Bates Seniors Win Prestigious Watson Fellowships

Two Bates seniors, Adilene Sandoval and Elizabeth LaCroix, were among 42 seniors nationally who received grants as part of the 55th class of the fellowship.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a prestigious “one-year grant for pur­pose­ful, inde­pen­dent explo­ration out­side the Unit­ed States, award­ed to grad­u­at­ing seniors,” according to the fellowship’s website. Winners receive $40,000 to pursue and realize their original project during the year following their graduation.

Adilene Sandoval

Adilene Sandoval, a sociology and environmental studies double major, will embark on a journey through Australia, Italy, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Colombia and Guatemala to complete her research project, “Weaving Together Activism and Healing.”
Sandoval’s project will explore different trauma healing models and anti-colonial, justice-informed healing models through interviews and volunteer work. She hopes to “[bring] together activism and healing to foster psychological well-being, a de-colonial social consciousness, active resistance and progressive social justice in the communities affected by institutional violence, repression and social injustices.”

According to Sandoval in an email interview, her project’s inspiration “came from wanting to create alternative realities– that center healing–for the inequalities I have witnessed my entire life.”

After her semester abroad, traveling through Ecuador, Spain and South Africa with School for International Training where she learned about the intersection of sustainability, agriculture and social justice, Sandoval found herself “heartbroken, having a really hard time processing the immense theme of inequalities that persisted across all three countries, specifically affecting BIPOC communities.”

Sandoval heard about the Watson fellowship in her first year at Bates. “I remember telling my freshman self to apply when the time came around,” says Sandoval. The fellowship’s holistic approach to experiential learning and its commitment to funding individuals instead of projects drew her to the program. “They really focus on projects that are an extension of the self,” according to Sandoval.

Though the fellowship does not require the completion of a finished end product, Sandoval will be creating a film collection with her research. In addition, her research will inform the approach she takes into a PhD program upon her return to the U.S. “I want my research to represent the broad range of healing practices that exist and not limit itself to western-based practices.”

When asked about how Bates specifically prepared her to take on such a project, Sandoval cited the Africana department as instrumental. “The courses that I have taken in the Africana department have provided me with spaces to foster a decolonial mind. This has allowed me to question dominant narratives and critically examine the sources of information that I consume and focus on seeking out diverse voices and perspectives.”

Furthermore, Sandoval named Professor Cassandra Shepard as profoundly influential in her academic career at Bates. “Her work inspired me every single class, and at the end of my last class with her, she knew I was ready to engage in decolonial work out in the world.”

Sandoval will depart for her Watson year by August 1 and will return in August of 2024.

Elizabeth LaCroix

Elizabeth LaCroix, an English and chemistry double major, will visit Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ecuador, China and India to complete her research project, “The Global Story of Menstrual Pain” during her Watson year.

Her project will involve “collecting the stories of researchers, medical practitioners and patients who deal with menstrual pain and different conditions that cause menstrual pain.” She seeks to heal miscommunications between these groups while also answering questions about what we consider ‘normal’ pain in addition to exploring different methods of treating menstrual pain.

Like Sandoval, LaCroix heard about the fellowship in her freshman year. “I was really interested by it because it’s just such an amazing opportunity to have this year after college to travel and have this research project of your choice.” Having always had an interest in pursuing this type of research into menstrual pain, LaCroix saw this fellowship as her ticket in. “I never imagined that I would actually get it […] I am still in disbelief.”

LaCroix plans to write a blog to document her time and experiences while abroad. During her year, LaCroix says she hopes to come to a greater understanding of her own pain while also helping others understand their pain and health.

When asked about why she will be traveling to the countries in her program, LaCroix says that this specific field of research is limited. “It’s actually kind of concentrated [in] one section of the world which is why I’m going to Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.”

However, she acknowledges that this geographical area limits her research. “I want to look for alternative ways of treating pain beyond the Western approach to medicine,” LaCroix adds. According to LaCroix, traditional medicine practices have been used to treat menstrual pain and endometriosis for centuries. Thus, she will be traveling to China and Ecuador to explore traditional medicine.

LaCroix, however, anticipates some challenges during her Watson year. “Some places of the world don’t speak about menstruation. In many cultures, it is treated as a secret, so I think it is going to be hard to talk to some women who have grown accustomed to not speaking about menstruation at all.”

LaCroix is excited to talk to current field researchers, as she has not yet met anyone currently working in this subject area. When she reached out about shadowing these researchers, LaCroix reported that “they were really excited because this field doesn’t get a lot of attention [and] it doesn’t get a lot of funding.” She added, “I’m really excited to talk to people who share the same passion of mine and are trying to answer the same questions.”

As for how Bates has prepared her to take on this project, LaCroix says her autofiction class with Jess Anthony was integral to her application. As part of a creative writing class, LaCroix indicates that she wrote a piece on her menstrual pain experience.“I did a lot of thinking through writing that paper for a class, and a lot of segments of my application are taken from that narrative that I wrote.”

LaCroix also says that the chemistry department has been a huge part of her journey to wanting to do research. “I have always felt supported doing research at Bates, and eventually I realizedI wanted to be a researcher because I believe that is my path for making a greater impact on this field.” She adds that the chemistry department has “perhaps made the biggest impact on my life and its course.”

In addition, LaCroix adds that English Professors Lilian Nayder and Jess Anthony along with Organic Chemistry Professor Jen Koviach-Coté and her thesis advisor Andrew Kennedy have all been crucial supporters through her Watson process.

As she looks ahead to her Watson year, LaCroix says that she’s “open for the project to evolve as I start to understand this research field and begin talking to more people who suffer from menstrual pain, because I am currently basing my project on my personal experiences as well as those I am close to.”

LaCroix will depart in July and return the following year.