For Rosie Davis-Aubrey of Philadelphia, dance was more than an extracurricular activity, it was a lifeline. During the next year, she will travel the world to explore how dance creates a safe haven for at-risk youth.
Jamie Faselt of Stillwater, N.J., developed her personal connection to nature among trees, animals and trails. During her yearlong global journey she will discover how other cultures experience nature.
Both Ursinus seniors were awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a grant that allows them to embark on a year of travel, personal insight and creative research. They join 48 other Watson Fellows selected from about 700 applicants from 40 liberal arts colleges. The colleges were chosen for academic rigor and the scope of their liberal arts programs.
“It is a rare honor to have two Watson Fellows selected,” said Melissa Hardin, assistant dean for international students, who is the Watson campus adviser. “This has happened to Ursinus only once before (in 2007) since we were first invited to join the Watson list in 2001.”
Davis-Aubrey, a dance major and biology minor, will explore the topic, “Seeking Refuge: The Role of Dance Programming in the Development of Young Children,” in Ghana, Uganda, Brazil and India. She hopes to learn how dance can be used to create a refuge for economically-disadvantaged youth and how dance is related to maturation. Immersing herself in dance and music programming in those countries, she wants to gain insight into helping children to excel through dance. At Ursinus she leads the Seismic Step team as well as Dancers in Praise. As a Summer Fellow, she did research on dance as a tool for awareness on the effects of foster care on women.
In her own youth, an African American modern dance teacher showed her that dance was about more than technique, it could mold a person. “While dancing, I did not have to worry about being judged because my life was so economically different from the lives of others,” she wrote in her Watson application. “When I stepped onto a dance floor, I became free, unbound by the clutches of poverty. By turning, stretching and leaping, I was able to physically let go of my internal struggles and the frustration of the day would seem to melt away. When I danced I did not have to explain to people how I felt because my movement became my words.”
As she investigates how dance creates a safe space for children from challenging circumstances, she also wants to learn how dance programs in other countries prepare children to become part of society. Davis-Aubrey has plans to connect with a music and arts centers in different areas of Ghana, and to learn how break dancing empowers at-risk youth in Kampala, Uganda. In Brazil she will focus on how dance and music programs prevent Brazilian children from spending time in the streets, and in Jaipur, India, how dance programs promote the indigenous culture.
“Dance encourages the woman I am today. I want to be able to be someone who can make an impact upon someone’s life, in the way that others have made an impact upon me,” said Davis-Aubrey.
Faselt, a biology major who minors in Environmental Studies and Applied Ethics, will spend her Watson year on the topic, “Nature as Necessity: Exploring Varying Conceptions of Nature around the World” in South Africa, India, Australia, Greenland and Belize. She hopes to understand how people in those countries conceive of and interact with nature, and to experience nature through necessity rather than leisure.
Growing up along the Appalachian Trail on a small family farm, hiking and reading nature books, she developed a love for nature. Accompanying her mother to her job as a social worker, young Faselt developed a sense of compassion and giving back.
“My relationship with nature has profoundly affected the person I am today,” she said. “This relationship fostered my curiosity towards the natural world in addition to a spiritual connection to and respect for nature. Nevertheless, I recognize that my experiences with nature are relatively privileged and developed mainly through leisure. I have not necessarily experienced nature out of a need for sustenance, so I am less inclined to view it for its material benefits.”
As a Science Fellow researching alternatives to pesticides, and a volunteer for Urban Tree Connection, her experiences have shown her that “environmental issues occur in rural, suburban, and urban areas alike, that environmental and social issues are intertwined.” Her plans to travel to geographically diverse countries will help her experience nature as necessity, sustenance, and livelihood, as well as in unforeseen ways.
In South Africa, she plans to observe conservation projects. Because spirituality also affects her conception of nature, she will travel to Varanasi, India, to learn how nature, such as such as pollution in the Ganges River, has changed religious experiences. Water security will be a focus in Mildura in Victoria, Australia, a region that allocates vast water resources to industrial agriculture. In Greenland, where a rising sea level glacial melt is enabling new economic opportunities through oil, mineral and ore extraction, Faselt’s stay in the village Narsaq will include fishing expeditions and traveling to mines to engage with residents. She will live with the residents of the small coastal island Caye Caulker, Belize, who rely on the natural environment and ecotourism for their livelihoods.
“I believe that building genuine relationships with the inhabitants of each area will help me overcome some of the difficulties I face as a Westerner,” she said, “allowing me to understand the honest complexities and effects of the construction of nature.”