By Rachel Morrison
Since 1976, Scripps alumnae have been traveling the world thanks to the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship program, a competitive, one-year grant for purposeful, independent exploration outside the United States. Watson Fellows, nominated during the senior year of college, conceive of original projects to pursue during the year after graduation. According to the program, the year after college ends is an ideal time for world travel, as it presents a rare, post-graduate but pre-career opportunity for people to engage their deepest interests on a global scale.
In celebration of the Watson’s 50th anniversary, Scripps will host its inaugural Watson Reunion Tea, a special gathering exclusively for Scripps alumnae of the program as well as Watson alumni from Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, and Pomona Colleges. The tea will take place during Reunion Weekend 2019.
Scripps’ first Watson Fellow, Pam Holderman ’76, focused her Watson year on studying the art and theory of artist and philosopher of the German Renaissance Albrecht Dürer. Envisioning herself as his “apprentice,” Holderman began her year abroad in London at the British Museum, looking at Dürer’s manuscripts, and then headed to Vienna, where she saw his original artworks at the Albertina Museum. She then visited his home town of Nuremberg, Germany, and retraced his trip through the Alps to Italy. Along the way, she drew current-day versions of the towns he visited and saw his art in many museums throughout Europe.
Holderman describes her Watson experience as a continuation of her Scripps education. “My Scripps art classes were centered more on abstract painting, figure drawing, sculpture, and weaving. I needed to round this out with a realistic look at nature, human anatomy, landscapes, and perspective. This ‘wander’ year accomplished that,” she says.
Recently retired after a long career as an interior designer and arts educator (she still teaches art to her three grandchildren and has shown her work in gallery shows), Holderman continues to make art, with a special passion for computer illustration.
For Hedy Levine ’89, whose Watson project “U.S. Approach to Conservation Ethic” brought her to Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand, the fellowship was also a way to continue her Scripps education, and it set the course for the rest of her life.
“At Scripps, I pursued a double major of biology and legal studies—this was several years before the advent of an environmental studies major—but my thesis focused on the history and reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act and examined the challenges of protecting an endangered songbird native to Southern California,” she explains. Levine went on to earn a master’s in geography with a concentration in environmental studies from San Diego State University and has since worked in several positions related to her courses of study. She currently serves as the director of the environmental division of a civil engineering and environmental consulting firm, and she recently became a partner and owner of the firm.
While abroad, Levine visited World Heritage Areas, National Parks, scenic areas, and nature preserves. Her many adventures included helicoptering onto a glacier, hiking into a cave to find glow worms, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, and horseback riding along the Snowy River (to name just a few). While living in Melbourne, she volunteered for the local office of the World Wildlife Fund, and for a week, she adopted a nocturnal lifestyle with a group of scientists to track the activities of radio-collared wombats in Wilson’s Promontory National Park.
In addition to the education she got while abroad, Levine describes her Watson year as one of spiritual revelation, as well. “The most unexpected and memorable aspect of my Watson year was being embraced by a dynamic Jewish community through an incredible host family, the Sames. Although many people don’t know it, outside of Israel, Australia has one of the largest populations of Holocaust survivors.” Australia’s Jewish community inspired Levine, and with support of the loving community she joined, she became a bat mitzvah at age 23.
For both Holderman and Levine, the Watson enabled them to pursue passion projects they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to and provided an unmatched opportunity for personal and intellectual growth. “I was able to break away from the scholastic treadmill,” says Levine. “This was the first time since the age of 12 that I didn’t have to work to earn money. I was free to volunteer for organizations that inspired me and plan exciting trips at my leisure.”
Holderman’s advice to the next crop of Watson fellows is to “use the incredible gift to learn more about yourself, be open to new experiences, meet people, make friends, and soak in the other cultures.”
“The Watson experience is life changing,” adds Levine.