Tag: Thomas J. Watson Foundation

Two Lawrence seniors named Watson Fellows, set for year of global learning

Ricardo Jimenez ’21 and Ben Portzen ’21 are part of the 53rd class of Watson Fellows.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Two Lawrence University seniors have been named national recipients of prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowships, setting them up for a year of global travel and immersive learning.

Ricardo Jimenez ’21, a biology and music performance (trumpet) double major from Barrington, Illinois, and Ben Portzen ’21, a music composition major from Rosemount, Minnesota, were announced as part of the 53rd class of Watson Fellows, making them the 67th and 68th Lawrentians to be awarded a Watson since 1969.

This marks the first time Lawrence has had two Watson recipients in the same year since 2005.

“The Watson is all about chasing one’s dreams,” said Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory and lead advisor for the school’s Watson applications. “This year, perhaps more than any other, it feels good to know that two Lawrentians will travel around the globe to do just that.”

The Watson provides $36,000 in funding for a year-long wanderjahr of independent travel and exploration following college graduation.

Jimenez will travel to China, India, Mongolia, and Brazil, exploring the ways voice can help people rediscover their roots: “How do we communicate beyond language?” he said in his proposal. “How do the ways we express ourselves inform who we are and where we belong? I will explore these questions through the voice, singing around the world to engage with the life and culture of the voice, as well as my own roots.”

Portzen will travel to Japan, Nepal, France, Germany, and Iceland to explore how art can help inform our journey: “What role can art play in imagining and building a more equitable, sustainable, and compassionate future?” he said in his proposal. “I will explore how — across a variety of traditions, locales, and media — art makes space for the unknown to be embraced, and transformed from feared into fascinating.”

Jimenez: “I was humbled”

Ricardo Jimenez ’21

Jimenez has excelled in the Conservatory as a trumpet player, but he also found his voice in jazz and Latin-influenced music with encouragement and guidance from Director of Jazz Studies José Encarnación and lecturer of music Janet Planet.

The Chicago-born Jimenez has family roots in Puerto Rico and he said his journey to understand how singing can express who we are and where we are started for him as far back as pre-school. When he sang a song in class in Spanish, a teacher scolded him, telling him he could only sing in English.

“That was a very humiliating moment and it’s just stayed with me,” Jimenez said. “It was so powerful to me that I actually stopped speaking Spanish for a number of years. I wanted to fit in. In a way, some of my cultural identity died that day.”

By the time he got to high school, he was singing, but only privately, only with his family as an audience. But when he arrived at Lawrence as a trumpet player, he was encouraged to sing as well, to embrace salsa and the other Latin music he adored.

Two years ago, Encarnación redirected the Lawrence University Jazz Band into a Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban ensemble. The group went on to earn a coveted Downbeat award in the Latin Group category, and Jimenez was inspired.

“He allowed me to sing and play percussion and that was like the most alive and the most myself that I had ever felt on a stage,” Jimenez said. “That’s how I knew there is something really powerful to this and I have to figure out if this is just me or if this is something that perhaps is innately human, that all cultures and people share.”

That led him to the highly competitive Watson application. The news came earlier this week that he had been accepted.

“It was such a surreal experience,” he said of getting the message from the Watson Foundation. “It was something I was not expecting just because I know it’s so competitive and I know the kind of applications they get are from some of the brightest young minds around the country. I was humbled, to say the least.”

Portzen: “I’m still riding high”

Ben Portzen ’21

Portzen’s Watson journey will be all about discovery. He said he’s fascinated by the unknowns in our lives and the ways art can help define and inform our journeys.

“My project takes as its departure point the intersection of art and the unknown,” he said. “In my four years at Lawrence, studying composition, improvisation, art history, and dance, I’ve found this relationship increasingly compelling both intellectually and personally.”

Gaining insights through the arts can lessen the fear that often accompanies the unknown, Portzen said. He hopes his exploration of different cultures and locales will shed light on that concept.

“While I am deeply passionate about exploring this in my own art-making, what drove me to channel this passion into a Watson Fellowship is the recognition that in our world of globalized unknowns – from environmental degradation to racial injustice to global pandemics – expansive creativity is not a luxury but a necessity as we imagine a more sustainable, equitable, and compassionate future for our world,” he said.

