Wheaton seniors Jennifer Bombasaro-Brady and Ru-Shyan Yen are two of 50 college students nationwide selected today to receive a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. The $25,000 award will support a year of travel and research for each student. Bombasaro-Brady plans to investigate the social significance of historical re-enactments; Yen will explore varied artistic techniques for creating batik.
The Thomas J. Watson Foundation awards 50 fellowships to college seniors of unusual promise for a year of independent exploration and travel outside the United States. Nearly 1,000 students from up to 50 selective private liberal arts colleges and universities apply for these awards each year. This year, 175 finalists competed on the national level, after their institutions nominated them in the autumn.
“Wheaton students consistently show that they are world-class scholars,” said President Ronald A. Crutcher. “I congratulate Jennifer and Ru-Shyan on their accomplishments, and the faculty and staff members who advised them in putting together such interesting research plans.”
A double major in history and sociology, Bombasaro-Brady intends to observe and participate in historical reenactments in six countries, grappling with “questions of whether reenactment is a useful educational tool, and how its expression reflects current social and political dialogue….” Her research will take her to Argentina, Scotland, Germany, Japan, Australia and Russia.
The Hingham, Mass. resident traces her interest in historical reenactments to participating with her father in reenactments of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. While studying in South Africa, she learned about Afrikaners’ reenactment of the Great Trek from the Western Cape to Pretoria and observed historical performances by villagers in a former homeland area of South Africa. She also has observed reenactments in Peru as well.”
Reenacting affords me a degree of reflection on my role in the modern world and serves as a connection to the past,” Bombasaro-Brady wrote in her proposal to the Watson Foundation. “This experience will equip me with a sense of global citizenship, improved intercultural knowledge and an understanding of how people around the world identify with their own history.
Following her year of study, Bombasaro-Brady said she intends to teach history at the secondary school level before pursuing a doctorate in social history and a master’s degree in public policy. “I hope that my study of reenactments will allow me to be a better history teacher, more able to understand the nuances of my students’ views about the world and how they are shaped.”
Yen intends to observe and work alongside batik artists in Europe and Asia to study how they transform the influences of culture and community into their own unique designs. The studio art major’s research plans reflect her interest in how artists’ communicate their unique personalities and perceptions while creating batiks, an artform that has endured for millennia and been adopted in countless cultures.
“For my own journey into the world of batiks, I have specifically chosen to look at the designs created in Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and West Africa,” she said. “These are countries that have been touched by ancient trade routes between Eastern and Western civilization.”
Currently a resident of Pittsburgh, Yen was born in Taiwan and studied in Italy last year. She credits her experience in Italy with heightening her awareness of the interplay between an individual artist’s background and her surroundings. “In Italy this year, I was constantly reminded of my Chinese features and continuously forced to define myself and my identity to others around me,” she said. “The batiks I made in [Italy] were extensions of myself and exposed this inner battle between East and West.”
Yen plans to pursue a career in art following the year of work and research that will be funded by the Watson Foundation. “As long as my hands and my mind are engaged in the process of creation, I will be living my life goals,” she said.
The Thomas J. Watson Foundation was created in 1961 as a charitable trust by Mrs. Thomas J. Watson, Sr., in honor of her late husband, the founder of International Business Machines Corp., widely known as IBM. The Watson Fellowship was established seven years later and has granted fellowships to more than 2,300 undergraduates, with stipends totaling more than $29 million.