Watson Foundation

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Thomas J. Watson Foundation
Watson Red Logo.png
Founded1961; 61 years ago (1961)
FoundersJeannette K. Watson

The Thomas J. Watson Foundation is a charitable trust formed 1961 in honor of former chairman and CEO of IBM, Thomas J. Watson.[1] The Foundation's stated vision is to empower students “to expand their vision, test and develop their potential, and gain confidence and perspective to do so for others.”[1] The Watson Foundation operates two programs, the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship and the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship.[2][3]

The two programs were based in Providence and New York City, but in 2006 the two fellowships were united in New York.[4][5]

In 2018 the Watson Foundation celebrated its 50th Anniversary.[5] The Foundation moved into its new offices in New York's Woolworth Building that same year.[5]

Thomas J. Watson Fellowship[edit]

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a grant that enables graduating seniors to pursue a year of independent study outside the United States.[6] 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".[1] 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.[7] Unlike those programs, only undergraduates in their senior year at 41 colleges are eligible to apply.[8]


The fellowship itself grants recipients money to spend one year traveling in pursuit of their projects.[9] 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.[10] Currently the award is $36,000 per fellow or $46,000 for a fellow traveling with a spouse or dependent.[11] The stipend also provides student loan repayment for the duration of the fellowship.[12] The Watson Foundation emphasizes that the grant is an investment in a person rather than a project.[13] 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.

Selection criteria[edit]

Qualities sought in fellows include: Leadership, Imagination, Independence, Emotional Maturity, Courage, Integrity, Resourcefulness, and Responsibility.[14] Institutions eligible to nominate Watson Fellows are 41 select small liberal arts colleges with an undergraduate population of fewer than 3,000 students:[15]

Notable Watson Fellows[edit]

Directors of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship[edit]

  • Chris Kasabach, 2011-2012[16]
  • Cleveland Johnson, 2008-2011[17]
  • Rosemary Macedo, 2006-2008[18]
  • Beverly J. Larson, 2003-2006[19]
  • Norv Brasch, 2001-2003[20]
  • Tori Haring-Smith, 1999-2001[21]
  • Noreen C. Tuross, 1997-1999[22]
  • William F. L. Moses, 1995-1997[23]
  • James A. Lehman, 1993-1995[24]
  • Mary E. Brooner, 1991-1993[25]
  • Steven V. Licata, 1989-1991[26]
  • Martin A. Brody, 1987-1989
  • Nancy Y. Bekavac, 1985-1987[27]
  • Joseph V. Long III, 1883-1985
  • Jeanne C. Olivier, 1981-1983[28]
  • David C. Summers, 1979-1981[29]
  • John C. Elder, 1977-1979[30]
  • Daniel L. Arnaud, 1972-1977[31]
  • Robert O. Schulze, Founding Director, 1968-1972[32]

Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship[edit]

In 1999, the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship was created to expose undergraduate students to work through three successive summer internships and mentorship.[1][33] 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.[34]

The fellowship is named after Jeannette K. Watson, the first female member of the IBM Board of Directors, and wife of Thomas J. Watson.[1]

During their first summer, Jeannette K. Watson Fellows intern at a New York City based partner, while the second and third summers can be in New York City, anywhere else in the United States, or overseas.[35] Over the three year fellowship, fellows must go overseas at least once. Fellows are awarded three successive annual grants of $5,500, $6,500, $7,000 in addition to a $2,000 discovery fund.[36] Fellows have gone on to win prestigious awards like the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, the Fulbright Program, and The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. They have also gone on to graduate school at the University of Oxford, Harvard University, and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Selection criteria[edit]

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.[37] The following 12 partnering colleges nominate up to four candidates to be considered in a citywide selections process.

Eligible institutions[edit]


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.[38] Frank Wolf, its second director, served from 2006 until his retirement in 2012.[39] 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.

