Rhodes College Senior Julia Blackmon Awarded Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to Travel the World

head and shoulder image of Julia Blackmon

Julia Blackmon, a Rhodes College senior from Austin, TX, has been selected to receive the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which provides a one year $40,000 grant for purposeful, independent exploration outside the United States. The award allows fellows a rare opportunity right after college to pursue original projects on a global scale. She is one of only 35 fellows selected in the nation.

Blackmon’s project is titled “Rock and Roll’s Influence on Cultural Identity” with proposed destinations of Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and Argentina. “During my Watson year, I will examine the connection between rock music and cultural identity through the lens of revolution. The Watson will allow me to engage with communities who use music to reckon with radical change,” she said.

At Rhodes, Blackmon is pursuing a major in psychology and a minor in music and has earned a certificate in music industry studies. She is a soloist in the Rhodes Jazz band, and as a leader in the Mike Curb Institute for Music Fellowship Program, she oversees the Beyond Beale Podcast and the Curb Songwriters’ Night series.

“Rock music has always been a big part of my life,” said Blackmon. “I started playing in bands in Austin when I was in elementary school. Memphis and Rhodes have allowed me to study audio engineering with incredible mentors, and to explore what music means to different communities. My Watson year will give me the chance to gain a completely new perspective on how music pushes political boundaries, informs identity, and acts as an anthem during times of conflict. I could not be more grateful to have the opportunity to study what I love most with this level of support.”

On campus, Blackmon is also a member of Professor Matthew Weeks’ psychological research team, the Rhodes chapter of Chi Omega sorority, and the Just City Advocates club. As a participant of the Rhodes Mock Trial Program, she won an all-region witness award.

In the local community, Blackmon has been a volunteer with the Memphis Animal Services and the Memphis Humane Society and a Mid-South Chess coach. She has held internships at the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office, Easley McCain Recording, and Royal Studios. In 2023, she was awarded Rhodes’ Lainoff Fellowship to record her first EP at Royal.

“Julia gave everything she had to the Watson application process. Never afraid to change her mind or change course, she developed and refined her project with tireless enthusiasm until it reached the place it needed to be,” said Dr. Jason Richards, co-director of post-graduate fellowships at Rhodes. “After looking underground and in the margins for a musical genre best aligned with her project’s progressive vision, she found it in the no-longer-mainstream genre of rock and roll. While rock might still conjure images of callow rebellion, Dionysian indulgence, and easy release, Julia’s project moves past the stereotypes into the transformative power of this music, its radical and revolutionary energies, and its ability to unify disparate worlds while working toward a better world altogether.”

Students interested in learning more about the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship application process and other nationally competitive postgraduate scholarships should contact Dr. Jason Richards or Dr. Esen Kirdis