Four Rhodes College Seniors Compete for 2023 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship

collage of four Rhodes College students

Four Rhodes College seniors are competing for the prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which provides a $40,000 grant for purposeful, independent exploration abroad. If selected, fellows execute their conceived projects by traveling outside the United States for one year. They decide where to go, when to change course, and do not have to affiliate with an academic institution or hold formal employment. The program is designed to produce a year of personal insight, perspective, and confidence. Qualities sought in the selection of fellows include leadership, imagination, independence, emotional maturity, courage, integrity, and resourcefulness.

The Rhodes students vying for the prestigious fellowship are:

Isabel López, economics and international studies major 
Project Title: “(Re)Defining Our Roots: Exploration of Diaspora Identities”
Proposed Countries: South Africa, Peru, England, and Chile

Benjamin Oelkers, biochemistry and molecular biology major
Project Title: “Abandoning Treatment: Exploring the Desertion of Pediatric Cancer Care”
Proposed Countries: United Kingdom, South Africa, India, and Philippines

Anna Parkinson, psychology major
Project Title: “Exploring Non-Utilitarian Spirituality Through Monasticism”
Proposed Countries: Austria, United Kingdom, India, Japan, and Denmark

Van Tran, international studies major 
Project Title: “Outer Journey, Inner Mission: Exploring the Self-Transformation of Women on Foreign Lands”
Proposed Countries: Kenya, Turkey, Portugal, Mongolia, and India

López, who is from Caracas, Venezuela, was one of the Phi Beta Kappa Society’s Key into Public Service Scholars for 2021. On campus, she is president of Amnesty International and has served as a Rhodes Student Government senator and the Latinx Student Association representative for VOICES. In addition, she has participated in Harvard University’s Public Policy Leadership Conference, and in the summer of 2022 completed a rigorous summer institute program hosted by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Oelkers, who is from Metairie, LA, was a St. Jude Summer Plus Fellow who worked with the St. Jude Children’s Hospital anesthesiology department to identify risk factors for airway devices in pediatric cancer patients. He also is one of the students in Prof. Shana Stoddard’s Molecular Immunotherapies Research Lab who conduct innovative research focused on therapeutic agents for treating coronaviruses. On campus, he is the president of the service organization Lynx Club and on the leadership team for the Reformed University Fellowship.

Parkinson, who is from Little Rock, AR, is interested in psychology and creative writing. On campus, she has worked in Professor Matthew Weeks’ Social Cognition Lab and as a Career Services Summer Associate. In addition, she is a member of the Reformed University Fellowship.
Tran, who is from Bien Hoa, Vietnam, is currently an intern at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS). In the summer of 2022, she worked as an intern for GlobeMed and for Transparency International Ireland in Dublin, while participating in the Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Programs at Boston University School of Law. On campus, she was selected as a Mertie W. Buckman International Intern for 2022, and she is a member of the international studies honor society, an Intercultural Perspective Coordinator for the Kinney Program, and a participant of the Multicultural Vision Program: Peer Mentoring for Success.

Students interested in learning more about the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship application process and other nationally competitive postgraduate scholarships should contact Dr. Esen Kirdis or Dr. Jason Richards, co-directors of post-graduate fellowships at Rhodes College.