WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Whitman College students Rachel Smith and Scott Whinfrey are two of 60 graduating seniors from 50 of America's top liberal arts colleges and universities who have received Thomas J. Watson post-graduate fellowships for the 2003-04 academic year. Each Watson fellowship recipient receives a stipend of $22,000 to travel outside the United States while engaging in a year-long independent study project of their own devising.

Smith, a bioethics major from Everett, Wash., will study the effects of wildland fire on ecosystems in South Africa, Ghana, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, France and the United Kingdom. She plans to challenge the assertion made by some wildfire ecologists that fire is beneficial in all ecosystems. She also plans to search for a fire management plan that is both integrated into the ecosystem that it protects and has long-term viability.

Whinfrey, a history major from Manhattan Beach, Calif., will spend his year working and living alongside cowboys in Mexico and Australia. His hope is to ascertain a sense of the modern cowboy's sense of identity and pride in a rapidly urbanizing world. He also plans to learn the traditional skills and techniques practiced by vaqueros (Mexican cowboys) and jackaroos (Australian cowboys).

The Watson Foundation fellowship program, based in Providence, R.I., was founded in 1968 to honor the founder of IBM. Designed to reward "seriously creative" students, the program encourages applicants to devise projects in which they can explore specific interests and concerns, test their aspirations and abilities, view their lives and American society in greater perspective, and develop a more informed sense of international concerns.

Over the past eight years, Whitman has received a total of 15 Watson fellowships.