Five 5-C graduating seniors were granted prestigious Watson fellowships by the Thomas J. Watson Foundation. Anoush Suni PO ’09, Irene Toro Martinez PO’09, Brian Dolphin PI ’09, Kyle Delbyck SC ’09, and Brandon Horn HM ’09 are five of 40 students nationwide who will each receive a $28,000 grant for a year of independent study outside the United States.
The Watson fellowship is awarded to graduating seniors at 47 participating colleges and universities nationwide for one year of travel outside of the United States. Watson fellows must leave the country by Aug. 1 and pursue their projects for a full year.
Suni, a Middle East studies major, will explore how Armenia, Jordan, and Turkey express their cultures differently through the oud, a Middle Eastern lute invented in Iran and forerunner to the western lute and the guitar.
“I applied for the Watson so I could explore all of these traditions at once,” said Suni. “And going back to Armenia would be getting back to my roots and learning Armenian music more.”
Suni first became interested in the oud when she began learning Armenian folk music at a very young age on the violin. While she found no oud teacher back home, she was able to take oud lessons in Yemen several summers ago, becoming fascinated by Middle Eastern music as well as Armenian music.
Suni found the perfect opportunity to fulfill this dream when she first heard about the Watson. Although she originally had planned to attain a Fulbright fellowship, she was intrigued by the idea of the Watson.
“With the Watson, I could study music instead of just some academic subject,” Suni said. “I could study whatever I want; I could pursue my dreams.”
Dolphin intends to use the fellowship funding to better understand the music of nature and the nature of music.
“I’m going to learn music and talk to people about music and see how it is a means of communication between worlds, between nature and man, between God and man,” Dolphin said. “Basically to understand what music is, I guess that’s the prime motive.”
Dolphin, with a self-designed philosophy major and a music minor, plans on traveling to Bali, Tuva, Norway, India, and Cameroon, where he plans on listening to and learning their traditional music.
“What is in all these places is a music that derives from direct interaction with other [animal] species,” said Dolphin. “I want to get to musics that still commune with nature.”
Delbyck will study a different art form, theater, and its role in shaping memory in post-conflict countries. She plans to travel to Lithuania, Cambodia, Ghana, and Taiwan.
“It’s mainly about how people remember things and what people choose to forget in post-conflict societies, and how that’s related to theater,” Delbyck said.
After studying abroad last year in Northern Ireland and South Africa—both post-conflict societies—Delbyck, a history major, became fascinated by the stark differences in people’s memories of the past.
“I was really struck by how people had such different views of the past and how they would choose to include certain things and not other things,” said Delbyck. “Their memories were so different from each other, and I got interested in why that is and which memories people choose to keep and to forget.”
The theatrical aspect of Delbyck’s Watson stems from her high school passion for playwrighting.
“I think theater really does challenge certain concepts of history sometimes and also strengthens certain dominant notions of history at other times,” said Delbyck. “So it’s a cool combination.”
Martinez, an astrophysics and German double major, will delve into how different cultures perceive time.
“I was trying to look at different scales of time, and so I was looking at natural events and each of those places has something unique about it that works on a different scale,” she said.
Martinez will travel to Spain, Mexico, Norway, and Chile. In Mexico, for instance, an annual monarch butterfly migration marks the passage of time, while volcanoes serve the same purpose in Chile.
“I initially went into it wanting to study the effect of natural environment on people’s perception on time,” Martinez said. “Now it’s still that, but I’m approaching it from a more cultural angle. I’m going to ask people to share with me their folklore, their mythologies, their lifestyles, and see what factors go into how they think about time.”
Martinez first became interested in time perception from reading about it from an abstract point of view, but then started applying it to herself.
“My own time perception depended on where I was living, what I was doing with my time,” Martinez said. “And so I thought it would be interesting to look at the broader question.”
Horn, an astrophysics major, will study how different cultures understand the night sky while showing them how he himself views the universe.
“I think of astronomy as the perfect gateway to getting people to think about science, and it is one field that transcends all culture,” said Horn.
Traveling to Australia, China, Namibia, Sweden, Chile, and Peru, Horn will bring telescopes with him to let others look through them and make their own observations. He hopes this will help him become an effective teacher and inspire others to study science.
Despite the uniqueness of each project, the Watson fellows all share a characteristic.
“One thing I think is common for all of us Watson people is that this idea just didn’t come up at the dawn of senior year,” Dolphin said. “It’s something that’s been brewing in all of us for many, many years.”