“As I immerse myself in the unique artistic cultures of Japan, Nepal, France, Germany, and Iceland, studying everything from the relationship between light and shade in traditional Japanese architecture to artificially intelligent music making in France, my aim is to experience art’s role in this process; its power to keep us in touch with our humanity, to inspire and challenge, to heal – to take us into the unknown with arms open ready to embrace it.”

Portzen said he was a bit late getting word that he had been named a Watson Fellow. For two weeks he had been checking his phone constantly, awaiting a yes or a no. When the announcement was made on Monday, he didn’t see the message immediately, instead finding out in a congratulations Facebook message from Meghan Murphy ’19, Lawrence’s most recent Watson winner.

“Twenty-four hours later, I’m still riding high on the news but have already gotten to work solidifying plans with my contacts in each country,” Portzen said.

The journey begins

Jimenez and Portzen are among 42 graduating seniors selected for Watson Fellowships out of 158 finalists. The recipients come from 22 states and eight countries.

The announcement of the 2021 Watson class comes even as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. If international travel conditions are deemed safe, all of the fellows are expected to depart Aug. 1. If conditions do not allow that, the fellows will be granted a deferral period.

Watson Fellows are selected from 41 private colleges and universities across the United States that partner with the Watson Foundation. More than 3,000 Watson Fellows have been named since the inaugural class in 1969.

The Watson Foundation dates back to 1961, created as a charitable trust in the name of Thomas J. Watson Sr., best known for building IBM. It works with students to develop personal, professional, and cultural opportunities that build their confidence and perspective to be more humane and effective leaders with a world view.

Being a Watson Fellow is a special life-changing opportunity, said Pertl, himself a Watson Fellow in 1986.

“Ricardo has a special knack for building community through his music,” he said. “This will serve him well as he explores the world, and himself, through song. And Ben, he is part philosopher and part composer with a wildly playful approach to the creative process.  When he told me he wanted to explore how art-makers could explore the vast unknown, hold space for the vast unknown, I knew he had found his perfect Watson.” 

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Murphy wins a Watson Fellowship, eyes violin-inspired exploration

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Meghan Murphy has an opportunity to take her violin on the road.

The Lawrence University senior from Wauwatosa was notified Friday that she is one of 41 national recipients of a Watson Fellowship for a year-long wanderjahr of independent travel and exploration. Like all applicants, she has a grace period to decide if she will accept it.

Head shot of Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy ’19

Based on her Watson application, she would head to India, Norway, Azerbaijan, Ireland and Mexico to explore musical traditions that incorporate violins and violin-like instruments.

“From the Azerbaijani kamancha to the Norwegian fiddle, similar physical tools express vastly contrasting styles of music,” Murphy said in her Watson statement. “Whether for dance or lullabies, these instruments allow people to create community and speak their souls. The violin is deeply ingrained in my own cultural and emotional experience.

“During my Watson, I will immerse myself in violin traditions, learning the nuances that allow this versatile instrument to slip between cultures.”

Murphy, who has been a recipient of the Kim Hiett Jordan Scholarship at Lawrence, is the 66th Lawrentian to win a Watson fellowship since 1969.

“I am extremely grateful to all the professors, staff, and students at Lawrence — particularly my advisors — who have invested their time and energy to help me see the best in myself,” Murphy said Friday after getting the news of her Watson selection. “I would not be in the position, and much less have the confidence, to apply for and receive the Watson without this incredible community.” 

Murphy is studying violin performance and religious studies at Lawrence.

She is part of the 51st class of Thomas J. Watson Fellows. The Watson provides funding for a year of purposeful international discovery for graduating college seniors in any discipline. This year’s class hails from six countries and 18 states, and fellows will travel to 76 countries exploring a wide range of topics.

Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, said Murphy’s curiosity of music and of the world around her would serve her well on a year-long Watson journey.

“Meghan has everything it takes to make the very most of her dream to study violin traditions from around the globe,” Pertl said. “She is a wonderful violinist who brings with her infinite curiosity, and a gift for picking up her violin and jumping into any music setting you can possibly imagine.”

For information on applying for a Watson Fellowship, click here

Murphy admits she had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the violin during childhood. But by the time she reached high school, she was fully hooked on what she calls the “emotional messiness of music.” And during a year of study in China between high school and enrolling at Lawrence, she had a moment that spoke to the power of the music she is so drawn to.

