Two Seniors Earn Watson Fellowships
Tosin Alliyu and Owen Janson will spend next year traveling the world in pursuit of independent research projects cultivated on an international scale thanks to $30,000 awards.
Two members of the Class of 2018, Tosin Alliyu and Owen Janson, have been awarded Thomas J. Watson Fellowships, which fund a year of independent exploration and international travel for newly graduated college students. Alliyu and Janson are among the 40 awardees in the 50th class of Watson Fellows selected from a highly competitive pool of 152 national finalists. Watson Fellows come from 40 private liberal arts colleges and universities and receive $30,000 to subsidize an independent project undertaken during 12 months of travel outside the United States.
Alliyu, a computer science major with a concentration in peace, justice, and human rights, will spend next year traveling to Singapore, Spain, South Africa, and Dubai for her project, "Design and Human-Centered Products Across Cultures." This project was inspired by her time studying abroad in South Korea, where they are building "smart cities"—urban areas that use different types of electronic data collection to supply information to efficiently manage assets and resources—from the ground up.
"Living in Seoul, there were several innovations implemented into the society and the urban space that were not only accessible to everyone, but also noticeably enhanced the daily lives of people and, personally, made my transition into a new country and culture a lot easier" says Alliyu. "Examples of these innovations included key cards that controlled electricity in the dorm rooms, the heated wooden floors, [and] the electronic service bells at the end of tables in most restaurants."
Alliyu now wants to look at how people are designing products using similar technology—from Barcelona's trashcans that alert cleaners when they are full to Cape Town's remote utility meter readings that aim to aid their water shortage efforts—to understand what factors shape them and how their outcomes affect the people they are supposed to support.
While at Haverford, Alliyu has worked with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Sorelle Friedler researching bias in computer-generated decisions and her thesis explores ways to improve user interfaces of social media permissions in Android applications.
"My academic journey and my Watson project relate to one another in the sense that I am exploring ways in which we can improve technology and other products so that they are inclusive and equitable," says the Philadelphian.
Chemistry major Janson has been foraging for mushrooms since he was 10 years old. Next year he will take his fungi hunt international thanks to his Watson award. He will travel to Poland, Slovenia, France, Italy, England, Japan, and China to explore how different communities forage for mushrooms. And by doing so, he hopes to gain a better understanding of his longtime hobby and solidify an approach that maximizes safety, enjoyment, and sustainability.
"Mushroom hunting is not a very popular activity in the U.S., and much of the population fears wild mushrooms due to horror stories about poisonings," says the Mill Valley, Calif., native. "However, the U.S. is somewhat of an exception in terms of how we see mushrooms. In most countries, mushroom foraging is a very common and celebrated activity. I want to know what it is like to be in these other places, and how they perceive wild mushrooms differently than we do."
Janson, who is particularly excited to travel to Poland, where mushroom hunting is a treasured national pastime, works with fungi on campus too. The biochemistry concentrator is part of Associate Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Science Helen White's lab, which studies the persistence and transformation of organic contaminants in marine environments with a focus on petroleum-based compounds. As part of his senior thesis, he has been studying oil-degrading marine fungi as an extension of his interest in fungal biology. (The marine fungi, unfortunately, don't produce mushrooms.)
Amy Feifer, assistant dean of the College and director of career services who has acted as the College's liaison to the fellowship since spring 2016, was inspired by Alliyu and Janson's infectious passion for their individual projects. She is unsurprised that the Watson Fellowship's board was similarly moved by their proposals.
"The Watson Foundation looks for exceptional students who have a deep-seated interest in their project idea," said Feifer. "Tosin and Owen possess the qualities that make for a successful Watson year: initiative, passion, imagination, and resourcefulness."
"This year we celebrate a half century of investing in remarkable students and the vivid value that has been provided by the program over five decades," said Chris Kasabach, executive director of the Watson Foundation. "Watson Fellows have gone on to argue American's most influential education legislation before the U.S. Supreme Court, reinvent affordable housing, journalism, Broadway, contemporary music, computing and data science, and change how we think about the earth's formation. The importance of investing in young leaders has only grown over the last 50 years, and we are thrilled the by the aspirations, courage, and creativity of this landmark class."
Since 1973, when the College began nominating students to the program, 64 Fords have received the highly competitive Watson Fellowships. This year's Watson recipients join an esteemed rank of fellow Fords who were so dedicated to their interests and communities that they followed them from Haverford classrooms to destinations across the globe.
"Tosin and Owen have been leaders in their own special ways," said Feifer. "They have taken advantage of immersing themselves into the Haverford community, in addition to the other communities with which they have come into contact over their four years. Their imaginations in pursuing their interests, while being active and vital members of the Haverford community, are very special."