environmental economist Dan Hammer ’07, U.S. State Department foreign service officer Wren Elhai ’08, and theater artist and inaugural Frank 5 Fellows class member Nell Bang-Jensen ’11.
The Watson Fellowship is a rare window after college and pre-career in which students explore passions on a global scale. For Pulley, it’s a chance to continue telling stories that resonate for him. But there will also be moments of more personal exploration; he has extended family in Ethiopia whom he doesn’t know well.
“It’s honestly just really cool to be out of school and have a funded year of travel where I can focus on my art and the stuff I’m interested in,” he says. “Hopefully I’ll be able to make a photo book or documentary out of the experience and put it out.”
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