“I think about the time when I was homesick in southern China and began playing Bach’s Chaconne in my room,” Murphy wrote in her personal statement, part of the Watson application. “An old woman from a nearby village heard and came to listen. I did not understand her village’s language and she could not read or write, but she showed me pictures of the beautiful Batik art she creates and I played for her. It was an incredibly meaningful moment of shared humanity.

“We still sometimes send pictures or recordings to each other, even though we have no way to communicate through words.”

Murphy anticipates more emotional connections via music as she prepares for a year of study that would take her around the globe.

According to her project proposal, she plans to first head to Norway in September, where she would study the hardanger fiddle. She’d be there for about three months, and would be seeking opportunities to perform with local music groups.

“When I was young, I used to attend barn dances and was enchanted by the echoing sound of this fiddle,” she said.

She would then head to Pune, India, located on the western side of India, where she’d study the Hindustani violin.

Then it would be on to Mexico, where she’d study violin techniques with a professor of music at the Conservatorio de las Rosas in Morelia. The professor, Julian Vazquez, “collaborates with four different styles of traditional music ensembles from musically significant regions in Mexico,” Murphy said. “These include Son huasteco, Purepecha music and ensembles from Michoacan and Guerrero.”

Next would be a visit to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, where she would study the kamancha, an instrument similar to the Chinese erhu.

Her last stop would be in Ireland, where, among other things, she would learn traditional Irish fiddling and to better connect her violin to dance.

“Learning new styles of music will expose me to the histories, languages, values, and cultures of many countries,” Murphy said. “As I continue my path in pursuit of failure and growth, I will also improve skills like improvising, learning by ear, and collaborative composing.

“Most importantly, however, I will continue the long process of learning how to make people dance or cry through the voice of the violin.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Bridging Cultural Gaps: Senior Sam Genualdi will travel the globe in search of musical collaborations as Watson Fellow

Music has always been a part of Sam Genualdi’s DNA.

A Head shot of Lawrence University student Sam Genualdi
Sam Genualdi ’17

He grew up as a serial instrumentalist, working his way through a litany of recommendations from his parents — violin, piano, percussion, double bass — but it wasn’t until he taught himself to play the guitar at the age of 15 that he found his sweet spot.

“When I picked up the guitar, it felt like something on my terms,” said Genualdi, a senior at Lawrence University from Evanston, Ill. “I felt like I was rebelling against my parents through the electric guitar.”

As his musical interests evolved, he discovered collaborating with other musicians was vital to his creative process. Later this year, Genualdi will embark on a year-long musical “binge” to feed his creative hunger that will take him around the world to engage in collaborations with musicians he’s never met.

Genualdi, a student-designed contemporary improvisation major at Lawrence, has been named one of 40 national recipients of a $30,000 Watson Fellowship for a wanderjahr of independent travel and exploration. Beginning in August, Genualdi will spend 12 months visiting Scotland, Peru, Indonesia, India and Japan.

“I plan to spend my Watson year in five countries steeped in unfamiliar musical traditions,” said Genualdi, Lawrence’s 72nd Watson Fellow since the program’s inception in 1969. “Music can be a powerful tool to bridge cultural gaps. I hope to co-create music that makes this evident. I want to engage in musical collaborations that push against the boundaries of existing genres.

“I have always thrived on collaboration,” added Genualdi, who has had plenty of opportunities as a member of numerous groups and ensembles at Lawrence, including the small jazz combos, the improvisation group IGLU, Gamelan Cahaya Asri and the Sambistas Brazilian drumming group, among others. “While I’ve done a fair amount of solitary work as a musician, the experiences that most excite me are those that involve interacting with other people.”

At each of his global destinations, Genualdi plans to meet musicians he hopes to work with by attending concerts and jam sessions. He will approach local musicians as a student to develop relationships and more effectively absorb the culture.

Sam is infinitely curious about sonic possibilities and how improvisation and collaboration can create
musical worlds yet unimagined.”

— Brian Pertl, dean of the conservatory of music

“Taking lessons will give me the opportunity to interact with these musicians on a personal level, accumulate skills and expand my musical vocabulary,” said Genuldi. “I may learn a new instrument to gain perspective, but mainly I intend to communicate musically through my primary voice, the guitar.”

In Scotland, Genualdi will focus on the country’s rich history of stringed instruments, including guitar. In Peru, he will work with within Afro-Peruvian music traditions which combine African, European and native influences.

