Two Watson Fellows Travel the Globe on Missions of Learning

April 26, 2017

Carson Lyness ’16 and Angelica Spearwoman ’17
are among 40 scholars chosen for the $30,000 fellowship


TACOMA, Wash. – Carson Lyness ’16 and Angelica Spearwoman ’17 have been named national Watson Fellows, earning them a year of world travel to seek answers to ambitious “big questions” they have posed for themselves.

The two University of Puget Sound students are among 40 fellows selected nationwide for the highly competitive 2017 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. They will each receive $30,000 for 12 months of travel and research. Traveling separately and alone, the two graduates will visit a total of eight countries—Ecuador, Uganda, Albania, Chile, Nicaragua, Australia, India, and Thailand—working, researching, and meeting people in their pursuit of answers.

For Spearwoman it will mean working with women in Nicaragua, Australia, India, and Thailand to better understand how different societies’ systems encourage and allow wrongful male behavior. The issue for Spearwoman is deeply personal, and she hopes her work in the area will bring at least some amount of healing for herself and others.

For Lyness the fellowship is a chance to reconcile her lifelong desire to protect wild, free-flowing rivers with an understanding of the conflicting desires of those who build dams and hydroelectric plants—sometimes at a high cost to locals and the environment. Lyness, a kayaker and self-professed idealist, hopes to learn about avenues for compromise and to collect hard facts that will help her work effectively with politicians, industry, riverside residents, and environmentalists.

Beginning this summer the two Watson Fellows will head off and live independently for several months in each country, following the detailed research plans they have designed. They will work with and interview local inhabitants, government officials, researchers, professionals, and charities and activists. In line with the strict Watson Fellowship rules, they will not be allowed to step back on America soil for 365 days.

Angelica Spearwoman, a Californian majoring in international political economy and minoring in Spanish, describes in her Watson proposal how she arrived at this point. Three years ago, she writes, her sister Jessie was murdered. Spearwoman told this painful story at Puget Sound’s Take Back the Night event, which honors survivors of sexual assault. To her surprise telling the story gave her some relief from the depression and anger she had been battling since her sister’s death.

“After the past few years, I understand on a deeper level that there is an amazing power in sharing one’s story with others,” she wrote. Thereafter she found the will to take action and help others exposed to violence.

In Nicaragua Spearwoman will work alongside organizations aiming to prevent and to respond to violence against women. This will include addressing issues related to women’s work, especially in the local maquilas, or factories.

Spearwoman will then go on to India, where feminist activism is gaining momentum, at the same time that violence against women remains all too common. With help from local experts, she aims to co-develop a community program offering self-defense workshops and support.

In Australia, a wealthy country where one in six women experience violence, the Watson Fellow hopes to learn what men are doing to break the “code of silence” around this abuse. In Thailand she will work with two local service groups and learn from women how they perceive their legal rights. She will study the Thai language and conduct interviews to hear what Thai men and women are doing to address violence and how women are finding safe places and overcoming fear. Spearwoman will write about what she learns.

“I want to see what arises and be open to what possibilities are out there that I have not yet imagined,” she wrote.

Carson Lyness is a native of Utah who graduated from Puget Sound in fall 2016 with a major in biology and minors in Spanish and Environmental Policy and Decision Making. She grew up rafting and kayaking, experiencing waters as far away as the Yangtze River in China and Maranón River in Peru. From a young age, she developed a deep love of free-flowing rivers. However, as she began to encounter dam projects and saw people and wildernesses displaced by flooding waters, she became confused and concerned about the driving forces behind such destruction.

“Navigating these conversations around river issues often feels like I am trying to navigate a rapid,” she wrote in her Watson proposal. “Looking at dam issues I see the opposing perspectives as confusing obstacles, but I know that in a river there is always a reason for an obstacle.”

Lyness will visit Chile, Ecuador, Uganda, and Albania—countries where dams are either proposed, stalled, canceled, or currently underway. She will connect with activists, local residents, government officials, and dam builders to explore what is working and not working in terms of both improving watershed management and preserving local lifestyles and wilderness areas. In Albania, where a dam is proposed for “Europe’s last wild river,” the Vjosa River, Lyness will compare what she saw elsewhere and learn how a giant group like the World Wildlife Fund functions to protect rivers.

Lyness says she hopes to discover some answers to questions about people, progress, and rivers.

“And, importantly, is there is a common eddy behind the complicated obstacle of dam projects in which people can converge, truly hear each other, and envision a shared future for ourselves and for the river,” she wrote.

Watson finalists are nominated from the Thomas J. Watson Fellows 40 partner institutes of higher education. This year’s class comes from six countries and 21 states. They will travel to 67 countries exploring topics ranging from cancer treatment to citizen journalism to autonomous vehicles. Watson Fellows have gone on to become international influencers in their fields and inspiring leaders around the world.

For more about the Watson Foundation and its fellowships visit: https://watson.foundation

Press photos of the two Watson Fellows are available upon request.
Photos on page: From top right: Nile River in Uganda (by Rod Waddington); Woman harvesting wheat in Raisen District, India (by Yann Forget); Angelica Spearwoman; Carson Lyness (both by Ross Mulhausen).

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