Rachel Henault awarded Watson Fellowship

Bates College senior Rachel Henault, of Naugatuck, Ct., is one of 60 students nationwide recently selected to receive a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.

The $16,000 award will support a year of travel and research in Peru, Ecuador and Mexico during which Henault plans to study tropical forest plant products as a sustainable source of income. A devoted conservationist, Henault is interested in exploring how conservation strategies affect the individuals most dependent on the rain forest.

The Thomas J. Watson Foundation this year considered 179 candidates nominated by 50 small, private, liberal arts colleges noted for their quality and commitment to undergraduate education.

Bates biology professor Sharon Kinsman, who has served as Henault’s thesis adviser, described her as “a remarkable young person.” Kinsman cited Henault’s “committed interdisciplinary and international view, her extraordinary eagerness to learn and live, her senses of fun, of wonder, of moving onward. She inspires me,” said Kinsman.

A native New Englander who graduated from Holy Cross (Waterbury, Ct.) High School, Henault plans to gather evidence of plant harvesting, processing and marketing. “I am interested in strategies incorporating biological, economic and scientific reasons with cultural sensitivity,” says Henault, who spent a junior semester abroad studying the use of land and labor in the banana industry in Belize. Her course work and field work there broadened her scientific inquiry of plants to include the areas of economics and human ecology. “It’s important to investigate all the elements,” Henault says. “It’s exciting stuff.”

Henault will culminate her Bates career by spending the month of May in Costa Rica as part of a Bates Short Term unit focused on biological conservation and community service. Short Term is a five-week year-end session at Bates during which students enroll in a single course. Many of the Short Term units involve off-campus research.

Following her graduation in late May, Henault departs for Ecuador to undertake her Watson Fellowship project.

A dean’s list student and a Dana Scholar, Henault was president of the Freewill Folk Society from 1993-94. She is the daughter of Rosemary Henault of 342 Wooster St., Naugatuck, Ct.

Bates history professor Dennis Graflin, the Thomas J. Watson liaison officer for Bates and the chair of the college’s Watson Committee, said that the fellowship program, now in its 28th year, “is unique in its concern for giving recent college graduates an opportunity to develop a deep personal interest anywhere else in the world, outside the framework of academic or occupational responsibilities. It is the most long-term sort of investment in human capital, seeking to expand its fellows’ sense of their own capacities as people who will lead and change the world.”

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