Watson Fellowship

Location: International Experience Type: Nomination Based Fellowship Awards

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. Application can only be made in the fall of a student’s senior year. A robust on-campus vetting process yields four nominees annually for this fellowship, with recipients announced by mid-March. This $40,000 award is granted to at least 40 fellows each year from 41 selective colleges and universities across the United States.

Eligibility: Open to all students graduating in December 2024 or May 2025 for a 2025-2026 twelve month journey.

TJW Campus Application Checklist, Fall 2023 – Print and review carefully for the Fall 2023 application requirements.  (Note the Fall 2024 Checklist will be available as soon as the Watson Foundation opens up the application process.)

Intent to Apply Deadline: Friday, May 24, 2024; please complete the following online form to let Grinnell’s Watson liaison know that you are planning to apply for the Watson Fellowship in the coming cycle (it is very important to be in communication with the Watson liaison as they can provide you with application access and support, and the campus process details prior to the start of the fall term). If you missed this deadline, immediately arrange an advising appointment with Ann Landstrom in Handshake or call the CLS at 641-269-4940. 

Intent to Apply URL: Watson Fall 2024 Intent to Apply

*Intent to Apply and Advising meetings with Watson Liaison (Ann Landstrom) are required before starting an online application.

Commitment to Apply Deadline: Tuesday, August 20, 2024 – Must have met with Ann and be in progress with an application by this commitment date to submit an application on ~September 12. To commit you just need to tell Ann during an advising appointment! ​​​​​​​

Campus Deadline: ~Thursday, September 12, 2024 from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; applicants must have completed the TJW online application and deliver paper copies of the required application materials to Ann Landstrom in the CLS (1103 Park Street); THIS DEADLINE IS NON-NEGOTIABLE.

National Deadline (for nominees only): Nominees will complete their applications by Monday, November 11 to meet the Wednesday, November 13, 2024 by NOON EST Foundation deadline.


About the Award

The Thomas J. Watson Foundation inaugurated the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship in 1968. The mission of the Fellowship Program is to offer college graduates of unusual promise a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel outside of the United States in order to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community. The Program provides Fellows an opportunity for a focused and disciplined year of their own devising – a period in which they can have some surcease from the lockstep of prescribed educational and career patterns in order to explore with thoroughness a particular interest. During their year abroad, Fellows have an unusual, sustained, and demanding opportunity to take stock of themselves, to test their aspirations and abilities, to view their lives and American society in greater perspective, and, concomitantly, to develop a more informed sense of international concern.

Administered in cooperation with outstanding private colleges and universities throughout the United States, the Watson Fellowship provides a grant of $40,000 to each recipient. Please note, fellows whose spouse or dependent child will accompany them may be eligible for a larger grant. In addition,  if you require accessibility assistance, you may still apply for a Watson Fellowship as additional service can be acquired and financially supported by the Watson Foundation. The Fellowship Program will also supply, as a supplement to the stipend, an amount equal to twelve months of payments of eligible outstanding federally guaranteed and institutional student loans. The purpose of the student loan assistance program is to ease the financial burden of Watson Fellows during their Fellowship year, and to provide encouragement for all students, regardless of student loan debt, to apply for Watson Fellowships.

All Fellows are required to maintain contact with the Fellowship Program during their year abroad. In addition to quarterly progress reports, they must submit a final evaluation of their year together with an accounting of the expenditure of Fellowship funds. The Fellowship is taxable and must be reported by recipients as income. Taxes are not withheld by the Fellowship Program.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program welcomes applicants from a diverse range of backgrounds and academic disciplines. All graduating seniors at participating institutions are eligible for nomination by their institution. Grinnell College is proud to be able to nominate four seniors annually for the Watson Fellowship competition. Grinnell has been invited to participate in this Fellowship every year since the program was founded in the late 1960s, and, with only a few year exceptions, has had at least one Watson Fellow in each class. (See the bottom of this page for a complete list of Grinnell’s Watson Fellows, including their projects and destinations.)

Ann Landstrom serves as Grinnell College’s liaison to the Watson Foundation and is always happy to meet and talk with potential applicants of any class year about their ideas and plans for a Watson Fellowship. It is recommended that by the fall or spring of junior year, you have met with Ann for at least one advising session and attended an information session.


​​​​​​​The Thomas J. Watson Foundation presents the September Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Webinar and Video

 The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship webinar is available here. You can also view the video they showed at the end of the webinar at this link.