Directors the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship[edit]

  • Sara Nolfo, 2016–present[40]
  • Frank Wolf, 2006-2012[41]
  • Alice Ilchman, Founding Director, 1999-2006[42]


  1. ^ a b c d e "About Us - Vision - The Foundation". Watson Foundation.
  2. ^ Gup, Ted. "Adventures (and misadventures) of Watson Fellows". Smithsonian, September 1994, Vol. 25 Issue 6, p 68.
  3. ^ Stephanie Rosenbloom (August 15, 2001). "BULLETIN BOARD; Four Get Summer Fellowships". The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  4. ^ “Appleton's Wallenfang Awarded $22,000 Fellowship for “Wanderjahr” to China, India”, ‘‘Lawrence University’’, March 17, 2003. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  5. ^ a b c Schram, Lauren Elkies “As 50th Anniversary Approaches, Nonprofit Signs Deal to Move to Woolworth Building”, ‘‘Commercial Observer’’, November 27, 2017. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  6. ^ "Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Overview".
  7. ^ Kasabach, Chris. "50 Years of Discovery".
  8. ^ "Former Osceola Student Awarded Watson Fellowship". The Sun. Osceola Sun. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
  9. ^ "Thomas J. Watson Fellowship". Berea College.
  10. ^ "Watson Fellowship". Bates College Watson Fellowship.
  11. ^ "Watson Fellowship". Pitzer College Watson Fellowship.
  12. ^ "Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program". Vassar College Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.
  13. ^ "Two Carleton Seniors Earn Prestigious Watson Fellowships". Carleton Seniors Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.
  14. ^ "Thomas J Watson Fellowship".
  15. ^ "Connecticut College Partners with Watson Foundation". Connecticut College Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.
  16. ^ DT Summit 2012 “Design Thinking In Business: Chris Kasabach”, ‘‘DT Summit 2012’’. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  17. ^ BWW News Desk “Morris Museum Announces Appointment of Cleveland T. Johnson as Executive Director”, ‘‘Broadway World’’, October 3, 2017. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  18. ^ Equity Research “Rosemary Macedo”, ‘‘Equity Research’’. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  19. ^ Bard News “TWO BARD SENIORS RECEIVE PRESTIGIOUS AND HIGHLY SELECTIVE WATSON TRAVEL GRANTS”, ‘‘Bard News’’, March 15, 2006. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  20. ^ Steindorf, Sara “Here's $22,000. Now go explore the world”, ‘‘The Christian Science Monitor’’, April 23, 2002. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  21. ^ “Overland Park, KS Resident Awarded Prestigious Watson Fellowship”, ‘‘Claremont McKenna College’’, April 13, 2000. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  22. ^ Foster, Holly “Two Hamilton College Seniors awarded prestigious Watson Fellowships”, ‘‘Hamilton College’’, March 31, 1999. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  23. ^ “Bowdoin Senior Nahyon Lee '97 Awarded Watson Fellowship”, ‘‘Bowdoin College’’, May 15, 1997. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  24. ^ “Knox Senior Receives Watson Fellowship”, ‘‘Knox College’’, May 31, 2000. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  25. ^ Brooner, Mary “African Development Foundation: A New Approach to Bilateral Assistance to Africa”, ‘‘Journal of Legislation’’, January 1, 1978. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  26. ^ “Steven V. Licata”, ‘‘Keynote Seminars’’. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  27. ^ “Nancy Y. Bekavac”, ‘‘RIT Kosovo’’. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  28. ^ “Jeanne C. Olivier”, ‘‘The Center for Media and Democracy’’. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  29. ^ Reuther, David “The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project”, ‘‘The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs’’, July 26, 2012. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  30. ^ “John Elder”, ‘‘Middlebury College’’, July 26, 2012. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  31. ^ “Monrovia Student Wins Fellowship at Pomona”, ‘‘Arcadia Tribute’’, April 4, 1976. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  32. ^ “Local Students Awarded Fellowships to Study Abroad”, ‘‘Montclair Tribute’’, April 6, 1972. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  33. ^ Pittner, Bryen Farrell “Voices: How I went from a small town in Pennsylvania to living in South Africa”, ‘‘USA Today’’, June 28, 2017. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  34. ^ "Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship". Marymount Manhattan College.
  35. ^ "The Ultimate Summer Fellowship Experience: Stephanie Kozofsky On The Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship".
  36. ^ "Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship".
  37. ^ "Selection Criteria".
  38. ^ "Alice S. Ilchman, 71, Economist Who Headed Sarah Lawrence, Dies".
  39. ^ "Our People".
  40. ^ “Government and Politics Student Wins Second Prestigious Award”, St. John's University, March 28, 2017. Retrieved 2018-04-27.
  41. ^ “Executive Director”, ‘‘The New York Times’’. Retrieve 2018-04-27.
  42. ^ Fox, Margalit “Alice S. Ilchman, 71, Economist Who Headed Sarah Lawrence, Dies”, ‘‘The New York Times’’, August 16, 2006. Retrieve 2018-04-27.

External links[edit]