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Slate Hyacinthe ’24, Selma Shaban ’24 to Serve Global Community as Watson Fellows

Slate Hyacinthe ’24 and Selma Shaban ’24

Slate Hyacinthe ’24 (left) and Selma Shaban ’24

As a Watson Fellow, Slate Hyacinthe ’24 will travel to Brazil, Kenya, India, and Spain next year for their project, “Ecosystem Restoration Communities.” It’s an exploration with lessons for local governments, but one that goes way beyond policy.

“It’s personal,” says Hyacinthe. “My experience living in sustainable communities in high school helped support me through housing insecurity, while deepening my interest in land stewardship and environmental studies.”

Also embarking on a Watson Fellowship next year is Selma Shaban ’24. Her project “Preserving Audiovisuals in Crisis,” will entail contributing to preservation projects and immersing herself in unique audiovisual histories in Bulgaria, Chile, Ireland, and the Philippines.

“I’m excited to immerse myself in all the different ways film can exist and be interacted with,” she says.

Hyacinthe and Shaban are two of just 35 fellows to receive Watson Fellowships this year. Their cohort offers “a broad range of academic specialties, socioeconomic backgrounds, and project diversity,” notes the Watson Foundation. 

The fellowship offers graduating seniors the opportunity to engage in a 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.” The fellows each receive a stipend of $40,000, in addition to other support.

Hyacinthe and Shaban join students from 17 states and three countries in representing the 56th class of Watson Fellows. The fellows will travel to 64 countries in exploration of topics ranging from community-centered AI to agroforestry; from end-of-life care to interfaith advocacy; from seabird communities to soundscapes.

Shaban has long been interested in film, which she says has grounded her academic work. “In particular, Palestinian film has been influential,” she says, citing a “decadeslong history of films being systematically targeted and destroyed.”

“I started learning more about film preservation, and I grew more invested in understanding film deterioration around the world,” says Shaban, a philosophy and Islamic studies double major who grew up in Amman, Jordan.

“I’m fortunate to have learned from really great professors at Swarthmore who have helped me look at film through different lenses,” she adds.

Through the fellowship, Shaban will shadow archivists and preservationists in their race to save historic narratives and the expressions they capture, and explore the audiovisual cultures of each place.

Hyacinthe’s project reflects their keen interest in how small, predominantly rural and intentional communities balance restorative practices with social development. It draws upon themes that range from agroforestry, eco-construction and design, holistic lifestyle practices, and building transnational resilience around climate change.

It combines Hyacinthe’s majors, biology and global arts, histories, and cultures, and their efforts in ecosystem restoration in Senegal last summer, funded through an interdisciplinary research scholarship. And it will be a truly immersive experience, with Hyacinthe mostly living in communities whose eco-restoration they will be studying.

“The activities I have planned range from working in tree nurseries, building forest trails, getting certified in permaculture design, and learning eco-construction techniques,” says Hyacinthe, adding that they are passionate about learning languages and excited to dive into Turkish and Brazilian Portuguese, among others.

Hyacinthe’s Watson year will start after they finish a Critical Language Scholarship in Turkey this summer. But in a way, it has already begun: The day Hyacinthe got word of the fellowship, they were invited to a gathering of Watson alums in Philadelphia, including Mikayla Purnell ’22, who interviewed Hyacinthe during the application process.

“I felt so supported in that group, and was fascinated by all of their stories,” says Hyacinthe, of Madison, Wisc., who also served as a President’s Sustainable Research Fellow at Swarthmore. “It was the perfect way to celebrate.” 

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