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Ellen McGeheeEllen McGehee

Willamette Seniors Named 2004-2005 Watson Fellows

Justin Brown and Ellen McGehee are among 50 college seniors to be awarded a 2004-2005 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Watson Fellowships are one-year grants of $22,000 for travel and independent study outside the United States.

The award marks the culmination of an application process that officially began in September 2003, when early 1,000 students from fifty selective private liberal arts colleges and universities applied for their university's nomination. At Willamette, 20 seniors applied. Participating colleges nominated 184 students to compete nationally. In addition to Justin and Ellen, Jazzmin Reece and Leigh Bernacchi were also among the four nominees chosen to represent Willamette.

"We look for people with the passion and creativity to find solutions, work effectively with people and generally weather the bad days on the road while treasuring the glorious ones," says Beverly Larson, executive director of the Watson Fellowship Program and a former Watson Fellow. "The awards are long-term bets on people likely to lead or innovate, giving them unusual flexibility to set and pursue their own global agendas."
Brown, a history major, says he feels "top notch" about receiving a Watson Scholarship. He intends to study local barter networks in England, Thailand, Australia and South Africa. Barter networks, time banks and community currency systems are rapidly growing alternatives to the global economy, emphasizing regional economies and the reinvestment of capital into the community. Brown is interested in evaluating the organization, efficiency and success of these local economies.

"I'm interested in seeing change in the world and creating a more just system," he says. "The Watson will enable me to travel to four continents and work with people who are trying to make that happen."

At Willamette, Brown has been active in Willamette Students for Peace and Justice, ECOS and the Environmental Sustainability Task Force. He helped initiate the Goudy Greasecar Project, which aims to turn hundreds of gallons of waste fryer fat into biodiesel fuel and he's a "quasi-founder" of the Willamette Drum Circle. Originally from Bakersfield, Calif., Brown currently lives in Incline Village, Nev.

Ellen McGehee, who is majoring in physics, says her Watson award hasn't really "sunk in yet." I'm extremely excited about it."

A talented violinist and outdoor enthusiast, McGehee's project involves her passion, music. She will travel to the Andes, China and the Kyrgyz Republic searching for a common thread in the music of mountain peoples and learning to play their musical instruments. Already well-versed in classical musical traditions, McGehee hopes to learn to play the antara (pan-pipes) in Peru and the piwang, a two-stringed fiddle, in Tibet while hearing the music of the mountains.

"The Watson gives you the resources to actually realize a dream," she says. "The whole year is open for us to study and learn about ourselves."

As a participant in the Science Collaborative Research Program, Ellen designed her own project investigating the vibrational modes of violins using holographic inteferometry. In order to undertake the project, she first had to build a vibration isolation system and a specialized laser. She is also an active member of the Poi club and performs fire-spinning at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. Ellen is also involved with the Environmental Sustainable Task Force, and is a physics tutor. She hails from Bellevue, Wash.

The year of travel provides fellows an opportunity to test their aspirations and abilities and develop a more informed sense of international concern. Since 1968, more than 2,200 Watson Fellows have undertaken this challenging journey.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program was begun over 35 years ago by the children of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., the founder of IBM Corporation, and his wife, Jeannette K. Watson, to honor their parents' longstanding interest in education and world affairs.