Berea College Student Wins Prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship 2017-2018

Zakiyya Ashe

BEREA, Kentucky—The Center for International Education is proud to announce that Berea College Nominee Zakiyya Ashe won the national competition for the 2017-2018 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship prize of $30,000.

Zakiyya will engage in purposeful exploration—traveling the world for 365 days—after she graduates in May.

Her project, “Hidden Minorities: Connection through Animation and Graphic Novels,” will take her through Australia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, and France.

During this year, Zakiyya will travel to five countries essential in adding racial, gender, and LGBTQIA+ diversity to the animation pipeline. She asks, “What are the mindsets of minorities pioneering this new animation art form?” The countries she wishes to visit encourage audiences to establish networks using animation and graphic novels as a connection medium. To understand how the marginalized identify with characters, stories, and others like them, Zakiyya will collaborate with artists to explore how they have strengthened their voices through the animation industry.

Zakiyya has graciously shared her sentiments at this moment by stating, “This is an exciting opportunity! I’m happy and grateful to be able to receive this chance to find people around the world that feel just as much joy about minorities in animation as I do.”

Berea College is the only school in the Commonwealth of Kentucky from which The Watson Fellowship accepts candidates. This year, from Watson’s 40 participating institutions, 149 finalists were nominated to compete on the national level from which 40 fellows were selected. The Watson pool continues to be extremely competitive. Berea College is grateful to be able to put forward candidates for this esteemed prize.

Continuing its tradition of expanding the vision and developing the potential of remarkable students, today the Watson Foundation announced its 49th class of Thomas J. Watson Fellows. The Watson provides a year of unparalleled international exploration for select graduating college seniors in any field.

This year’s class comes from 6 countries and 21 states. They’ll travel to 67 countries exploring topics ranging from pediatric cancer treatment to citizen journalism; from animation to autonomous vehicles; from immigration to island communities, from megacities to wildfire management. “As we approach a half-century of making big bets on talented students, we are thrilled to announce this year’s class,” said Chris Kasabach, Executive Director of the Watson Foundation. “We work with a terrific group of partner institutions and these fellows shows the enormous depth, width, and creativity of our next generation of leaders.”

Watson awardees come from private liberal arts colleges and universities across the United States. From the program’s 40 partner institutions, 149 finalists were nominated to compete on the national level from which 40 Fellows were selected. Fellows will receive $30,000 for twelve-months of travel and college loan assistance as required.

About the Watson Foundation

In 1961, Jeannette K. Watson created the Thomas J. Watson Foundation in the name of her husband, Thomas J. Watson Sr, best known for building IBM. Through one-of-a-kind, life-changing programs, the Foundation provides fellows with cultural, professional and personal opportunities that challenge them to expand their vision, test and develop their potential, and build the confidence and perspective to do so for others. In 2015, the Foundation organized as a public-facing foundation, unifying its programs under the Watson Foundation.

About the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship offers graduating college seniors of “unusual promise” the opportunity to engage in one year of independent exploration and travel outside the United States. A Watson Year provides fellows with an opportunity to enhance the capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership, and to foster humane and effective participation in the world community—in short, to develop future leaders who are self-reflective, well-informed, mindful citizens of the world. Over 2,800 Watsons have been named since the fellowship’s start in 1968. Watson Fellows have gone on to become international influencers in their fields including CEOs of major corporations, college presidents, Emmy, Grammy and Oscar Award winners, Pulitzer Prize awardees, artists, diplomats, doctors, faculty, journalists, lawyers, politicians, researchers and inspiring leaders around the world.

Here are images of Zakiyya’s artwork:

             Ashe 5           Ashe 2


To learn more about applying as a Berea student or recommending a student, visit:

To read Zakiyya’s project summary and the other 39 amazing projects, see:

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