Growing up in Honolulu, Hawaii, Olivia Stoetzer ’23 witnessed how climate change can disrupt a community, from coral bleaching to extreme weather.
Then came her semester abroad at the University of Cape Town last spring, through the College’s Globalization, Environment & Society Program.
“I was shown the vocabulary to truly understand the social dimensions of what I was seeing in my community,” says the environmental studies and political science major.
Stoetzer will now deepen her engagement as a Watson Fellow, exploring different approaches to urban climate resistance in Denmark, India, Mexico, and New Zealand cities next year.
“I am most excited to be immersed in new experiences, cultures, and languages,” says Stoetzer. “I’m looking forward to talking and listening to advocates who are informed, passionate, and energized to make positive contributions and changes to their communities.”
Each year, The Watson Foundation provides graduating seniors a one-year stipend of $40,000 to embark on one year of self-designed, independent study aimed to “enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership, and foster their humane and effective participation in the world community.”
Stoetzer joins 41 other students from 20 states and four countries in representing the 55th class of fellows. They will travel to 54 countries, pursuing topics including climate refugees, pediatric cancer, contemporary African art, disability care innovation, entrepreneurial inclusion, urban animals, coastal resilience, and modern opera.
Stoetzer’s focus on urban climate resilience follows a seminar, "Climate Change Adaptation and Transformation," she took at the University of Cape Town that examined “why some groups are better able to adapt to climate change than others and how we can address the root causes of vulnerability to build resilience,” she says.
Much of resilience thinking and application has been happening at the city level, largely outside of the U.S., she adds. In 2013, The Rockefeller Foundation led 100 Resilient Cities, a program to help cities build resilience in the face of physical, social, and economic challenges, assembling a network around the world. Stoetzer will now visit four cities from the program to engage with city officials who are implementing resilience strategies.
“I want to understand what strategies are working and what strategies are not,” says Stoetzer, “and learn about the innovative approaches that cities are taking.”
At Swarthmore, Stoetzer has been a President’s Sustainability Research Fellow in the Office of Sustainability for three years, helping the development of Collegewide sustainability practices with a focus on tracking and offsetting carbon emissions. She also traveled to Glasgow, Scotland as a member of the College’s COP26 delegation in 2021.
This year, the Watson Fellowships announcement date was circled on her calendar. She was in the Cornell Science Library with friends, toggling between homework and the Watson site, when the list of names appeared and she scanned down to hers.
“I remember feeling such a rush of adrenaline and joy, jumping up and hugging my friends,” says Stoetzer, who then raced to Parrish to see Fellowships & Prizes Advisor Melissa Mandos.
“Even a few weeks later,” Stoetzer adds, “it still has not fully sunk in yet that I will be embarking on such an exciting year ahead.”