Awards and Honors: Thomas J. Watson Fellowships: Scripps Nominates Three Finalists

By Anyi Wong-Lifton ’18

Scripps College has nominated three graduates from the Class of 2017—Laura Casaregola, Hannah Sands, and Julia Thomas—as finalists for Thomas J. Watson Fellowships. This selection puts them in the running for the prestigious grant, awarded annually to 50 students out of hundreds of graduating seniors from 40 colleges across the United States. The grant supports one year of international travel, exploration, and independent study as outlined by each student’s proposed project. Scripps’ finalists are interested in topics related to agriculture, athletics, and activism.

Casaregola, Sands, and Thomas were nominated by a selection committee made up of professors from several academic divisions, including Warren Liu, co-chair and associate professor of English; Kasper Kovitz, assistant professor of studio art; Sumita Pahwa, assistant professor of politics; and Gretchen Edwards-Gilbert, associate dean of faculty and associate professor of biology.

“Finalists share the ‘Watson’ characteristics of having a passion they have pursued that they want to explore further,” says Edwalds-Gilbert, chair of the committee. “We had many strong candidates, so it is a great accomplishment to be selected as a finalist.”

Casaregola, a linguistics major and music minor from Hudson Valley, New York, proposed a project driven by her fascination with honeybees. She first learned about the importance of honeybees in high school, when she taught lessons about the insects as a camp counselor. Casaregola also studied honeybees and worked with beekeepers during her semester abroad in Intag, Ecuador, last year. Her proposal for the Watson Fellowships, “How to Keep the Bees: An Exploration of Varied and Creative Beekeeping Cultures,” explores beekeeping practices, history, and innovations in India, France, Guatemala, Morocco, and Spain.

“I plan to work with beekeepers and a bee scientist in Uttarakhand, India, who use methods linked to Ayurvedic medicinal practices in hives to combat disease and boost overall hive health,” Casaregola says. Her other planned stops include visits to Mayan hieroglyphs of beekeeping in Guatemala, to the Honey Festival in Morocco that supposedly features the largest and oldest beehive collective, and to the Andalusian town Colmenar, which translates to “beehive.”

Casaregola says that the ideas of her peers inspired her during the application process. “I think the [Watson] process brings out a lot of creativity and enthusiasm in us all.” After she learned she was nominated as a finalist, Casaregola says, “I’ve been enjoying having such a good reason to go around talking about bees all the time. The possibility of a Watson year is an incredible opportunity to connect and engage as a global citizen.”

Hannah Sands, an environmental analysis major from Montclair, New Jersey, developed her project, “Strength and Femininity: Women’s Rugby Across Cultures and Identities,” which examines the intersections of identity, including ethnic and socio-economic aspects, that women rugby players of all ages and skill levels face. Sands has already contacted athletes in New Zealand, where rugby is part of mainstream culture, as well as Samoa, Uganda, and Chile, countries in which women are pushing for the sport’s funding. Sands believes that now is an opportune time to examine rugby, as more women are playing the sport now than ever before. Many countries have been inspired to allocate increased resources toward developing their own rugby programs since the sport’s return to last summer’s Olympic Games after nearly a century.

Her research into women’s rugby comes after four years of playing on a 5C club team. She says, “I love the community around rugby. The whole game itself just relies on everyone on the team working together and using your bodies all together. It’s really nice to have this sense of community within your team and…with every other team you play.”

Julia Thomas, a history major and environmental analysis minor from Bainbridge Island, Washington, proposed the project “Community Voices: Exploring the Intersections of Storytelling, Journalism, and Citizenship.” She plans to investigate journalism as a mode of storytelling in India, South Africa, Spain, and Ecuador.

“Cultural and political contexts shape how, and in what ways, stories, experiences, or perspectives can be voiced, and I’m interested in learning about how journalists approach this challenge in different communities around the world,” Thomas says.

Thomas will be reading a variety of news pieces in each country and interviewing community members and journalists to investigate the complexities and contexts of journalism. She also wants to conduct research by shadowing journalists from diverse communication outlets throughout their process of researching, writing, and collecting interviews.

Thomas’s interest in journalism began as a passion for fiction writing when she was around seven years old. Pursuing those subjects at Scripps, she has also served as the editor-in-chief of The Student Life, a 5C newspaper, and has participated in journalism experiences during her summer breaks. Thomas is excited and honored to be nominated as a finalist and sees the fellowship experience as an opportunity for her to grow as a journalist and a person.

“I hope to learn about citizen storytelling as a form of justice and share, discuss, and act upon that knowledge with others in whatever I do in the future, she says.

“I’m very thankful to have had the chance to work through these questions and to brainstorm with professors, peers, friends, family, and other people in my life.”

Congratulations to Casaregola, Sands, and Thomas for representing Scripps as finalists for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. After the national selection process, the 49th class of Watson Fellows will be announced in March 2017.