Person, Project, and Fit Markers; Imagine Your Watson Exercise; Application Requirements; and Rules

This handout provides essential information to create an application for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Award. The handout is updated yearly.

Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Handout, 2023-2024 [Grinnell login required] ________________________________________________________________________________________________

How to Apply

To be considered for a Grinnell College nomination for the Watson Fellowship, you’ll need to complete and submit all of the application materials as outlined on the TJW Campus Application Checklist. See above!

The review and interview process is based upon how many applications we receive each year. All applications will be reviewed by the committee, and a select number may be determined for the interview stage. The interview stage will include two to three one-on-one interviews with faculty committee members. More information will be available about this process as we near the campus application deadline.

Nomination decisions will be announced before fall break. If you are named one of Grinnell’s four Watson nominees, you will promise not to accept a job offer or otherwise solidify your post-graduation plans until after the Watson final decisions are announced in mid-March. The Watson Fellowship should remain your top choice of all the other possibilities (jobs, graduate school, Fulbright Grants, and so on).



**Your Place In It All

Artis Curiskis, Your Place in it All, Recording, November 2023 (Artis sharing their international experiences during International Education Week, November 2023)

**Going Forth Grinnell – Center for Careers, Life, and Service Podcast – May 9, 2022 —“By now it’s no secret that Grinnell can take you incredible places. On Part #2 of our miniseries “Here, There, and Everywhere,” we interview Crys Moosman: recipient of the 2022-2023 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Together with their advisor Kathy Jacobson and Assistant Dean & Director of Global Fellowships and Awards Ann Landstrom, they share their story and the journey upon which they are about to embark.”

Podcast Link: Going Forth Grinnell, Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, Featuring Crys Moosman Dec ’21

**Grinnell’s Watson Webinar with Guest Speakers Artis Curiskis ’18, Steven Duong ’19, and Noma Shields ’18 – April 2020

PowerPoint Slides [Grinnell login required]

Video Recording [Grinnell login required]


Special Application Advice

Here you’ll find helpful updates and information.

  • Watson Fellowship versus Fulbright Grants [Grinnell login required]: Although a person can apply for both awards, this handout provides comparisons to consider if you only have time to commit to one award in your fourth year of college. Check out this page of Q&A.
  • Wadzi Motsi’s ’12 April 2015 TEDx Talk at Grinnell: “Do Something That Scares You” – Check out, especially, the last four minutes to be inspired by what Wadzi, Grinnell’s 2012-13 Watson Fellow, learned during her Watson year. She calls her Watson year a year of “self-discovery through experience and experiencing the world” and refers to it as her “most enriching learning experience to date.” Amazing! Plus, check out this awesome profile of Wadzi on the Watson Foundation website.
  • Alex Reich’s ’11 Watson Presentation [Grinnell login required]: This page includes a transcript of Alex’s remarks, a link to his PowerPoint slides, and a link to a recording of his campus presentation on Thursday, August 27, 2015.
  • Tips from Alex Reich ’11 (2011-2012 Watson Fellow):
    • A Watson Fellowship is an opportunity to DO things just for the sake of doing them. As Alex put it: “Ideas are great, but actions are where the real stuff is.”
    • TALK with anyone and everyone who will listen to you describe your Watson idea. Only by articulating it aloud – and seeking and responding to feedback – will you devise a plan that adequately captures your identity, appropriately challenges you, and prepares you to learn as much as you can about the world. Or, in Alex’s words: “If you do not talk about your Watson, it will not happen.”
    • BE INQUISITIVE at all steps of the process. Watson Fellows are innately curious and questioning of the world. Be a sponge. Ensure that communication (and learning) is a two-way street. As Alex recently put it: “In a classroom, if you’re the know-it-all, you’re not going to learn anything, and nobody is going to like you.” On a Watson Fellowship, the world is your classroom.
  • Watson Suggestions for the Monolingual [Grinnell login required]: Worried that you speak only English? Fret not – and check out this page.


Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellow Project Summaries Since 2014 [Grinnell login required]


Following a Watson Fellowship year, the foundation collects a photo and story of each fellow. You may recall in the GFA library a collection of tiny Watson Year Books and a collection of Watson ‘Baseball-Style’ cards that share those stories. Starting with the class of 2019, they are sharing the photos and stories through their website.

Recent List of Watson Fellows

Watson Fellows Class of 2019


Sample Grinnell College Watson Fellowship Application Essays [Grinnell login required]

These samples are being provided not as models but as examples of what’s possible. Watson Fellows are chosen on the basis of their written materials in addition to how well they interview. Remember: person, project, fit.

