Next month, 40 lucky students from liberal arts colleges around the country will be accepted into the prestigious Watson Fellowship program, through which they will receive a $30,000 stipend and embark on a year-long global research project.
No Claremont McKenna College students will be among them.
In 2002, a CMC Watson recipient broke one of the program’s cardinal rules: Depending on the rumor, the student either returned to the United States during the year abroad or never left at all.
“I do know that the student in question basically betrayed the confidence of the Watson Foundation and of CMC, and … ended up violating the terms associated with the fellowship,” said Brian Davidson, CMC’s director of fellowship advising.
Regardless of the specific violation, CMC was eliminated from the pool of eligible Watson schools.
Davidson, who started his current job in 2015, said the college has had “a number of positive discussions” with the Watson Foundation both before and after he arrived at CMC. Ultimately, he said, it comes down to space.
“I think some students and administrators, even, may have this perception that Watson is out to get us or holds a long grudge — I don’t think that’s true,” Davidson said. “They have this list and they’re sort of set up to only receive a certain number of applications. They’re definitely happy to keep us under consideration, it’s just that another opening needs to arise on their list. Either that or they need to raise more funds to expand the number.”
Watson Foundation members did not reply to requests for comment.
Davidson said he’s made the case to Watson that CMC differs from other colleges that might be considered for fellowship eligibility because the other four Claremont colleges are Watson Fellowship members.
A Pomona College student, for instance, might “talk about the Watson a bit with other students, they say, ‘Oh hey, that sounds great, let me go talk to Brian about it,’ and I have to say, ‘Well, I’m sorry, it’s not open to you,’” Davidson said, noting that he fields Watson questions from about two or three curious CMC students each year.
“If we were another random liberal arts college isolated from Watson schools, there wouldn’t be this strong undercurrent of interest,” he added.
Three students from the other Claremont colleges were awarded fellowships last year, including Julia Thomas SC ’17. Thomas has traveled to Nepal, India, Zimbabwe, and South Africa studying citizen journalism, and plans to visit Spain and Ecuador before she returns home.
“My fellowship experience has been incredible,” Thomas said. “It’s a constant balancing of careful planning and reaching out/organizing, living in the moment, reflecting, and winging it.” Thomas thinks the fellowship’s requirement that recipients remain outside the U.S. “is important, for reasons of immersion and being fully present in the experience without a disruption or return to familiarity,” but believes the rule “could be more flexible and accommodating for personal situations.”
She hopes CMC students will be able to apply for Watson in the near future.
“I knew a couple of people at CMC who would have loved to apply but were unable,” she said. “It is unfortunate that one student’s breaking of a rule strictly upheld by the Watson has eliminated the possibility for others students to participate as fellows.”
Meanwhile, CMC students interested in foreign cultures and studying abroad after college will have to look elsewhere — or be patient. Davidson is “close to pretty confident” CMC will eventually be restored to Watson eligibility.
“It’s really hard to say when,” he said.