Watson Fellowship winner Stevie Hoesel ’22 outside of Eliot Hall.
Watson Fellowship winner Stevie Hoesel ’22 outside of Eliot Hall.

The Perfect Person for the Job

Watson Fellowship winner Stevie Hoesel ’22 plans to bring a unique lens to the study of youth intervention systems around the world.

By Romel Hernandez | May 19, 2022

By 15 Stevie Hoesel had already reached a crossroads in her young life. She had grown up shuttling back and forth between living with her single mother in her native Taiwan and staying with family and friends in the United States and Canada. After dropping out of school to support her family, she says, she got mixed up in criminalized activities.

That’s when she made a conscious choice to change course, securing a scholarship to attend a private boarding school in California and, after excelling academically and earning her high school diploma, going on to study at Reed.

This spring the senior anthropology major was one of 42 students nationwide selected as a 2022 Watson Fellow, earning an all-expenses-paid, few-strings-attached year of international travel to pursue a meaningful personal project. 

As someone who can’t help wondering how her journey might have turned out if she hadn’t gotten serious about school, Hoesel hit on the perfect topic for her Watson—studying criminal intervention systems for youth in New Zealand, Australia, Norway, and the Netherlands. She will spend a year investigating how diverse communities and social institutions around the world make policies and practices related to incarceration and its alternatives, such as restorative justice.

“What people misunderstand about youth involved in criminal activity is that there’s a sense of community that comes out of being involved in things like gangs,” she says. “Thats why only talking about ‘rehabilitating at-risk kids’ is very much displacing the underlying issue that there aren’t enough intervention and support systems to help communities.”

Hoesel’s childhood experiences make her uniquely suited to explore such a complex issue.

“You have to be able to show you’re the perfect person to do your project, and this is the project for me,” she says. “What others may consider personal baggage becomes my toolkit for working with and for kids.”

The Thomas J. Watson Foundation is in its 54th year awarding travel fellowships to graduating seniors from a select group of small liberal arts colleges across the country, including Reed. The prestigious program aims, in the foundation’s words, to help students “develop personal, professional and cultural opportunities that expand their vision, test and develop their potential, and build their confidence and perspective to be more humane and effective leaders with a world view.” Dozens of Reedies have been Watson fellows over the years; Hoesel is this year’s selection from the college.

Hoesel learned about the Watson program on a visit to the Center for Life Beyond Reed, which helps students explore life and career options after graduating. The center’s advisors support students starting as early as their sophomore and junior years through every step of the extremely competitive fellowship application and interview process.

She also credits serving as co-chair of the Student Judicial Board, which investigates and adjudicates alleged violations of Reed’s Honor Principle, with expanding her thinking about the meaning of justice. She says, “Serving on the J Board can be emotionally taxing, but it's been a great place to learn about different ways to be proactive in supporting community values, and at the same time trying to reduce harm and making people feel safe and supported.”

Hoesel’s first Watson travel destination will be New Zealand, where she will examine why the Maori people’s approach to restorative justice has become a global model. She will compare her findings to Australia, which, she says, “is often framed as an unfriendly place for minority and indigenous kids,” but is working toward reforming its systems.

Following her stint in the southern hemisphere, she will head to Europe to learn about Norway’s innovative prison and rehabilitation system and the Netherlands’ network of community organizations working with youth at the grassroots level.

She has already established an impressive network of contacts with government agencies, activist groups, and higher education institutions in the countries she plans to visit. That said, she is staying open to serendipity and the possibility her travels may take her in some different directions—something very much in line with the Watson ethos.

“I’m not limiting myself,” she says. “I figure this is a chance to figure out what I really want to do in the future.”

Hoesel is considering law school or graduate school for public policy. And while she says she is unsure about her long-term plans, she envisions a career “centered on creating better outcomes for people and their communities.”