  • Emma Schaefer, 2023-2024 Fellow: Listening at Dawn: Music That Heals the Planet (Switzerland, Kenya, United Arab Emirates, India, New Zealand, Easter Island, and the United Kingdom)
  • Crys Moosman, 2022-2023 FellowWildlife Conservation Across Biomes and Boundaries(Iceland, Denmark, Namibia, South Africa, Costa Rica, Brazil, Australia)
  • Steven Duong, 2019-2020 FellowFreshwater Fish and the Poetry of Containment, (Malawi, China, Thailand, Trinidad, Tobago)
  • Artis Curiskis, 2018-2019 FellowThe Game is the Teacher: Soccer Global Diplomacy (United Kingdom, Spain, Russia, India, Abkhazia Georgia, Rapa Nui Island-Chile)
  • Nomalanga Shields, 2018-2019 FellowSustaining Communities on the Margin (Hungary, India, South Africa)
  • To Be Added: Oleksandr Kuzura ’17; Shoestring Engineering (Thailand, Peru, India, Bosnia)
  • To Be Added: Alejandra Rodriguez Wheelock ’17; Counseling Interventions for Pediatric Cancer Patients (Rwanda, Dominican Republic, India, United Kingdom)
  • Lane Atmore, 2016-2017 FellowBoat Culture as Island Identity (Guam, Micronesia, Thailand, Greenland, Russia, Greece)
  • Chase Booth, 2016-2017 FellowEmotional Support in Communities Under Duress (Australia, South Africa, Greece, Ireland)
  • Opeyemi Awe, 2015-2016 FellowEntrepreneurship as Development (South Korea, Indonesia, Brazil, Rwanda, Kenya)
  • Theodore Hoffman, Jr., 2014-2015 FellowMarginalized Imaginations: Embracing Global Adaptive Theaters (South Africa, New Zealand, India, Ghana)
  • Noah Most, 2013-2014 FellowDo-It-Yourself Biology: Innovation, Social Implications, and the Inversion of Research Paradigms (United Kingdom, Canada, India, Singapore)


Grinnell College Watson Fellowship Nomination Selection Committee Members

The selection committee represents the three discipline areas – Humanities, Science, and Social Studies – at the college with up to 5-7 members per academic year. Each year there is a blend of new and returning committee members.

Committee members may complete recommendations for candidates, provided that the committee members are a natural and strong fit for the students and their particular projects. Committee members should not be asked to write recommendations simply because they are on the committee. Recommendations from committee members will not be weighed more heavily than recommendations from non-committee members.


Ethical Guidelines

All applicants are expected to adhere to these ethical guidelines.


