The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a grant that enables graduating seniors to pursue a year of independent study outside the United States. 1968 was the Fellowship's first year, providing graduates with a year to "explore with thoroughness a particular interest, test their aspirations and abilities, view their lives and American society in greater perspective and, concomitantly, develop a more informed sense of international concern". In 2018, the fellowship celebrated its 50th anniversary. In that time, over 42,000 students submitted applications, and nearly 2,000 fellowships were awarded, making the fellowship similarly selective to the Rhodes or Marshall Scholarships. Unlike those programs, only undergraduates in their senior year at 40 colleges are eligible to apply.
The fellowship itself grants recipients money to spend one year traveling in pursuit of their projects. Recipients are forbidden from reentering the United States and their home country for one year. Projects are not academically oriented, as the fellowship is intended to encourage exploration and new experiences rather than formal research. Currently the award is $30,000 per fellow or $40,000 for a fellow traveling with a spouse or dependent. The stipend also provides student loan repayment for the duration of the fellowship. The Watson Foundation emphasizes that the grant is an investment in a person rather than a project. During their travels the Fellows remain unaffiliated with a college or university, instead planning and administering their projects themselves. They are barred from working on a paying job, and are discouraged from joining organized volunteer projects for substantial periods of time.
Qualities sought in fellows include: Leadership, Imagination, Independence, Emotional Maturity, Courage, Integrity, Resourcefulness, and Responsibility. Institutions eligible to nominate Watson Fellows are 40 select small liberal arts colleges with an undergraduate population of fewer than 3,000 students:
Robert O. Schulze, Founding Director, 1968-1972
Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship
In 1999, the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship was created to expose undergraduate students to work through three successive summer internships and mentorship. The fellowship is a competitive academic grant made each year to fifteen undergraduates nominated by 12 affiliated New York City colleges which provides successive summer experiences for three years, stipends, mentoring, seminars, and discovery fund.
The fellowship is named after Jeannette K. Watson, the first female member of the IBM Board of Directors, and wife of Thomas J. Watson.
Qualities sought include high standards, ambition, openness, desire to explore diverse cultures and new professional fields, willingness to act on feedback, leadership, ability to work in groups, integrity and accountability, and a strong academic record. The following 12 partnering colleges nominate up to four candidates to be considered in a citywide selections process.
The Fellowship was established by the Thomas J. Watson Foundation in 1999. Its founding Director, the late Alice Stone Ilchman, former President of Sarah Lawrence College and Elizabeth Buckner, former Board of Advisors member, developed the original idea for the Fellowship and began working with eight colleges. Frank Wolf, its second director, served from 2006 until his retirement in 2012. Dean Emeritus of the School of Continuing Education at Columbia University, Wolf extended participation to four additional New York City colleges and expanded substantially the Fellowship's internships in the for-profit sector. In 2012 the Foundation combined the directorships of its two programs with the appointment of Chris Kasabach as the Executive Director of the Thomas J. Watson Foundation.