College approves WSP 99s, Gaudinos

From studies of city planning in Patagonia to museum internships in Peru, this January Ephs will be spreading out all over the globe to explore a plethora of subjects and interests. Two weeks ago, the Winter Study Committee granted 139 students permission to pursue 99s, self-designed projects that allow individuals to pursue particular intellectual or artistic goals on or off-campus during the period of Winter Study.

The majority of the 168 proposals submitted were approved, although 8 students have subsequently withdrawn their projects due to rising costs. Of the 139 approved proposals, 85 will take students out of Williamstown, while 42 students will pursue their 99s on campus. The highest percentage of applicants was from the sophomore class.

Barbara Casey, associate registrar for students and faculty services, observed that the overall numbers are higher than last year, when only 117 projects were approved.

However, the number of Gaudino Fund applicants has dropped significantly. Compared to a record high of 23 candidates last year, this year there were only eight applications for Gaudino grants. Of these, four were approved by the Gaudino Board when they met here in October.

“In general, the trend in past years has been for the number both of applicants and accepted projects to go up as the program has gained more publicity,” said Julie Cassiday, professor of Russian and the College’s Gaudino Scholar. “However, this year, I believe the numbers are down since we could only publicize the program about a week before the deadline for students to apply for WSP 99s.”

This lag in communication was due to a major overhaul in the program’s funding structure, which provides a limited number of students with grants to pursue 99s outside Williamstown. Previously, each student accepted to the program received $1000 regardless of their financial aid status. Beginning this Winter Study, funding for students who are accepted will be determined by the Financial Aid office on the basis of their proposed project budgets and the financial aid they receive.

The Gaudino Board selects proposals on the basis of their academic rigor, capacity for self-reflection and emphasis on interactions with people of different backgrounds. Students are encouraged to step outside their comfort zones and immerse themselves in experiential learning experiences.

Chloe Brown ’10, who was selected to be a Gaudino Fellow this Winter Study, will travel to Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, to study veiling practices and the gendering of public and private space. “As an American woman looking at gender situations in the Middle East, my knee-jerk reaction is an aversion to veiling, and I thought that this discomfort was something I needed to confront and explore, because I plan on studying the Middle East in the future,” she said.

Across the continent, Veronica Ivey ’08 will be interning with the Chi Heng Foundation in Beijing, promoting peer-education networks and HIV/AIDS awareness among Chinese adolescents. While she expressed excited at the chance to work with children on such an important health issue she also recognized the challenges inherent in her project. “It will be difficult to raise the issue of safer sexual behavior, while being sensitive to societal standards,” she said.

Many students are also traveling abroad as a part of 12 Winter Study travel courses on offer this year. Berlin, Morocco, New York City, Turkey and Nicaragua are just a few of the places Williams students will be visiting in January, to study topics as diverse as eye care and antique rug markets.

Chaplain Rick Spalding, who is leading the “Explorations in Solidarity” course to Nicaragua, expressed regret that he was only able to accept 16 of the 23 applicants. “That’s the largest number I’ve had,” he said. “And it’s agonizing to have to say no to anyone who’d like to have this experience; I always hope sophomores will reapply during their senior year.” He added that students who have traveled to Nicaragua with him in recent years have called it “one of the most meaningful experiences of their Williams careers,” an opportunity he wants to share with as many students as possible.