Grinnell College’s Watson Fellows, 1969-Present

  • Sira Nassoko, ’24: Sounds of Hope; Finland, Rwanda, Argentina, Australia
  • Emma Schaefer, ’23: Listening at Dawn: Music That Heals the Planet; Switzerland, Kenya, United Arab Emirates, India, New Zealand, Easter Island, and the United Kingdom
  • Crys Moosman, Dec ’21: Wildlife Conservation Across Biomes and Boundaries; Iceland, Denmark, Namibia, South Africa, Costa Rica, Brazil, Australia
  • Helena Gruensteidl, ’20: (Did not complete Fellowship Year); Against All Odds: Women’s Empowerment in Film; Iceland, Spain, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Israel, Germany, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand
  • Maximilian “Max” Hill, ’20: (Did not complete Fellowship Year); Black Masculinity and Martial Arts; ​​​​​​​China, Brazil, Jamaica, Dominican Republic
  • Steven Duong, ’19: Freshwater Fish and the Poetry of Containment; Malawi, China, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago
  • Artis Curiskis, ’18The Game is the Teacher: Soccer Global Diplomacy; United Kingdom, Spain, Russia, India, Abkhazia (Georgia), Rapa Nui Island (Chile)
  • Nomalanga Shields, ’18Sustaining Communities on the Margin; Hungary, India, South Africa
  • Jessica Black, ’18: (Named Alternate); Healing Postcolonial Trauma: Self-empowerment Movements for Social Change; Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, India, England
  • Alejandra Rodriguez Wheelock, ’17: Counseling Interventions for Pediatric Cancer Patients; Rwanda, Dominican Republic, India, United Kingdom
  • Oleksandr Kuzura, ’17: Shoestring Engineering; Thailand, Peru, India, Bosnia
  • Chase Booth, ’16Emotional Support in Communities Under Duress; Australia, South Africa, Greece, Ireland
  • Lane Atmore, ’16Boat Culture as Island Identity; Guam, Micronesia, Thailand, Greenland, Russia, Greece
  • Opeyemi Awe, ’15: Entrepreneurship as Development; South Korea, Indonesia, Brazil, Rwanda, Kenya
  • Theodore Hoffman, Jr., ’14: Marginalized Imaginations: Embracing Global Adaptive Theaters; South Africa, New Zealand, India, Ghana
  • Noah Most, ’13: Do-It-Yourself Biology: Innovation, Social Implications, and the Inversion of Research Paradigms; United Kingdom, Canada, India, Singapore
  • Wadzanai Motsi, ’12: Speaking Up: Unearthing the Motivation for Political Activism Amongst Students; Tunisia, Ghana, Czech Republic, Cambodia
  • Ngoc Truong, ’11: Creative Discontent: Speechwriting in Open and Closed Societies; India, South Africa, Singapore, Vietnam, Australia
  • Courtney Sheehan, ’11: The Politics of Film Festivals; Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Netherlands, India, Russia
  • Alex Reich, ’11We Are What We Eat: The Far North and Its People in a Changing World; Canada, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland
  • Filippos Rodger Tsakiris, ’10: No Island Is an Island: An Alternative Approach to Global Sustainability; Bahamas, United Kingdom, Iceland, Sweden, Maldives, New Zealand
  • Graciela Paz Arias, ’08: Into the Young Mind of a Cultural Revolutionary: Retracing Che’s Travels; Argentina, Chile, Peru, Venezuela
  • Linn Davis, ’08Investigating the Investigators: Journalism in Two Developing Democracies; India, South Africa
  • Sarah Parker, ’07Innovative Traditional Music: Marimba and Youth Culture in Southern Africa; Botswana, Namibia, South Africa
  • Jason Rathod, ’06: Finding Self in the Other: Cultural Fusion in the Indian Diaspora; Fiji, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Mauritius
  • Kyle Marquardt, ’05: The People’s Fate: Language and Politics in Three Turkic States; Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan
  • Omondi Kasidhi, ’05: Bringing Home More than a Medal: The Socioeconomic Impact of African Runners; South Africa, Botswana, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria, and Ghana
  • Qi Zheng, ’04: Magic Bullet or Water Gun: Perception and Use of Antibiotics; Ireland, the Netherlands, Singapore, Thailand
  • Devan McGranahan, ’04: Sustainable Grazing and the Management of Native Mammals on African Ranches; Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya
  • Hai-Dang Phan, ’03Trans-planted and -lated Selves: Poetry in Exile; England, France, Australia
  • Michael Abel, ’02: Williamsport Bound: Youth Baseball in Asia and Latin America; Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, Venezuela, Curacao
  • Matthew Magee, ’01: Hepatitis C in Rural and Urban Populations; Italy, Egypt, India
  • Megan Williams, ’00: The Dustbin of History: Monuments in Eastern Europe, 1945-2000; Germany, Poland, the Baltics, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Macedonia
  • David Burnett, ’00: Technopreneurs: Making Asian Tigers Roar Again?; Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, India
  • Margaret L. Taylor, ’99: Space, Place, and Identity in the European Circus; England, France, Denmark, Switzerland
