|Senior Wins Watson Fellowship To Study Perception of Bats Around the World
April 14, 2009
by Rachel Andoga
|Laura Bergner '09|
Davidson senior Laura Bergner has received a $28,000 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to travel the world for a year pursuing her interest in cultural perceptions of bats. “It’s been a whirlwind!” said Bergner. “It still feels surreal, but I’m really excited.”
This year the Thomas J. Watson Program offered fellowships to 40 outstanding college seniors for a postgraduate year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel outside of the United States to enhance their resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership.
“The awards are long-term investments in people, not research,” explained Cleveland Johnson, Director of the Watson Fellowship Program. “We look for persons likely to lead or innovate in the future and give them extraordinary independence to pursue their interests outside of traditional academic structures.”
Bergner, a biology major from McLean, Va., became interested in bats while studying abroad last year in Australia. She is especially interested in how cultural perceptions of bats influence efforts to preserve these creatures, which she describes as “ecologically important and misunderstood animals.”
“Bats suffer from a negative stigma, despite serving a lot of roles that are useful to humans,” she said.
Bergner noted the cultural contrast between China’s reverence of bats as good luck charms and the popularization of bat-killing as a kind of sport in Fiji. She said, “I became curious while I was abroad: how do negative stigmas contribute to how people preserve bats or not?”
Her proposal, titled “Chasing Bats and their Shadows,” outlines her Watson Fellowship plans to travel to Costa Rica, China, Thailand, the Philippines, Madagascar and Fiji to investigate whether the increasing prevalence of ecotourism in these countries prompts a shift in the cultural perception of bats, and increased conservation efforts on their behalf.
“I think environmental education can bridge science and society,” said Bergner. “People visit these countries to see natural fauna like bats, and I think that has the potential to improve conservation efforts.”
Davidson’s last Watson Fellows were Omer Hashmi ’07, who studied Muslim immigrant communities, and Amy Reid ’07, who studied multi-racial identity.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.
Posted By: Bill Giduz