“Afro-Peruvian music along with the salsa and flamenco traditions prevalent in Lima involve unique forms of improvisation,” said Genualdi. “My background in jazz will help me find common repertoire to play with locals because of the relatively recent surge in the fusion of jazz and local traditions.”

January will find Genualdi in Bali where he looks to expand his experience with Indonesian music, which has been limited to his work with Gamelan Cahaya Asr. The following three months will take him to India, where traditions of improvisation in Hindustani music run deep. Much of his time there will focus on working with several highly regarded sitarists.

The final three months of his travels will be spent in Tokyo’s vibrant musical community with its improvised and experimental music scene. Genualdi calls the enthusiasm in Japan for fringe musical projects “inspiring.”

A photo of Lawrence University student Sam Genualdi playing his guitar.
When it comes to instruments, the guitar serves as Sam Genualdi’s “voice” of choice.

Brian Pertl, dean of the conservatory of music and Lawrence’s campus liaison to the Watson Foundation, calls Genualdi “an explorer of sound.”

“Sam is infinitely curious about sonic possibilities and how improvisation and collaboration can create musical worlds yet unimagined,” said Pertl, himself a Watson Fellow in 1986 as a Lawrence senior. “He has been pushing the boundaries of improvisation during his time at Lawrence and now will have an opportunity to explore his passion across the globe. I can’t wait to see what new musical concoctions will emerge from his grand adventure.”

Genualdi says the Watson experience will deepen his relationship to music and profoundly affect every aspect of his life moving forward.

“The musical experiences I’ll have in each country is sure to be different, but each will help   bring into focus a larger picture of the human experience. Music is an important part of lives across the globe and I am intensely inspired by discovering these connections.”

Genualdi was selected for the Watson Fellowship from among 149 finalists nominated by 40 leading liberal arts colleges. This year’s 49th class of Watson Fellows hail from 21 states and six countries and will collectively visit 67 countries.

More than 2,700 students have been awarded Watson Fellowships, providing opportunities to test their aspirations, abilities and perseverance through a personal project that is cultivated on an international scale. Watson Fellows have gone on to become international leaders in their fields including CEOs of major corporations, college presidents, MacArthur grant recipients, Pulitzer Prize winners, diplomats, artists, lawyers, doctors, faculty, journalists, and many renowned researchers and innovators.

The fellowship was established by the children of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., the founder of International Business Machines Corp., and his wife, Jeannette, to honor their parents’ long-standing interest in education and world affairs.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.”  Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Two Lawrence University Seniors Named Recipients of $22,000 Fellowships for Year-Long Study Abroad Projects

Cross-cultural interactions — one musical, the other migratory — lie at the heart of two year-long study abroad adventures a pair of Lawrence University seniors will embark upon later this year as the college’s latest Watson Fellows.

Benjamin Klein, a music performance (tuba) and theory/composition major from Sheboygan, and Kelly Scheer, a biology major from Lisbon, Iowa, were among two of the 50 recipients of a $22,000 fellowship announced Tuesday (3/15) by the Providence, R.I.-based Thomas J. Watson Foundation. The fellowship supports a “wanderjahr,” a year of independent travel and exploration outside the United States on a topic of the student’s choosing.

Klein and Scheer were selected for the fellowship from 184 nominees representing 50 of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges and universities. They are the 63rd and 64th Lawrence students awarded a Watson Fellowship since the program’s inception in 1969.

Denied a request as a fifth-grader to take up the drums on the parental logic that they were “too loud,” Klein instead turned his musical interests to the tuba. Two years later as a seventh-grader, he secretly purchased a manuscript book and began composing music.

Today, as equal parts performer and composer, Klein wants to expand his non-traditional perception of what music is, a view that emphasizes interaction in any environment between the artists themselves or the artists and their audience. To that end, beginning in July, he will use his fellowship for trips to Amsterdam, Sydney and Hong Kong to explore innovating music by crossing cultural boundaries.

“These three cities are alight with new ideas,” said Klein. “Since the 1960s, Amsterdam has become a center for new music. The importance of music in the cultural life of Syndey is recognized throughout the world in the sail-like shells of its famous opera house, but it is little known that popular musicians are producing new and creative works for an innovative music theatre scene. And in Hong Kong, there is the collision of Western and non-Western, democratic and communist cultures, a dichotomy that has exploded into one of the world’s biggest and most dynamic metropolises.”

