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Student wins Watson to report on Soviet ruins

By Public Affairs on March 14, 2015 12:00 AM

History/lit major Sasha Peters ’15 won a Watson Fellowship to explore ruins in the former Soviet sphere. Photo by Chris Lydgate

History/literature major Sasha Peters ’15 won a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to explore abandoned sites and cities in the Soviet sphere through the medium of radio.

Sasha's project is titled Radio in the Ruins and will take her to Latvia, Czech Republic, Poland, Norway, Bulgaria, and Germany. "The Soviet Union and its influence produced an impressive array of buildings, monuments, and sites that embodied communist ideology," her proposal states. "After the Soviet Union’s fall, many of these places became inessential or unsupportable and were abandoned. Some of those places, decaying as they are, remain today. For my Watson year, I will travel to ruins in the Soviet sphere and make radio pieces about each of them. I aim to encapsulate the rich histories and eerie beauty of these ruins with sound."

Her friend Rennie Meyers ’15 also won a Watson Fellowship.

Sasha is writing her senior thesis on the connection between Soviet environmental history and Russian nationalism and how it was reflected in literature with advisers Prof. Marat Grinberg [Russian 2006-] and Prof. Josh Howe [history]. Her first reaction to the news, she says, was "temporary blindness, followed by cold sweat, and then excitement. I want to thank Josh Howe, Prof. Zhenya Bershtein [Russian 1999-], the Watson Committee, and my mentors at Rendered, the podcast I work for. I'm so grateful to Rennie, one of my closest friends at Reed, for worrying and talking and sharing with me, and to Meagan Harris ’15, my constant editor and motivator."

The Watson Year provides fellows with an opportunity to test their aspirations, abilities, and perseverance through personal projects that are cultivated on an international scale. Watson Fellows have gone on to become CEOs of major corporations, college presidents, diplomats, artists, lawyers, doctors, journalists, and renowned researchers and innovators. The program offers a stipend of $30,000 to 50 fellows to pursue an independent study of something they are passionate about in a country that is not their own.

Since the program began in 1968, Reed students have won a total of 67 Watson Fellowships, including Cole Perkinson ’13, who won a Watson to go to Africa and research Zimbabwean music.