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Two Pomona College Students Awarded Prestigious Watson Fellowships

Anoush Suni and Irene Toro Martinez, two Pomona College seniors, have been awarded the distinguished Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowship. The award gives each a $28,000 grant for one year of independent exploration and travel outside the United States. Forty fellows were chosen from 177 finalists at 50 selective private liberal arts colleges and universities.

For her project The Language of the Oud: Cross-Cultural Connections Through Music, Suni will visit Morocco, Armenia and Turkey. “The music of the oud…is expressive of each unique society,” says Suni. “I will explore the way that oud music is produced and perceived; participate in the living culture of music; and investigate the where, when, how and why of oud music being created; to better understand each culture in and of itself and within the broader context of the musical and cultural connections that exist throughout the greater Middle East.” Suni, a Middle East Studies major, is from Ann Arbor, MI.

Toro Martinez will travel to Chile, Mexico, Norway and Spain for her project, All the Time in the World. “Our individual and cultural perceptions of time are shaped by our natural environments, and communicated indirectly through the myths and folklore surrounding natural cycles and catastrophes,” she explains. “Each of the four countries that I chose is home to a different natural phenomenon that has shaped people’s lifestyles, and therefore how they perceive time. For instance, I will go to Mexico when the Monarch butterflies…an annual event by which farmers have planned the harvest for decades that is also culturally significant, as it ties into beliefs around the Day of the Dead holiday…. In Chile, I’ll visit communities living near volcanoes. Is it possible to have a real sense of long-scale geologic time? How are eruptions remembered collectively and individually, and how are they placed in a larger context?” In Norway, she’ll experience polar night and people’s reaction to the absence of sunlight. Her focus in Spain is fishing in villages and cities. Toro Martinez is from Washington, DC, and a double major in physics (with a concentration in astrophysics) and German.

According to Cleveland Johnson, director of the Watson Fellowship Program and a former Watson fellow, “The awards are long-term investments in people, not research. 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. 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 Watson Fellowship affords an unequalled opportunity for global experiential learning.”

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program was established in 1968 by the children of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., the founder of International Business Machines Corp., and his wife, Jeannette K. Watson, to honor their parents’ long-standing interest in education and world affairs. The Watson Foundation regards its investment in people as an effective contribution to the global community.

Pomona College, founded in 1887 and one of the nation’s premier liberal arts colleges, is known for small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, and a range of opportunities for student research. In 2009, it was named to the “Best Value” college lists of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine and Princeton Review.