Exploring Environmental Solutions through Natural Sciences, Arts, and Culture

Senior Michelle Dan has been selected to receive a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Dan, who is a senior majoring in geobiology, will spend a year abroad studying humanity's impact on the planet from intersecting perspectives in the fields of biology, geology, the arts, and agriculture.

Dan's project, titled "Offbeat and Upbeat in the Anthropocene," was inspired by her experiences during a semester abroad in Australia.

"Indigenous Australians, the oldest continuous human cultures, don’t separate the concept of nature from anything else," she says. "There is no distinction or hierarchy between a person and the soil, a wallaby, or a raindrop. These ways of thinking offer a powerful alternative to the overexploitation of the planet.”

During her Watson year, she plans to delve into unique solutions to global environmental problems in "unlikely intersections of science, art, agriculture, and indigenous culture," according to her project proposal. Dan plans to travel to Panama, Indonesia, the Philippines, Mexico, and Cyprus.

"Michelle studied abroad at the University of Melbourne, Australia, from July 2017 to November 2017," says Lauren Stolper, director of Fellowships Advising and Study Abroad (FASA). "She showed her zest for new experiences, interest in learning about a new culture, and an ability to travel independently. This experience helped identify her as an outstanding candidate for the Watson."

"Michelle's fervor for life, art, nature, and science will be fully explored on her Watson year as she adventurously pursues her project after graduating," adds Meghan Kuroda, assistant director of FASA. "It is always incredibly exciting for us in the FASA office when the study abroad students continue to jump into global experiences and fellowships in order to keep traveling the world."

This is the 51st class of Thomas J. Watson Fellows; the first year of fellows went abroad in 1969. The program was established in memory of Thomas J. Watson, former chairman and CEO of IBM. Previous Watson Fellows include Michelle Wang (BS '18), who studied how bioelectrical and biomechanical augmentation will affect humanity; Lauren Li (BS '17), who studied the effects of music therapy on trauma survivors; Janani Mandayam Comar (BS '15), who used dance to reflect the experiences of various "outsider" communities; and Aaron Krupp (BS '15), who worked on low-tech projects to improve the quality of life at sites in India, Southeast Asia, and Nepal.

Watson Fellows have gone on to become CEOs of major corporations; college presidents; Emmy, Grammy and Oscar winners; Pulitzer Prize awardees; and other luminaries of their respective fields.

Written by Lori Dajose