Two Rice University students awarded Watson Fellowships

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HOUSTON — (March 28, 2014) — Two Rice University seniors are among the 43 students across the country who have been awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for 2014-2015. Colleen Fugate and Heather Olson will receive $28,000 each for a year of world travel and independent study.

“The prestigious Watson Fellowship is highly competitive,” said Caroline Quenemoen, Rice’s director of fellowships and undergraduate research. “Colleen and Heather were selected from 150 nominees put forward by the top liberal arts colleges across the country. We’re very appreciative of the generosity of the Watson Foundation. These fellowships give students the opportunity for self-discovery afforded by a year of solo travel and learning around the world.”

Fugate, from Columbus, Ohio, is majoring in sociology and the study of women, gender and sexuality with a minor in poverty, justice and human capabilities. She will use the Watson Fellowship to visit Ghana, Morocco, Nepal, the Philippines and Guatemala to study women’s resilience in migrant towns. She is interested in the social, political and economic transformations caused by human migration.

“I will spend my year immersed in five national contexts, collecting and documenting women’s stories of strength and resilience through both writing and photography,” Fugate said. “I first became interested in issues of women’s rights and human migration when I sponsored a refugee family from Somalia my senior year of high school. When I came to Rice, I found opportunities to foster these interests through my classes in sociology and poverty and gender studies and the many opportunities to travel, work and do research abroad.” She took a semester off to travel to Ecuador and Colombia to work with migrants and has since been engaged in activist movements in Houston and Latin America involving immigrant rights and women’s access to sexual and reproductive health care.

Fugate said that after her fellowship, she might consider graduate school or a job at a nongovernmental organization that focuses on women’s and/or migration issues. “I don’t want to make any concrete plans for after my Watson year because I feel like the fellowship experience will be incredibly transformative and may redirect my goals and aspirations for the future in terms of the kind of job I want or what I want to study in graduate school,” she said.

Olson, from Grayslake, Ill., is a philosophy major who plans to explore inner-city community gardens in Denmark, India, Nepal, Japan, Australia and Brazil.

“In recent decades, food contamination scares, climate change and uncertain energy politics have intensified the interest in gardening worldwide,” she said. “In the cities that I visit as a Watson Fellow I will investigate all aspects of the establishment, maintenance and preservation of community gardens by speaking with gardeners, community leaders, organizations and city officials. I am interested in the ways people enact visions for the future, solve problems and resolve conflict around community space. Exploring cities on foot, I will see what frustrates and inspires gardeners and discover the individual innovations that imbue the city with character and life.”

During her senior year of high school, Olson worked on an organic farm and was interested in sustainable agriculture. She said she became interested in urban community gardens through the Community Gardens class at Rice and her work with the nonprofit organization Urban Harvest. She helped launch the Real Food Revolution, a student club that focuses on local and sustainable food for Rice. She credited the Parish Fellowship offered through Rice’s Wiess College for developing her confidence to travel alone in a foreign country when she visited South Africa to explore the contemporary art scene there.

Olson said that after her Watson Fellowship, she plans to build up inner-city community gardens in Chicago or Los Angeles through the nonprofit sector, and she might pursue an art degree focusing on public arts as it relates to urban community space and food.

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Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,920 undergraduates and 2,567 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6.3-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice has been ranked No. 1 for best quality of life multiple times by the Princeton Review and No. 2 for “best value” among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go to http://tinyurl.com/AboutRiceU.

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