Berea College Student Wins Prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship


Sunaina Sherchan

Sunaina Sherchan, winner of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for 2018-2019

The Center for International Education is proud to announce that Berea College nominee Sunaina Sherchan won the national competition for the 2018-2019 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. The Watson includes a cash prize of $30,000 to provide a year of international discovery for select graduating college seniors in many disciplines.

Sherchan’s project, “Exploring Identity Through Folktales,” will include travel to Japan, New Zealand and Finland.

Sherchan explains that folktales provide a window into the past and examine the cultural and moral reasons behind a community’s beliefs. Her Watson year will explore the relationship between folktales and identity formation in Japanese, Maori and Sami communities. Documenting traditional storytelling practices, Sherchan will seek to understand how these communities preserve their cultural and ethnic identities, and where their commonalities and differences lie.

“It still doesn’t feel real,” Sherchan said after learning she had won a Watson Fellowship, “but I am so thankful to all the people who helped and supported me on my Watson application and interview. I can’t wait to begin my Watson journey!”

Berea College is the only school in the Commonwealth of Kentucky from which The Watson Fellowship accepts candidates. This year, which marks the 50th Class of Thomas J. Watson Fellows, includes student winners from eight countries and 17 states who will travel to 67 countries exploring topics ranging from foster care to opera; from the Cambrian Explosion to human augmentation; from threatened big cat species to spoken word.

“This year we celebrate a half century of investing in remarkable students and the vivid value that has been provided by the program over five decades,” said Chris Kasabach, executive director of the Watson Foundation. “Watson Fellows have gone on to argue America’s most influential education legislation before the US Supreme Court, reinvent affordable housing, journalism, Broadway, contemporary music, computing and data science, and change how we think about the earth’s formation. The importance of investing in young leaders has only grown over the last 50 years and we are thrilled by the aspirations, courage and creativity of this landmark class.”

Watson awardees come from private colleges and universities across the United States. From the program’s 40 partner institutions, 152 finalists were nominated to compete on the national level from which 40 Fellows were selected. Fellows use their cash award for 12 months of travel and college loan assistance as needed.

About the Watson Foundation

In 1961, the Watson Foundation was created as a charitable trust in the name Thomas J. Watson Sr., best known for building IBM. Through one-of-a-kind programs, and more than 100 global partnerships, the Foundation provides students with personal, professional and cultural opportunities that expand their vision, test and develop their potential, and build their confidence and perspective do so for others.

About the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship

Nearly 3,000 Watson Fellows have been named since the inaugural class went abroad in 1969. A Watson Year provides fellows with an opportunity to test their aspirations, abilities and perseverance through a personal project that is cultivated on an international scale. Watson Fellows have gone on to become global leaders 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 influencers around the world.

Categories: News, People
Tags: Students, Sunaina Sherchan, Thomas J. Watson Fellowship

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College admits only academically promising students with limited financial resources, primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia, although students come from 40 states and 70 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally-recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly, earning money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.