What’s a Watson Fellowship?

According to the Thomas J. Watson Foundation,

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship offers college graduates of “unusual promise” a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel — in international settings new to them — to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community. 

Forty students nationwide are selected for the Watson.

How did you come up with your project?

Fetishizing popular tropes frame indigenous peoples as “primitive tribes” stuck in the past. A cell phone in the hands of a Maya man strikes fear into the heart of “purists,” who assume the homogenizing forces of globalization will unravel the fabric of traditional cultures. But throughout my travels and studies, I saw how indigenous peoples are fighting back against these misguided assumptions.  They are now seeking to bridge the digital divide on their own terms by planning and implementing technological initiatives within their communities for the sake of protecting their rights and preserving their culture.

My interests in indigenous peoples and social justice more broadly have taken me all over the world – from Peru, to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, to Guatemala, Mexico, Guyana, and Washington, D.C., where I interned at the Environmental Defense Fund working as a liaison between indigenous groups and policy-makers in order to ensure greater representation of their needs in official decision-making.

Through a class on Media, Culture, and Society at Rice, I learned about the long legacy of A/V production among the Kayapo of Brazil and the Walpiri Media Association of Australia. Working in Washington D.C., I heard a fascinating story about how an indigenous chief contacted Google to help map his tribe’s territory. I knew that as issues of development, health, and environment grew in importance, so too would the digital networks that enabled broader networks of communication and  informed decision-making on the part of the Fourth World. From there, I worked to contact a variety of indigenous groups across the world who were working with different forms of technology – social media, GIS, A/V, radio, and mixed-reality applications – to compose my Watson project proposal.

Ooh! I know a cool indigenous tech initiative that is not included in your itinerary!

Great! I am always looking to learn more about new projects. The Watson Fellowship allows me to be flexible in my plans, so if I hear of an interesting site, I might even be able to include it in my travels. Please contact me and tell me about it!

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