Lehman Student Wins Prestigious Watson Fellowship

By Mairin Cahill


Victoria Smith, winner of a Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship. Photo courtesy of Victoria Smith.

Victoria Smith, winner of a Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship. Photo courtesy of Victoria Smith.

Lehman freshman Victoria Smith won a Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship this April. The fellowship gives freshmen and sophomores selected from 12 partner institutions in New York City access to a rigorous program intended to help them flourish in their undergraduate careers via stipends, internships, cultural events, and mentoring.

Of the 16 Lehman students invited to an interview before a panel of college faculty, four were selected to represent the college before fellowship board, with Smith selected as the sole winner from Lehman.

Smith says she hopes the guidance provided by the fellowship, coupled with the experience of being a Lehman and Macaulay Honors College student, will be instrumental to her growth as a student. Though Smith has not yet declared a minor, she anticipates her Watson internships will help her find her educational and career paths. Her passion for social justice issues has led her to consider majors in Africana studies or psychology, but she said that could all change, depending on how the next three years as a Watson Fellow shape her. She added that her undergraduate career is an opportunity to transition from being identified solely as a female drummer, as she was in high school, to a more comprehensive identity. “I’m open to a lot of different options” she said, regarding the future.

For her first internship this summer, Victoria will be working at the Thyroid, Head, and Neck Cancer Foundation. Though at first unsure if it would be a good fit, her impression soon changed. “I loved the environment! I wouldn’t just be in a lab coat breaking down molecules, this would be a research internship where I would be learning about what goes into a successful research project and I would learn how to work with people in many different areas of concentration, and study a very broad topic such as cancer.” 

Hillary Frank, a Lehman junior majoring in chemistry, is currently flourishing as a Watson Fellow. During her Freshman year, she began working in a research lab on campus, where faculty mentors encouraged her to explore other areas of science, and prompting her to apply for a Watson fellowship. For her first internship with the program she was able to do just that. As a Digital Learning Fellow at the Museum of Natural History, she was moved out of the lab, and into a science-teaching position in which she was creating curriculum, and coordinating science programs for children over the summer.

Hillary is looking forward to her internship this summer working with the Smithsonian Institute Research Center on their Waterland Biochemistry Project near Edgewater, Maryland. There she’ll be working with researchers to measure chemicals in water and on the surface of trees. “We’ll be looking at chemicals related to methane in the water, and trying to determine how it connects and contributes to global warming,” said Frank.

The Watson Fellowship has exposed her to many scientific sub-fields, including public policy, education, and lab work. “I don’t have any concrete ideas about what I would like to do [for a career], but this program is exposing me to different areas that will help me decide,” said Hillary.

Sophomore Helina Owusu, one of the four finalists, also feels that the application process pushed her to grow. Owusu, a first-generation immigrant from Ghana, is driven to make a difference by becoming a pediatric or family practice physician.

Helina Owusu, a Lehman finalist for the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship. Photo courtesy of Helina Owusu.

Helina Owusu, a Lehman finalist for the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship. Photo courtesy of Helina Owusu.

“My goal is to help that kid get better and help them get back to school,” she explained. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet new students through the application process, and we encourage each other throughout the process. I’ve been able to build myself professionally through the mock interviews. Going forward I’m going to use all those skills I learned through this process.”

Owusu and Smith, along with sophomores Amna Azeem and Natori Beckford, the other finalists from Lehman College, were all assisted by Professor Alice Michelle Augustine, faculty member and facilitator for the Office of Prestigious Awards which includes the Beyond the Bachelor’s Program and the Emerging Scholars Program. As an undergraduate student at Lehman College, Augustine herself was a Watson Fellow, which led her to internships at the State Supreme Court, the New York City Council, and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice in Ghana.

Augustine said that Smith was committed to the application process since first hearing about the award last year. “She stayed on top of it, and was very invested,” said Augustine. “She asked for a lot of feedback and did what she needed to do to be a really competitive candidate.”