Two Hendrix College Seniors Receive Thomas J. Watson Fellowships

Hendrix College students Claire Fleming ’20, an interdisciplinary studies (innovation and entrepreneurship) major from Bliss, Michigan, and Mackenzie Gearin ’20, an interdisciplinary studies (social economics) major and mathematics minor from Star Prairie, Wisconsin, have been announced as members of the 52nd class of Thomas J. Watson Fellows.

The Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant for purposeful, independent study outside the United States, awarded to graduating seniors nominated by one of 40 partner colleges. Fleming and Gearin are the 36th and 37th Hendrix students to receive a Watson Fellowship. (See the full list

Fleming’s Watson Fellowship project, “Enhanced Livelihood: Seeking Intentional Workplace Practice,” will take her to Uganda, Kenya, India, and Colombia as she pursues her interest in studying how individuals’ socioeconomic status at birth influences their prosperity and quality of working life.

Fleming first learned about the Watson Fellowship early in her time at Hendrix from previous Watson Fellow Jessa Thurman ’16 and Bailey Library Director Britt Anne Murphy, who serves as the College’s Watson liaison. “I realized there was an entire community of people embodying the ideals I had always held as sacred and inaccessible inside my head,” Fleming said. “With that inspiration, I have sought to push past fear and try to embody the spirit of the fellowship in every step of my journey, which has led to many breakdowns and failures. I am so grateful failure has faithfully led to small pieces of invaluable wisdom for me. The most important thing I have gained is a community of friends and colleagues I owe every success to and still depend upon entirely. I am so ready and excited to join with international comrades to see standard-defying solutions to haunting workplace issues. I hope for this experience to expand my understanding of community and its role in working spaces.”

Gearin’s project, “From Persecution to Refuge: Grassroots Peacebuilding in Displacement,” includes travel to Colombia, Kenya, Uganda, India, and Sri Lanka to immerse herself in communities that have been displaced by conflict. She finds herself “both thrilled and incredibly nervous” about the opportunity.

“When lots of people think about migration, they often picture refugees and migrants scrambling to Europe and North America. The reality is that a less than 1% of all displaced peoples are resettled in the West each year, and the vast majority remain displaced,” Gearin said. “I look forward to being confronted each day with the challenge of re-thinking justice and reconciliation, and working alongside communities to re-imagine futures for the millions of displaced people with whom I inhabit this planet. I am so excited to do this project, and I am so thankful to my professors and peers who supported and encouraged me during my years at Hendrix and throughout the application process.”

Both Fleming and Gearin have spent much of their time at Hendrix pursuing experiential learning opportunities. 

Fleming has worked with the Hendrix Society of Innovators, founded Lay of the Land Designs with a fellow student, collaborated with the Department of Physics to bring a CO2 laser engraver to campus, traveled to Africa and Colorado to study social entrepreneurship through the Hendrix Odyssey Program, connected with alumni in nonprofit and community loan arenas for mentorship, and chaired the Campus Sustainability Fund Committee, which is currently working on a solar panel installation project and setting up students to live in a new Hendrix ECO Living Community for 2020-2021 school year. She also participated in the Hendrix Rowing Club and, in her senior year, joined the Hendrix Diving Team. 

Gearin has worked with a local nonprofit as a volunteer tax preparer for individuals and families with low incomes, spearheaded a new program to register undocumented immigrants and international students for Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) so they can file taxes, participated in two Odyssey Program-funded summer internships working with immigrants and refugees on the citizenship process and microfinance and entrepreneurship projects, and used her Murphy Scholars Program stipend to conduct a research project with exiled writers in London and study abroad for a semester in Valparaíso, Chile. She also helped organize a grassroots student group called Time’s Up, Hendrix, which began conversation with administrators to advocate for changes to the College’s gender-based misconduct policies and to design programs for a safer campus. 

“All of our four candidates worked so well together this year – David Samuel and Megan Bellfield were the other two finalists the Honors Committee selected to put forth applications for the national competition,” said Murphy, the College’s Watson liaison. “Most years our Watson candidates know each other, and I encourage them to work together as a team from the start: sharing their writing, offering critiques and advice, and getting to know each other over dinner. This year the five of us formed very strong bonds throughout the process, which is one of the most rewarding aspects for me as liaison, and also a critical piece of the process so that I can bring forth aspects of their lived experiences that will make their applications more meaningful, and consequentially, successful.”

Murphy said that the current coronavirus pandemic will be taken into account as the new Watson Fellows schedule their travel. “Claire and Mackenzie will be working with the Watson Foundation on their plans for next year,” she said. “I have no doubt that all Watson Fellows will be taken care of by the Watson Foundation, who puts the health and safety of their Fellows first in any situation.”