Klein plans to stir music’s melting pot by contacting numerous acclaimed tuba players and composers in the three locales as well as by establishing relationships with young and emerging musicians and artists through important international music festivals held in or near each city.

“I may meet a percussionist who specializes in Indonesian drumming and is looking for other musicians to start a new ensemble or a choreographer who needs music for a dance portraying the construction of a Chinese skyscraper or a sculptor who wants a sound installation made up of clinking metal to accompany a new exhibition of mobiles,” Klein said, explaining how he hopes to incorporate the element of “artistic interaction” to create musical innovations.

As a tuba player, Klein has performed with the Lawrence University Symphony Orchestra, jazz and wind ensembles and the Improvisation Group of Lawrence University. His work as a composer has been recognized with the Pi Kappa Lambda Composition Award and the James Ming Scholarship in Composition.

“Through my composition and my tuba performance, I have tried to realize music’s freedom,” says Klein. “I want to celebrate and share that freedom. As a restless musician, the orchestra or institution can not contain the interactions that I deem so important.

“My fellowship will enable me to discover the full import that contemporary music can have in the specific places where this music is having the most dynamic impact,” Klein added. “Working with emerging musicians with unique cultural perspectives will stretch my own creative boundaries.”

As a child, Scheer enjoyed learning about long and arduous journeys, whether it was American settlers working their way west on the Oregon Trail or the arrival of robins and redwing blackbirds each spring from some far-away place. She never lost that fascination with long-distance travels, especially for birds, and admits she still remains in awe of their migratory trips.

Scheer’s Watson fellowship will take her to the Far East for a year, where she will turn her interest with bird migration into scientific study of one of the world’s longest and most important migratory bird routes, the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Covering 20 countries and stretching from Russia’s Siberia to New Zealand’s south island, the flyway annually provides navigational guideposts for more than 50 species and an estimated five million individual migratory shorebirds.

During her year abroad, Sheer, like her study subjects, will travel the length of the 15,000-mile flyway herself. Along the way, she will visit the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in the Phillipines, Moreton Bay near Brisbane in Australia, the sanctuaries of Firth of Thames and Firewell Spit along the coasts of New Zealand’s north and south islands, respectively, and the western coast of South Korea along the Yellow Sea. She will end her journey with a three-month stay at the Moroshechnoye Estuary on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. At each stop, Scheer will study not just the shorebirds themselves, but the habitat conservation efforts made in those countries as well.

“In each of these countries, I want to design field work and observational studies to investigate the various shorebird species and their migratory behavior,” said Scheer, who is spending the winter and spring terms in Costa Rica on an off-campus study program through the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. “These studies may include a census of shorebird species to gather data on their diversity or the number of species in the community and their relative abundance. I also would like to execute surveys of the shoreline regions in order to examine the status of the existing habitat for these birds.”

One of the central aspects of Scheer’s project will be gaining an understanding through interviews with local scientists as well as local citizens as to the types of interactions the public and the birds have and the “sense of place” the shorebirds hold in each culture.

“I want to find out what conservation actions are in place to protect the birds and their habitat,” said Scheer, who undertook an independent summer research study of bat activity in Door County last summer. “I want to try to determine how the public responds to these conservation attempts and what role the birds play in the local culture. Do they have any religious or historical significance? Do the long-distance flights of these birds evoke a sense of awe and wonder in these people as they do me? ”
While age, experience and education have answered many of the questions Scheer playfully entertained as a child about birds, she says she is still “utterly enthralled” by birds’ self-propelled passages around the globe.

“Migratory birds are so incredibly in tune with their environment in ways that humans can not comprehend,” said Scheer. “They are truly global citizens, ignoring the artificial borders governments have delineated. I have always wondered what it must be like for a migratory bird and my fellowship project will provide me the closest glimpse possible.

“I am ready for the challenges, both mental and physical, this project will afford me,” Scheer added. “I’m eager to spread my own wings and soar.”

The Watson Fellowship Program was established by the children of Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder of IBM Corporation, and his wife, Jeannette, to honor their parents’ long-standing interest in education and world affairs. Watson Fellows are selected on the basis of the nominee’s character, academic record, leadership potential, willingness to delve into another culture and the personal significance of the project proposal.