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Mary Childs ’08 Named 2008-09 Watson Fellow

Mary Childs ’08 has been named a Thomas J. Watson Fellow for 2008-2009. She is one of 50 students nationally to receive a Watson fellowship this year.

Administered in cooperation with 50 outstanding private colleges and universities throughout the United States, the Watson provides a grant of $25,000 to college graduates of unusual promise to engage in a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel outside of the United States. Inaugurated by the Thomas J. Watson Foundation in 1968, the fellowship program has granted more than 2,500 Watson Fellowship awards, with stipends totaling more than $30 million.

Childs’ project, “The Eye of the Beholder: The Cartography of Faces,” will take her to France, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, China, Brazil and Morocco to explore the topography of a land through portraiture.

For Childs, a business journalism major who studied at St. Stephen’s College in India from June – December 2006, the Watson provides an opportunity to focus on her love of painting and travel in a way that was both inspired and prevented by her study abroad experiences as an undergraduate.

“I’ve always loved painting and art,” said Childs. “Initially when I came to W&L, I wanted to double major in studio art, but going abroad made that difficult. I view my Watson as a sort of double major or an M.F.A. in a way. Winning the fellowship means an opportunity to combine two of my greatest loves: the world and the canvas.”

Her project will trace cultures as they manifest themselves in the faces of their own people. “It’s a new cartography: map-making with faces,” Childs explained. “As I traveled across Southeast Asia, I watched the faces change with the terrain. Cheekbones rose and fell and hair was braided and hidden in turbans. Even the tying of a sari expressed where my feet were. Every location in the world looks different, but more interestingly, every inhabitant reflects those differences.

“Charles Darwin must look down from scientific heaven and smile as his descendants morph to better accommodate their changing surroundings,” she continued. “How does a bone structure show a mountain range? How do eyelids reflect the sun? Why do jawlines sharpen and nostrils flare depending on the ground from which they sprang?”

A native of Richmond, Va., Childs is the recipient of the Journalism Department’s Landon B. Lane Scholarship and was a 2007 Reynolds Intern. She is a writer for the Trident, one of W&L’s weekly independent student newspapers, and editor-at-large for InGeneral, a student-run magazine. She is co-president of JubiLee, W&L’s female a cappella group, a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and served as the Massachusetts State Chair for the 2008 Mock Democratic Convention.

She credits the W&L faculty and administration with helping to make the Watson opportunity a reality.

“Professor Luecke and Dean Ikeda have been so helpful in guiding me every step of the way in this process,” Childs said. “And the art department has also been very supportive. They let me into Painting II this winter even though I’ve never been able to take Painting I! This spring, I’m doing an independent study with Professor Beavers to figure out which materials I’m most comfortable in and which will travel best.”

“Mary impressed the internal fellowships committee with her passion for breaking out of the mold,” said Janet Ikeda, associate dean of the College. “She ‘sent herself’ to India to see how far she could stretch her imagination. There she fell in love with another culture that challenged the very way she thought about the world. Now her plan is to map the contour of faces in various parts of the world. With her journalistic instincts and sound liberal arts education, she will embark on a global adventure of a lifetime.”

Childs, who turned down an internship with Bloomberg, L.P., in New York in order to accept the Watson, plans to pursue a career in business journalism following her year abroad. “I think Bloomberg understood that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “I hope they’re still interested when I get back.”

Pamela Luecke, Donald W. Reynolds Professor of Business Journalism and Childs’ academic advisor, is confident that Childs’ Watson experience will further her career plans.

“Mary is a gifted student with great promise as a business journalist,” Luecke said. “The extraordinary opportunity to travel the world as a Watson Fellow will strengthen her understanding of the global economy and enrich her perspective as a journalist.”