Two Whitman seniors receive Watson Fellowships

  • Nadim Damluji ’10 and Seth Bergeson ’10 are two of 40 students in the nation to be awarded the prestigious grant.
  • They follow in the footsteps of 2009 Whitman recipient Aisha Fukushima ’09.
Seth BergesonSeth Bergeson Nadim DamlujiNadim Damluji

WALLA WALLA – The Thomas J. Watson Foundation has awarded fellowships to two Whitman College seniors to pursue their unique passion or dream for a year of independent exploration and travel outside the United States.

Nadim Damluji, a politics major from San Diego, and Seth Bergeson, a history major from Seattle, are two of 40 students in the nation to be awarded the prestigious grant.

Damluji titled his Watson project “Following Tintin’s Footsteps: Reconciling the Charm of Hergé’s Racism.” He will travel to Belgium, France, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and India. He writes: “I will trace the colonial implications of Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin by reconciling how the comic is both beloved and ultimately racist. First, I will study the cultural impact of Tintin as a beloved European icon. Second, I will retrace Tintin's travels through the 'Orient' to see how modern cartoonists in these locations resist Hergé’s Orientalist representation. Through a series of interviews in these five countries I will examine how modern readers make sense of Tintin.”

Bergeson’s Watson project is titled “Kids at Play: A Cross-Cultural Exploration of Games and Childhood.” He will travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Kenya and India. He writes: “I will explore the games children play and what these games reveal about continuities and changes in societies and childhood experiences. In each community I visit, I will observe games and try them out myself, use informal interviews, and volunteer with schools and NGOs working with kids. I will pay particular attention to the effects of ethnicity, class, and gender on the games children play, how they play them, and – importantly – why some do not play them.

“It’s thrilling that two of Whitman College’s finest student scholars and leaders were chosen by the Watson Fellowship committee,” said Keith Raether, director of fellowships and grants who serves as a coach and mentor to the applicants. “Both Seth’s and Nadim’s projects are original and compelling. Most of all, their ideas are manifestations of who they are inside, under the skin, and how each of them tick and hope to grow. One thing that’s certain with the Watson: They will grow – in enormous and wondrous ways.”

Raether sees the Watson Fellowship awards as a reflection of the students’ pursuit of a Whitman liberal arts education: “It’s a recognition of their curiosity and their ability to synthesize learning into articulation and awareness – awareness of themselves and of the world.”

As interesting as the topics are, “These awards are long-term investments in people, not research,” says Cleveland Johnson, director of the Watson Fellowship Program and a former Watson Fellow. “We look for persons likely to lead or innovate in the future and give them extraordinary independence to pursue their interests outside of traditional academic structures. Watson Fellows are passionate learners, creative thinkers, and motivated self-starters who are encouraged to dream big but demonstrate feasible strategies for achieving their fellowship goals. The Watson Fellowship affords an unparalleled opportunity for global experiential learning.” Awardees come from select private liberal arts colleges and universities. There were 150 finalists nominated this year to compete on the national level. Each fellow will receive $25,000 for 12 months of travel and exploration.

Whitman is one of eight colleges to have multiple Watson Fellows for 2010.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program was established in 1968 by the children of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., the founder of International Business Machines Corp., and his wife, Jeannette K. Watson, to honor their parents’ long-standing interest in education and world affairs. The Watson Foundation regards its investment in people as an effective long-term contribution to the global community.

In the history of the program, approximately 2,640 Watson Fellows have taken this challenging journey. A Watson Year provides fellows an opportunity to test their aspirations and abilities and develop a more informed sense of international concern. Fellows have gone on to become college presidents and professors, CEOs of major corporations, MacArthur “genius” grant recipients, politicians, artists, lawyers, diplomats, doctors, journalists, innovators and researchers across a wide range of sciences and engineering disciplines.

In addition to their academic achievements, Damluji and Bergeson have been leaders on and off campus. They bring to 39 the total number of Whitman students who have received Watson Fellowships since 1971.

Whitman alumna Aisha Fukushima ’09 received a Watson Fellowship last year to explore “raptivisim” – the ways in which Hip Hop has become a medium for social change in Denmark, India, Morocco, South Africa, Senegal, and the United Kingdom. She has been recording a compilation of songs that reflect the musical styles and the political climate of each country she visited.