Clinton Agresti Awarded Prestigious Watson Fellowship

March 23, 2010

TACOMA, Wash. – University of Puget Sound graduate Clinton Agresti ’09 has been awarded the prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to pursue an independent project overseas during 2010–11. Agresti was one of 40 college seniors from 23 states and three foreign countries to receive the grant, in a contest that the Thomas J. Watson Foundation described as especially competitive this year.

Agresti, an international political economy major and 2005 graduate of Walla Walla High School, will receive $25,000 for 12 months of travel and independent research. The student from Rockaway Beach, Ore., plans to visit Mongolia, Ukraine, Ghana, and Bolivia, while documenting a series of music ethnographies. These will consist of photographs, music recordings, and written material documenting musicians and musical groups who participate in oral traditions—defined by Agresti as those “passed down orally and learned by ear.”

“Clinton is an outstanding student who commits himself enthusiastically to all he takes on,” said Sharon Chambers-Gordon, director of the Fellowships Office at Puget Sound. “There were 150 finalists competing on a national level and we are proud, though not surprised, to see him among the selected recipients.”

Agresti’s project, titled “Beneath the Sounds: Exploring and Preserving the Music of Community,” will aim to create a better understanding of the relationship between music and culture by exploring the subjective worlds of individual musicians against the backdrop of their communities and traditions.

“It is essentially about understanding the unique human drive to invent music—music that draws from and contributes to the values, worldviews, and ways of subsistence of the community,” Agresti said.

The Watson fellow will frame his research with questions that may reveal more about the creative process of musicians in foreign cultures. He will also seek to discover common strands of inspiration among the far-flung musicians. Agresti plays several instruments, including piano, percussion, and guitar, and intends to actively participate in his host communities’ music.

Agresti will spend time with the Zakhchin people of the Khovd region in Mongolia, the Hutuls of the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine, the Asante of central Ghana, and the Aymara of the Lake Titicaca basin in Bolivia, all of whom practice largely agrarian or pastoral lifestyles. With the persistent advance of modernization, these ways of life, and the musical traditions they spawned, are fading—a reality that underscores the importance of the project.

“This Watson project began when Clinton picked up a saxophone at the age of eight,” said David Tinsley, Agresti’s faculty mentor and a Puget Sound professor of foreign languages and literature. “It certainly will not end when he records Zakhchin long songs in Mongolia or jams with the Aymara in Bolivia.  What he hears will become a part of what he plays and shares with fellow musicians for the rest of his life.”

Chambers-Gordon and Tinsley, who chairs the Graduate Fellowships Advisory Committee, assisted Agresti in submitting his application, which he wrote while studying abroad in New Zealand. Other members of the committee are Alyce DeMarais, Kate Stirling, Patrick O’Neil, Katherine Smith, and Jeff Grinstead. The committee reads about 16 applications, interviews eight students, and nominates three or four, who go to the next level of the competitive process and are interviewed by a Watson Fellowship representative.

The Watson Fellowship is awarded to graduating seniors who are nominated by participating colleges and universities. The Thomas J. Watson Foundation looks for people likely to lead or innovate and allows them a great deal of independence in pursuing their interests.

University of Puget Sound has had 21 Watson Fellows since it began its affiliation with the foundation in 1993. The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program was established by the children of Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder of IBM, and his wife, Jeannette Watson, to honor their parents' longstanding interest in education and world affairs.  Fellows have gone on to become college presidents, chief executives, MacArthur “genius” grant recipients, politicians, artists, diplomats, journalists, and researchers across a wide range of sciences and engineering disciplines.

Tweet this: Congrats Clinton Agresti! He’s a fellow…a Watson at that. We @univpugetsound wish we were going with you! http://bit.ly/atJNWb

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