  • Ryan Gibson, ’98: Creating a Modern Irish Mythology by Translating Words into Forms; Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland
  • Aaron Gross, ’96: The Practice of Ahimsa in Jainism and Tibetan Buddhism; India
  • Veronica Ocampo-Raeder, ’95: The Dance of Humans and Nature: Finding Signatures in Tropical Rainforests; Belize, Tahiti, Kenya, Brazil
  • Todd Foreman, ’95: Minority Groups in British Commonwealth Labour Parties; New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom
  • Rachel Stamm, ’94: The Relationship between Ecotourism and Marine Mammal Conservation; Norway, Canada, Dominican Republic, Bahamas
  • Adam Stam, ’93: Agrarian Reform in Russia; Russia, Ukraine
  • Adrienne McAdory, ’92: Race vs. Ethnic vs. Class Consciousness: A Study in Africa; Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone
  • Shaan Hamilton, ’92: Waste Management and the Environment; England, Latvia
  • Louis Saletan, ’91: Effects of Reforms on Soviet Performance Arts; USSR
  • Seth Peterson, ’91: Chinese Democracy Movement-in-Exile; France, Germany, Australia, Japan, Canada
  • Bruce Emond, ’91: AIDS Counseling and Information Services; Thailand, Malaysia
  • Steven Pickle, ’90: Political Organizations of Indigenous Peoples; Norway, Australia, New Zealand
  • Jon Kosek, ’90: Resource Use and Protection; Costa Rica, Kenya, Nepal
  • Lauri Jennisch, ’90: Geriatric Health and Social Services; ​​​​​​​Sweden, England, Canada
  • Michelle Kuenzi, ’89: Development, Modernization, and Women’s Subsistence Strategies; Senegal, Mali
  • Emily Green, 89: Cultural and Social Perceptions of Children; Guatemala, El Salvador
  • Timothy Manatt, ’88: The Conciencia Group; Argentina
  • Lorelei Kelley, ’88: Women’s Involvement in Arms Control Disarmament; Sweden, West Germany, England, New Zealand
  • Peter McBride, ’87: Latin American: Retracing the Nature Studies of Darwin and Wallace; Latin American countries
  • Sarah Fee, ’87: The Funerary Art of France and Madagascar; France, Madagascar
  • Meghan Hays, ’87: Cuba, Yugoslavian, and Nicaraguan Women: The Family and the Socialist State; Cuba, Yugoslavia, Nicaragua
  • Amy Fraenkel, ’85: Acid Rain in Europe; Sweden, France, England
  • Elizabeth Keegan, ’85: Writers and Literature; China
  • Cynthia Chessick, ’84: Women in Israel; Israel
  • Todd L. Oberman, ’83: Grass-Roots Citizen’s Groups; Yugoslavia
  • Kathryn Jackson, ’83: Nation Building in Africa; Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa
  • Laure Capouya, ’82: Landscape Artists in the New World; Mexico, Brazil
  • James Jensen, ’81: Bio-Gas Digestion Systems; England, India, China
  • Donna Olds, ’81: Jamaican Cultural History; Liberia, Jamaica
  • Angelo loffreda, ’80: Old/New World Aspects of Viticulture; Italy, France, Chile, Argentina
  • Kathleen Kurz, ’80: Child Nutrition; Kenya, Tanzania
  • Keith Graves, ’79: Acoustical Analysis of Baroque Music in Halls of Baroque Period; Italy, Austria, West Germany, France, England
  • Jo Looye, ’79: Handicrafts and Economic Development; Chile, Ecuador
  • June Bradley, ’78: New Generation of European Art Photographers; France, England, Italy, West Germany
  • Ann K. Lion, ’78: Comparative Study of Family Planning; Barbados, Jamaica
  • Patrick Irwin, ’77: American Jazz and Jazz Musicians; UK, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria
  • Susan B. Hyatt, ’76: Multi-Ethnic Traditions in the Balkans; Yugoslavia, Greece, Bulgaria
  • Charles M. Becker, ’76: State Credit Allocations; Yugoslavia, Tanzania, New Zealand
  • Gregg H. S. Golden, ’75: First Amendment Rights: Their Parallels in Other Countries; England, France, Norway
  • David L. Gaines, ’74: Mime; Western Europe, Poland, Japan
  • Robert E. Eckhardt, ’73: European Approaches to the Problems of the Aged; Spain, Sweden, Poland
  • Norris Stubbs, ’72: A Dual Project: Comparative Afro-Caribbean Music and Problems of Engineering in the Caribbean; Brazil, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad, Tobago, Barbados, Honduras, Guyana
  • Edward M. Hirsch, ’72: The Relationship of Violence to Poetic Form; Wales, France, England
  • Douglas S. Russell, ’71: New Town Planning and Population Decentralization; Finland, West Germany, England, Sweden, Denmark
  • David N. Feldman, ’71: The Aesthetics of “Lower” Forms of Popular Culture; England, France, Denmark, Sweden
  • Thomas J. Cole, ’71: The Subculture of Poverty and the Impact of Welfare Systems; Great Britain
  • Mary E. Brooner, ’71: The Status of Women: A Third-World Perspective; Ghana, Ceylon
  • Benson F. Smith, ’70: Film; England
  • Gregory M. Coggs, ’70: Comparative Law; Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria
  • John Garang DeMabior, ’69: Rural Development; East Africa
  • Jonathan D. Buswell, ’69: Agricultural Economic Development; Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua