Davidson Students Awarded Watson Fellowships for Travel Abroad
March 22, 2001
by Alexandra Obregon '00
Davidson College seniors Ben Carter and Liz Neiheisel have received Thomas J. Watson Fellowships to follow their interests to the far corners of the world. They are among sixty outstanding college seniors across the country to receive the prestigious $22,000 grants, which finance a year of independent study and travel abroad.
The fellowship will send Carter, a native of Russell, Ky., to China, India, Peru, and Cuba to explore his fascination with farming communities, sustainable agriculture, and what he calls "a misplaced romantic vision of agrarian life." Neiheisel will use the award to study street newspapers for homeless people in Russia, Romania, Ukraine, and Hungary.
Carter, an English major, will study the efficiency of cultural, organic farming techniques used by local farmers, which he believes are epitomized in the Hindi phrase amhimsic krishi, "nonviolent agriculture."
Carter said his Watson proposal stems not only from his interests in environmentalism, but also from an interest in experiential education and community building. He explained that subsistence farming carries important lessons about land as community, rather than commodity.
"Spending all day inside, reading, writing papers, going to meetings--it becomes easy to forget that our health depends upon the land's health," he said. "I am convinced that reestablishing our awareness of and responsibility to the non-human world is one of the most urgent issues of our time."
Carter is a William Holt Terry Scholar at Davidson, as well as president of Co-Ho Eating House, and a member of the College Union Board.
Neiheisel explained that street newspapers are part of an emerging movement in Eastern Europe to educate the public about homelessness. Integrating her interests in journalism and social service, Neiheisel will travel to five former Soviet-bloc cities to study the circumstances contributing to homelessness, evaluate the services available for the homeless, and analyze the contributions of the street newspapers to alleviation of the problem.
"The newspapers are a source of income for the vendors, who are homeless themselves," she explained. "But they are also a source of information for the patrons, and a rare source of truth about life in post-Soviet countries."
Working with local publishers, Neiheisel plans to conduct interviews with writers, vendors, and patrons of the newspapers, and with homeless individuals, and local government officials.
Neiheisel first became interested in the subject while attending a non-fiction writing workshop in St. Petersburg, Russia, during her junior year abroad. Working on assignment for the workshop, she covered a story about the Salvation Army that led her to interact with homeless people.
She looks forward to learning more about the street newspaper movement through her Watson experience. "This is the research project of a lifetime," she said.
Neiheisel is a Center for Interdisciplinary Studies major at Davidson. She has been a contributor to The Davidsonian student newspaper, and the journal, PRIMA (Perspectives on International and Multicultural Affairs). She has been active in various community service programs, including Hands on Charlotte, Room in the Inn, and Leaps and Bounds--a middle school enrichment program she co-founded. Neiheisel is also a Bonner Service Scholar, and holds Neal, Massey and Jenkins scholarships.
Since 1968, the Thomas J. Watson Foundation's Fellowship Program has granted more than 2,000 awards with stipends totaling approximately $23-million. About sixty Davidson students have received Watson Fellowships since the inception of the program.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson recently launched "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.