Contortionist and Harpist Win Prestigious Watson Fellowship

March 17, 2011

TACOMA, Wash. – A trip around the world—to pursue the true story of the harp and to explore the art of human contortionism—is what lies ahead for two talented young women emerging from studies at University of Puget Sound. Margaret Shelton ’11, a senior student, and Jacqueline Ward ’10, a recent graduate, have been awarded the prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which will give them each $25,000 to pursue 12 months of travel and independent research starting this summer.

Shelton and Ward are among 40 awardees nationwide, chosen from 148 finalists nominated by select private liberal arts colleges and universities. Puget Sound was one of only two colleges in the Northwest to see its students honored with the award, and one of only three from the West Coast. (See link below for full list.)

 “We look for persons likely to lead or innovate in the future and give them extraordinary independence to pursue their interests outside of traditional academic structures,” said Cleveland Johnson, director of the Watson Fellowship Program. “Watson Fellows are passionate learners, creative thinkers, and motivated self-starters who are encouraged to dream big, but demonstrate feasible strategies for achieving their fellowship goals.”

The 40 fellows come from 21 states and four foreign countries. Together they will traverse 71 countries, exploring topics from sword dancing to voluntary poverty to migratory fish.

Jacqueline Ward, who graduated in December 2010, had a special interdisciplinary major of anthropology and performing arts. She earlier attended Sunset High School in Portland, Ore. She plans to visit Mongolia, China, India, Canada, and France to examine the role that contortion plays in self-identity and the community and in the construction of what it means to be human.

“Contortion is a powerful expressive form as its one instrument, the human body, is a tool all of humanity shares,” Ward wrote for the fellowship panel. “Through participation, observation, and intercultural exploration, I will delve into the spiritual, artistic, and humanistic potential of this expressive human form.”

Ward performs contortion, an art that pushes the human body to its limits, at an exceptional level. She is an excellent student, who has performed at a high level in many challenging settings: volunteering on a conflict-mediation project, founding a circus club, and presenting an aerial fabric act as part of a research paper. She hopes to learn from the best contortionists in the world in Mongolia, to practice yoga in India, to go to festivals in China, and to attend “circus schools” in Montreal.

Ward was advised on her senior thesis by Geoffrey Proehl, professor of theatre arts, and on a major research project by Monica DeHart, assistant professor in comparative sociology. Her faculty mentors were Greta Austin, associate professor of religion, and Jeff Grinstead, assistant professor of chemistry.

Margaret Shelton, a music major, is a member of the Symphony Orchestra and Wind Ensemble on campus and a graduate of Bellarmine Preparatory High School in Tacoma, Wash. She plans to travel to Japan, China, Spain, France, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Mexico to explore how various cultures have influenced the repertoire of the harp, and to study playing techniques, historical roles for the harp, and harp-making craftsmanship.

“Working and playing with amateurs and professionals on both concert and folk harps will allow me to uncover the richness of traditions different from my own and see how the story of the harp and my story are intertwined,” Shelton wrote for the fellowship panel.

Shelton has studied harp for 14 years, made the Dean’s List every semester at college, and served in community roles ranging from camp counselor to fund-raiser. She hopes on this journey to meet a Chinese Konghou folk harpist, master of the double row of strings; to visit the Carmac Center in Paris, a global leader in harp production; and to explore why in Spain the cross-strung harp has almost died out. Shelton has been advised and assisted by her campus harp teacher Patricia Wooster, her faculty mentor, Professor of Economics Kate Stirling, and School of Music Director Keith Ward.

University of Puget Sound has had 23 Watson Fellows since it began its affiliation with the foundation in 1993. Over the past ten years, Puget Sound students have earned 85 national scholarships, including Fulbright, Watson, Goldwater, and Phi Kappa Phi Fellowship awards.

The Fellowships Office, led by director Sharon Chambers-Gordon, coordinates the Watson applications, handling recruiting, mentoring, running mock interviews, and giving feedback.  The Graduate Fellowships Advisory Committee, chaired by David Tinsley, reads all applications, conducts campus interviews, and selects nominees. 

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program was established by the family of Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder of IBM, and his wife, Jeannette, to honor their 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.

For a full list of 2011-12 Watson Fellows visit:

Photos of the two Watson Fellows are available on request. Two can be downloaded from:

Photo credits: Top right. Jacqueline Ward, by Ross Mulhausen, University of Puget Sound; Above left, Margaret Shelton by Ross Mulhausen.

Tweet this: Bend it Like Beckham! Contortionist and harpist are Watson Fellows @univpugetsound. Shelton & Ward go globetrotting.

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