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Carleton Trio Earns Prestigious Watson Fellowships

March 30, 2011

Northfield, Minn.––Carleton College students Matthew Fink ’11 (Inver Grove Heights, Minn.), Adam Karas ’11 (Corpus Christi, Texas), and Kai Knutson ’11 (Bloomington, Minn.) have earned three of the 40 fellowships from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation.

Carleton was one of only three institutions to have three or more winners, as Hamilton College (N.Y.) and Grinnell College (Iowa) also had three students receive fellowships. The fellowships, awarded to college seniors to pursue their unique passion or dream for a year of independent exploration and travel outside the United States, are picked from select private liberal arts colleges and universities. 148 finalists were nominated this year to compete on the national level.  Each fellow will receive $25,000 for twelve-months of travel and exploration.

Fink, a political science and international relations major, plans to travel to Sweden, Germany and South Korea. “I will experience pro-gaming culture first hand by living and training with StarCraft 2 teams,” Fink said. “I will work to qualify for the Global StarCraft 2 league while connecting with disabled gamers to learn about how technology is changing what it means to be competitive as a person with a disability. I will also attend DREAMHACK in Sweden and IEM World Championships in Germany.” His project title is “Disability, Technology and Pro-gaming in Europe and Asia.”

Karas, a political science and international relations major, is travelling to Jordan, Syria and Tibet. “During my Watson Fellowship year, I will travel with nomadic communities and will trek across the Wadi Rum on camel, train falcons in Al-Reesha, and herd sheep in the Tibetan plains,” Karas said. “I will live with these communities and see first-hand how the forces which are shaping the 21st century are influencing the lives and identities of these peoples.” Karas was awarded a fellowship based on his proposal entitled “Camels and Caravans: Traveling with Nomads in Jordan, Syria and Tibet.”

Knutson, a biology major, plans to travel to Turkey, Egypt (if the U.S. Travel Warning/Embargo is lifted), India and Mongolia. “For my Watson year, I will unite my fascination with microbiology and passion for traditional foods to explore the cultural inheritance of yogurt in Turkey, Egypt, India, and Mongolia,” Knutson said. “My project will be a cultural adventure as well as a scientific journey. I will travel to regions where yogurt has been cultured for millennia and seek the oldest, wildest strains of the bacteria that produce its characteristic flavor and texture. I will learn the history of these microbial cultures from families who have made yogurt for generations. Through a microscope, I will see for myself the bacteria that create yogurt, compare those in industrial yogurt cultures to those sustained within traditional varieties, and share this perspective with the people I meet.” His project is called “Things Not Seen: Hunting Microbes in Yogurt Cultures Around the World.”

As interesting as the projects are, “these awards are long-term investments in people, not research,” says Cleveland Johnson, Director of the Watson Fellowship Program and a former Watson Fellow.  “We look for persons likely to lead or innovate in the future and give them extraordinary independence to pursue their interests outside of traditional academic structures. Watson Fellows are passionate learners, creative thinkers, and motivated self-starters who are encouraged to dream big but demonstrate feasible strategies for achieving their fellowship goals. The Watson Fellowship affords an unparalleled opportunity for global experiential learning.”

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program was established in 1968 by the children of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., the founder of International Business Machines Corp., and his wife, Jeannette K. Watson, to honor their parents’ long-standing interest in education and world affairs.  The Watson Foundation regards its investment in people as an effective long-term contribution to the global community.

In the history of the program, over 2,600 Watson Fellows have taken this challenging journey.  A Watson Year provides fellows an opportunity to test their aspirations and abilities and develop a more informed sense of international concern.  Fellows have gone on to become college presidents and professors, CEOs of major corporations, MacArthur “genius” grant recipients, politicians, artists, lawyers, diplomats, doctors, journalists, innovators and researchers across a wide range of sciences and engineering disciplines. 

To see the winners and their project descriptions, visit the Watson Fellowship website.