In 1961, Mrs. Thomas J. Watson, Sr., created a foundation and charitable trust in the name of her husband, the late founder of IBM. Seven years later, the couple’s four children, recognizing their parents’ devotion to education, redirected the Foundation’s focus toward education and travel, initiating the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Since then, the Fellowship has devoted over $29 million to more than 2,700 “Watson Fellows.” Each year, the Watson Fellowship provides approximately 40 graduating college seniors from around the United States with the time and money to pursue a year-long independent study project outside the U.S.A. Think big—where to go, what to do, and why you’re the best fit for the project—and the Watson Fellowship makes dreams come alive. My own dream came alive in 2004 with a Watson Fellowship entitled “The Soul of the Khmer: Music of the Khmer People.”
Raymond Plank, founder of the Apache Corporation, also started the Fund for Teachers program, and since 2001 this organization has awarded over $20 million to more than 5,500 teachers. Its goals closely mirror those of the Watson Fellowship—give people the time and money to pursue their passions, and incredible things will develop—except that the Fund for Teachers expects teacher learning to directly impact student learning.
But, for now, my focus is on me. After three weeks of facilitating student learning, reflection, and growth in Cambodia & Vietnam, I am now in India to learn and experience everything, which is as exhilarating and refreshing a change as any educator could hope for. Yesterday, I took pages of notes while wandering the grounds of Delhi’s Red Fort then went to the National Museum, where I found a small depiction of a one-stringed musical instrument decorating a 13th-Century carving of Surya, the Sun God. The carving, originally from Orissa, is another piece of evidence connecting Indian culture to Cambodia’s, and I will seek out other connections as my Fellowship progresses. In addition to my experiential learning, I am reading a book on Indian history, buying The Times of India daily, and am trying every type of Indian food I find. In a recent email, Fund for Teachers Executive Director Karen Kovach-Webb told me to “do everything,” and I plan on following that admonishment word-for-word.
I am greatly indebted to the Watson Fellowship—my Fellowship year in Cambodia changed the course of my life, personally and professionally—and every day I am in India I grow increasingly indebted to the Fund for Teachers. Opportunities like these are rare, and I am incredibly grateful for both. There will come a time when my focus will return to my students, but for now my focus is to do everything, and to learn because I want to.