Two seniors from Rice University are among the 40 students who were named a 2017 Thomas J. Watson Fellow.
Madhuri Venkateswar and Allison Yu will each receive $30,000 for a year of international travel to study their field of choice. They were chosen from 149 finalists nominated by private liberal arts colleges and universities across the United Sates.
This year’s class of Watson Fellows shows “the enormous depth, width and creativity of our next generation of leaders,” said Chris Kasabach, executive director of the Watson Foundation. He noted that the year of unparalleled international exploration funded by the foundation helps expand the vision and develop the potential of remarkable students.
Venkateswar, from San Antonio, is majoring in chemical engineering, minoring in poverty, justice and human capabilities and pursuing a certificate in civic leadership. She plans to travel to Peru, Malawi, New Zealand, China and Germany, where she will study women’s choices and how they are constrained by unique social and political climates. From sexual violence to discrimination in higher education, she will learn how power structures engage and often oppress women in complex ways.
“My personal interactions with gender discrimination spurred me to learn more about it in college and quickly become passionate about doing my part to fight it,” Venkateswar said. “By leading a Women’s Empowerment Alternative Spring Break my sophomore year, I became aware of the breadth of issues that women face and want to further broaden my perspective by studying this abroad.”
During her education at Rice, Venkateswar has served as president of her residential college and as president of Rice’s chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, which works to effectively engage students in Houston policy. She researched gender inequality in education through a Loewenstern Fellowship in India, where she helped a local nonprofit assess the impact of its mobile library program on women in the community.
Upon completion of her Watson Fellowship, Venkateswar plans to move to Boston to work as a strategy and operations consultant for Deloitte.
Yu, from Cupertino, Calif., is majoring in cognitive sciences and minoring in neuroscience and biochemistry. She plans to travel to South Africa, Norway, Australia and Japan to ask people with hearing loss what their hearing means to them and how that is affected by different methods of support from others. Her itinerary covers a range of hearing impairments, educational methods, assistive listening devices and acoustic settings.
“My Watson Fellowship project is based on my personal experiences with hearing loss,” Yu said. “I have found that even mild to moderate hearing loss impacts nearly every aspect of my life, such as how I approach and appreciate music, sports, academics and relationships. I will explore how people value their hearing loss in various daily circumstances under cultural influences.”
During her education at Rice, Yu participated in two Alternative Spring Break trips hosted by the Center for Civic Leadership that studied stigma across different disabilities. She also led an Alternative Spring Break trip that used HIV/AIDS to study how stigma affects disease experiences. She has researched the regenerative capacity of inner-ear organs at Baylor College of Medicine, studied in Denmark at the Danish Institute of Study Abroad, served as president of Rice Women’s Club Volleyball and as a Rice health adviser and became a fellow in the Leadership Rice Mentorship Experience.
Upon completion of her Watson Fellowship, Yu plans to matriculate into the University of California Davis School of Medicine.
The Watson Foundation was established in 1961 as a charitable trust by Jeannette Watson in honor of her late husband, Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM. Their children made the Watson Fellowship Program a major activity of the foundation in 1968 in recognition of their parents’ long-standing interest in education and world affairs. In 2015 the foundation organized as a public foundation.