Larry LaRue

LaRue: 1 year, 4 countries, $28,000 and plans to learn and teach

Kelsey Crutchfield-Peters had never heard of the Watson Fellowship until she tagged along with a friend to a University of Puget Sound information seminar.

“One full year traveling abroad, spending three months each in four countries, pursuing a project you love?” she asked. “I applied in November last year, heard I’d won in March.”

And in July, the UPS graduating senior will begin a 365-day trip through Chile, Madagascar, Borneo and New Zealand.

Another UPS senior, Haley Andres, became a Watson Fellow, as well. Come September, she’ll begin a yearlong trip to Australia, Japan, Bolivia and Tanzania.

Their plans could hardly be more diverse.

Crutchfield-Peters, a 22-year-old biology major, will study how conservation efforts affect local peoples and communities. Andres, a 22-year-old double-major — psychology and art — will research how art helps heal trauma in different cultures.

Rather than leaping into the job market or continuing their formal education, both women will take a $28,000 grant and use it to cover a year of expenses.

“I’m excited, but it’s making me crazy,” Andres said with a laugh. “The fellowship endows you with $28,000, and you have to obtain the visas, make all travel plans, find places to stay, organizations to work with and make the money last a year in countries you’ve never visited.

“I know I’ll come home a different person. I know it will change me as an artist.”

Which is a large element of the Watson Fellowship.

Established in 1961 as a charitable trust in honor of Thomas J. Watson, the founder of International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), grants are given to graduates who show “unusual promise.”

While the project proposals go far in earning the grants, they are given not just for the studies.

The fellowship is to provide its fellows “a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel — in international settings new to them — to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness and leadership.”

“They encourage personal growth,” Crutchfield-Peters said. “My interests are biodiversity, but I’m going to explore the economics, politics, language and culture of each place I visit.”

Fellows are expected to stay on the road all 365 days before returning home.

“I started cold-call emailing organizations and groups in the counties I hoped to visit, and told them I might not get the grant but if I did, I’d be there in their country for three months,” said Andres, who was born in Gig Harbor.

“I wanted to deal with nonspecific trauma, the kind that happens in every community, and I wanted to visit Western countries and non-Western, developed and undeveloped countries. In Japan, for instance, I wanted to see how artists created work after the earthquake.”

Crutchfield-Peters, a New Jersey native, will take into the field her love of conservation, along with a healthy dose of skepticism.

“I want to look at ethical transgressions,” she said. “I visited Yosemite and was touched by the Native American history there. Conservationists like John Muir contributed to driving them out, advocated their removal. And Ansel Adams contributed to that by ignoring them in all his photos.

“I’m going to the Juan Fernandez Islands off Chile, where there are only 800 to 900 people. There are endemic species there, and they’re endangered. If we move to save those species, do we do so at the expense of the people there?”

The two UPS women are among 40 fellows selected in 2014 from colleges and universities across the country. Both say the coming year is a bit daunting.

“If you had a pie chart, I’d be 55 percent excited – and 100 percent nervous,” Crutchfield-Peters joked. “I’m a scientist, and I’ve had limited experience interviewing people.

“I expect to be humbled many times. I expect to embarrass myself — I’ll be having conversations where neither of us knows what the other is saying.”

Andres speaks Spanish, which will help in at least one stop.

“In Bolivia, I’ll run workshops for the children,” she said. “They make bracelets, and I’ll teach them painting. I love kids, and I want them to get excited about art. I’m a social person, and I’ll bring my sketchbooks and paints.

“I had a friend who’d traveled who gave me the best advice: Eat everything, then come home and digest it all.”