Mariya Krutkova '16 Wins Watson Fellowship
The German and international studies double major, who was adopted from Ukraine, will explore how orphaned youth are mentored across the globe.
Mariya Krutkova '16 grew up in an orphanage in Ukraine. Though she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, when she was adopted at age 16, she never lost touch with her friends back in Odessa. Some of those friends went on to good schools or jobs, but others fell victim to drugs and alcohol, crime, homelessness, and even suicide. Krutkova had trouble reconciling the stories of her struggling former classmates with the kind, intelligent, energetic children she had known back in Ukraine. If they had all started out at the same place, she wondered, how had they come to such different ends?
"The conclusion that I came to was this—they had no one to turn to when things got tough," she says of her more troubled friends. "What they lacked was a person in their life who would care, listen, support, offer advice, tell them he or she is there for them—a mentor and friend. [It's] a simple thing which most of us take for granted, but which could make a world of difference for those who don't have a family."
It was this belief in the power of mentorship coupled with the inspiration of her mother, who works to promote international adoption, that fueled Krutkova's interest in learning about the different ways that orphaned youths are supported around the world. Just as she was seeking ways to endeavor a study of the topic, she learned of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a one-year grant for purposeful, independent study outside the United States for new graduates.
"It just seemed to be a perfect match for what I wanted to do, and more," says Krutkova. "It offered a chance to explore, completely independently, what I had so long carried in my mind and heart, all while immersing myself in new cultures, which is something I love to do."
The national program is highly competitive; this year, 152 finalists were selected from 40 partner institutions, and 40 fellows were named. Krutkova is one of them. Watson Fellows receive a $30,000 stipend for 12 months of travel, college loan assistance as applicable, and a health insurance allowance.
"The Watson looks for an almost ineffable 'fit' between the person and proposed project. And the project must be something about which the applicant is truly passionate," says Senior Associate Dean of the College and Dean of Student Life Steven Watter. "Mariya and her project represented one of the best fits I have seen in my 30 years as the Watson campus advisor."
Krutkova will spend her yearlong fellowship traveling to India, South Africa, Belarus, and Denmark to witness the work of organizations that provide mentorship to orphans and, hopefully, learn which models are most feasible and effective. She is looking forward to her South African travels, in particular, as she is eager to experience its community-care model for orphans, which is quite different than the institutionalized care or foster-care programs that proliferate in the West.
"Mariya has certainly made the most of her time at Haverford," says Watter. "While a double major in international studies and German, who has succeeded spectacularly in the classroom, she has found time to hold down campus jobs, participate in and lead student organizations, and engage in volunteer work associated with orphans and adoption processes."
Krutkova credits her friends, deans, and professors at Haverford and Bryn Mawr with not only exposing her to the Watson Fellowship opportunity, but also for preparing her for it. Specifically, she mentioned the help Dean Watter, Professor Clark McCauley, Assistant Professor Imke Brust, Writing Center Tutor Raquel Joyce, Erin Islo '12 and Alana Engelbrecht '16 offered in her application process, which reinforced her appreciation of the Bi-Co community.
"I think the most important thing Haverford teaches is to not only see social problems, but believe that one can find ways to address them, if one applies oneself to that cause," she says. "This empowering lesson was one of the forces that drove the creation of my project.”