Two Mac students win Watson Fellowship


Ngan “Jasmine” Nguyen ’17 and Kava Garcia Vasquez ’17 are the Macalester recipients of the 2017-2018 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. The Watson Fellowship funds international travel-based projects for graduating seniors. Nguyen will be studying social entrepreneurship in Scotland, Rwanda, India and China. Garcia Vasquez will be studying female skateboarding in Sweden, Spain, Cambodia, South Korea and South Africa. Photos by Maddie Jaffe and Josh Koh. [caption id="attachment_72318" align="alignright" width="3097"] Kava Garcia Vasquez ’17 is one of the Macalester recipients of the 2017-2018 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. The Watson Fellowship funds international travel-based projects for graduating seniors. She will be studying female skateboarding in Sweden, Spain, Cambodia, South Korea and South Africa. Photo by Josh Koh.[/caption]

M.L. Kenney

Two Macalester seniors — Kava Garcia Vasquez and Ngan “Jasmine” Nguyen — have been selected as Watson Fellows for the 2017-18 year.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant for an independent, international travel-based project that is awarded to graduating seniors from 40 partner liberal arts schools.

This is the second year in a row in which two Macalester students have been selected. It is also the first time that two women of color at Macalester have received the fellowship in the same year. Only four colleges besides Macalester have had two or more students awarded Watson fellowships this and last year.

Vasquez’s project, “Skate(board) into the Sun with Me,” will span Sweden, Spain, Cambodia, South Korea and South Africa. The project will consider female practices of skateboarding and involve the creation of a blog in which women who skateboard around the world can share their experiences.

Nguyen’s project is titled “Business with a Soul: Empowering Youth Through Social Entrepreneurship.” She will be visiting Scotland, Rwanda, India and Chile, to study how young people are able to lead their own social ventures in different economies and systems.

“I will have a deeper understanding of the ways in which women are personally, politically, and economically empowered through participating in skateboarding movements and cultures,” Vazquez’s proposal read.

Vasquez, who is from the Bronx, New York, is herself an avid skateboarder, having used the sport in the past as a “cathartic outlet for feelings of depression, anxiety, anger and inferiority.”

“What I can take from Macalester is getting out of my comfort zone,” Vasquez said. “When I go into a context where I teel unfamiliar, I have certain things that can ground me in who I am, so that it’s not as alienating to be in these places.”

Nguyen’s proposal states: “By gaining insight on public policy, incubator hubs, educational institutions and funding foundations in four distinct entrepreneurial communities, I will be able to gain a cross-cultural understanding of what it takes to expand the opportunity of social entrepreneurship to young people between the ages of 16 and 25.”

“The Watson fellowship [will] give me the opportunity to take really take a look at the global ecosystem, and how to make globalization possible and inclusive,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen, who is from Hanoi, Vietnam, came to Macalester for its focus on internationalism following a high school experience in which she found her community to be homogenous.

“At Macalester, I think we have a good number of international students and students of color on campus that I learn so much from,” Nguyen said. “I don’t think ever again I will get this opportunity to pursue this interest on a global level, so I’m very grateful to my Macalester education that made this fellowship happen.”

Ann Minnick, Macalester’s Director of Academic Programs and Advising, was full of praise for both Vasquez and Nguyen.

“Macalester is very fortunate to have once again received two Watson Fellowships,” she wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “It is a testament to the hard work and creative thinking of both individuals; I applaud their success.”

Both Nguyen and Vasquez said this is the first time that two women of color from Macalester have received the Watson fellowship, something which Vasquez said should “give Macalester pause.”

“[The Watson Foundation’s] main prerogative isn’t about where you come from, or what your story is, or what your background is. It’s about how well you tell your story,” Vasquez said.

She claimed she would not even have known about the fellowship had her roommate not been considering it.

“When we think about the idea of the traveler, it’s usually a young white man who is ‘strong’ enough to do that. Especially in my field, entrepreneurship is also very male,” Nguyen said. “I hope in the future we can have more women of color continue to apply for this fellowship, and have the courage to create and follow their own path.” (see full edition online)