Seniors receive Watson fellowships

Aseel Abulhab ’15 and Nathan Miller ’15 have recently been named Thomas J. Watson Fellows for 2015-16. The fellowship, established in 1968 by the children of Thomas J. Watson, endows its recipients with a $30,000 grant enabling a year of independent study outside the United States.

Abulhab and Miller, along with the 48 other students awarded the fellowship from the 700 who applied, will be forbidden from returning to their home country during their year of study. The recipients hail from eight countries and 19 states and will be travelling throughout 78 countries next year, exploring a range of topics.

Abdulhab and Miller will each devote themselves to impressive and profound pursuits throughout the coming year. Abdulhab will focus on developing her interest in American Sign Language (ASL), sparked while attending high school in Michigan. After immersing herself in an ASL class, she began to probe society’s attitudes and treatments of the deaf. Based on this, she founded a club at the College called Williams Signs, focused on understanding deaf culture and the pursuit of ASL. Her interest in ASL extends through various communities, with a summer internship at the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington, D.C. and a junior year spent studying in London inspiring her interest in deaf communities around the world, in particular the education available to deaf children around the world.

Abulhab’s project relates directly to this interest. Entitled “Reconstructing Deafness: An Education in Silence,” it will carry her to Finland, Jordan, South Africa and Costa Rica, fostering her goal of nurturing relationships between the hearing and the deaf communities. “I will listen to their stories of both struggle and triumph in their educational journeys,” Abdullah said. “I hope that by immersing myself in specialized schools for the deaf, I will begin to chip away at the walls that our societies have built between the able-bodied and the disabled.”

Miller grew up in New York, N.Y., developing an interest in music production at the young age of 12, when he began converting household objects into recordable instruments. With the help of a personal computer and rudimentary equipment, he quickly began to compose his own music. Here at the College, he majors in computer science, but has retained his interest in the arts, studying music, poetry and visual art. His junior spring gave him the opportunity to fully immerse himself in this passion once more, as he studied the classical and folk music traditions of South India. During this time, he produced tens of hours of field recordings that he subsequently arranged into an album he intended to be “sonically gripping and ethnographically relevant.”

Miller’s Watson fellowship project is entitled “Creative Spaces: Exploring Artistic Processes in Folk Music Culture.” In its pursuit, he will traverse Zimbabwe, Serbia, Indonesia and Japan.

“I want to explore the creative process as an act of problem solving and learn how artists in different musical traditions approach the problem of creating good art. Music from different parts of the world varies greatly in structure, rhythm, harmony and performance, but there is an equally profound difference in the artistic approaches that engender these variations,” Miller said.

Miller and Abulhab will be joining an illustrious list of previous Watson fellows from the College, including Eloise Andry ’14, Ali Mctar ’14, Abdullah Awad ’13, Emmanuel Whyte ’13, Lindsay Olsen ’12 and Emanuel Yekutiel ’11.