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Two Reed College Seniors Receive Watson Fellowships for Travel and Study Abroad

Geoff Finger and Jeffrey Maguire named by the Thomas J. Watson Foundation as two of 50 college seniors nationwide who show unusual promise as leaders.

PORTLAND, OR (April 5, 2007) – Geoff Finger and Jeffrey Maguire, both seniors at Reed College, have been awarded the coveted Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to spend a year abroad following graduation. Finger will use the $25,000 stipend to travel to Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil to explore dance as choreography for social change. Maguire will study cultural responses to HIV/AIDS in Ukraine, China, India, and Ethiopia.

This year’s Watson Fellows will travel to 90 countries, all told, exploring topics ranging from folk puppetry to the global fossil trade. “The awards are long-term investments in people, not research,” said Rosemary Macedo, executive director of the Watson Fellowship Program and a former Watson Fellow. “We look for people likely to lead or innovate in the future and give them extraordinary independence in pursuing their interests.”

Geoff Finger, a religion major from Easton, Pennsylvania, is undertaking research on the connections between dance and social change. Two years ago, a summer internship at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts gave Finger the opportunity to study the interface between modern dance technique and psychophysical practices in Taiwan. “It opened my eyes to the international world of dance,” he says, “and the really innovative conceptions of the power and value of dance occurring outside the U.S.”

Finger credits the Reed College dance department with training him as a versatile dancer, able to play multiple roles as dancer, choreographer, and improviser; he believes those skills will help him during his Watson year. “The thought of planning 365 days of activity focused on one self-designed project is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying,” said Finger. “I can't wait to start.”

Finger’s senior thesis—the year-long research project that all Reed seniors must complete to graduate—focuses on the connections between art and society, as well; Finger is examining an often-performed Chinese opera and the ways in which theater can be viewed as a force that inflicts metaphysical and material changes in the world.

Following his sophomore year, Finger took a year off from Reed to teach English in Sichuan, China, and travel through Southeast Asia and India. “I am very eager to have the opportunity to conduct long-term travel,” he says. “Dance seems like a wonderfully mysterious and challenging way to interact for 12 months in other parts of the world.”

Jeffrey Maguire, a history major from Louisville, Kentucky, began to travel internationally without friends or family as a child: he journeyed to Germany and Austria with Education First when he was nine years old. Since then, he’s continued to visit, and often volunteer, in places such as Mexico, the Netherlands, Rwanda, and Scotland. He has bicycled from London to Rome, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and canoed two hundred miles from Minnesota into Canada. In 2004, he spent six weeks in rural Uganda teaching, building homes, and learning about HIV/AIDS prevention. In 2005, he spent five weeks in Thailand, working at a wildlife rehabilitation center.

“The requirement of a year of unfettered travel combined with the flexibility to design a project that would speak directly to my interests,” says Maguire, “was more than enough for me to know that the Watson was something I had to at least try for.”

During his Watson year, Maguire will pursue research in Ukraine, China, India, and Ethiopia. His project, titled, “From Drag Queens to Deities: Exploring Cultural Responses to HIV/AIDS,” was inspired, in part, by his work with a variety of AIDS organizations, including Cascade AIDS Project and the African Child Foundation.

Maguire is completing a thesis on the effects of Sino-Soviet medical cooperation on the formation of the early Chinese socialist healthcare system.

Each year, the Watson Foundation provides funding to 50 graduating seniors for a year-long independent study project outside the U.S. The projects, which are entirely created, executed, and evaluated by the fellows, focus on a candidate's commitment to a specific concern. Fellows are selected in a two-step process that requires nomination followed by a national competition. This year’s fellows include a paleoanthropologist who will investigate the influence of nationalism on hominid site investigations in Ethiopia, South Africa, Spain, France, Germany, and China; a student traveling to Columbia, Peru, South Africa, Australia, Singapore, and The Netherlands to explore the cultural foundations of justice; and a biologist who plans to study the ethics of healthcare distribution in Switzerland, China, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.