Indian American students Janani Mandayam Comar of CalTech, Priya Donti of Harvey Mudd win Watson Fellowship

One year grant to pursue overseas project.

Janani (on the left) and Priya

AB Wire

WASHINGTON, DC: Two Indian American students, Janani Mandayam Comar of California Institute of Technology and Priya Donti of Harvey Mudd College are among the recipients of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, for 2015.

The fellowship is a one-year grant for purposeful, independent study outside the United States, awarded to graduating seniors nominated by one of 40 partner colleges in the US.

The fellowship was instituted in memory of Thomas J. Watson Sr., who was best known for building IBM from its formation in 1914 until his passing in 1956. Now over a century old, IBM’s teams and technology implemented the American social security system, guided the first human flight to the moon, and re-invented cancer treatment. The Thomas J. Watson Research Center includes 12 labs on six continents and has produced six Nobel laureates.

The 47th class of Watson Fellows will investigate topics ranging from artificial reef communities to criminal justice; from cross-cultural comedy to global cinema; from childhood education to smart grids.

The fellowship itself grants recipients money to spend one year traveling in pursuit of their projects. Recipients are forbidden from reentering the United States and their home country for one year. Projects are not academically oriented, as the fellowship is intended to encourage exploration and new experiences rather than formal research. Currently the award is $28,000 per fellow or $38,000 for a fellow traveling with a spouse or dependent.

Unlike many fellowships, the Watson Foundation requires no tangible output, emphasizing that the grant is an investment in a person rather than a project.

Since the program’s inception in 1968, the Watson foundation has awarded over 2,500 fellowships. Among the former Watson Fellows are included numerous diplomats, scholars, doctors, and artists. The breadth of experiences is so diverse as to include both the late Sudanese Vice-President John Garang as well as Tony Award winning Broadway director Julie Taymor.

Janani Mandayam Comar was the Caltech Y Advocating Change Together (ACT) Award recipient.

Het Watson fellowship project is titled: ‘Oru Kathai: Sharing the Female Narrative Through Bharatanatyam’, and she plans to travel Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Malaysia.

Comar says of her project: “As the world grows closer together, the female experience transcends cultural boundaries. During my Watson year, I will explore the female experience using the classical Indian dance form Bharatanatyam as my tool. I will collect stories of struggle, triumph, horror and failure both within and outside of the Indian diaspora. Working with Bharatanatyam institutions, I will create dance works that can communicate these experiences, emotions, and themes to a wider audience. I hope to better understand what womanhood means to others and, along the way, to myself.”

Priya Donti of Harvey Mudd College is a President’s Scholar. She was a former tutor for Homework Hotline, a free, over-the-phone mathematics and science tutoring service for students in grades 4–12. Donti is a staff member in the Harvey Mudd Writing Center. She develops and teaches lessons for Science Bus, a program that brings hands-on science lessons to elementary school students. She is also co-president of Engineers for a Sustainable World/Mudders Organizing for Sustainability Solutions (ESW/MOSS) and volunteers for Mudders Making a Difference.

Donti’s Watson fellowship project is titled ‘Smart Grids: Policies, People, and a New Pulse’. She plans to travel to Germany, India, South Korea and Chile.

She says of her project: “In the face of global climate change, Smart Grids–intelligent energy distribution systems–are hailed among environmentalists as the solution to increasing renewable energy usage. However, the purpose and efficacy of this technology in different countries may depend on governmental and cultural contexts. In order to investigate how these contexts affect Smart Grid development, during my Watson year I will travel to countries in various stages of Smart Grid policy creation and implementation. There, I will explore policymakers’ motivations and strategies for planning their Smart Grids, as well as the local effects of these plans. I will also deepen my understanding of the influences on people’s views of Smart Grid technology and policy. By exploring the interactions between policies and people, I will gain insight into the dynamics of social change within a particular cultural context.”

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