New Watson Fellows Will Pursue Interests Around the Globe

Two Davidson seniors have been awarded $25,000 from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation to pursue a full year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel. Audrey Gyurgyik will explore a holistic approach to actor training, a form that incorporates the body, soul and mind. Alexis Valauri-Orton will explore ocean acidification and how the threat of oceanic carbon dioxide pollution is perceived by different marine-dependent cultures.

The two were among 40 graduating seniors selected to receive Watson Fellowships from a pool of over 700 applicants nationwide. The foundation began sponsoring the program in 1968 in hopes that the experience would enhance the fellows' resourcefulness and leadership, and promote their humane and effective participation in the world community.

Gyurgyik, a Belk Scholar and theater major from Shaker Heights, Ohio, holds two passions that have shaped her college career-acting and yoga. She melds the two in her Watson proposal, which is titled "Body and Soul: A Holistic Approach to Actor Training."

She said, "Being in touch with the whole body-physically, spiritually and mentally-is something I learned first from yoga at a young age. Later in life it has carried over into how I express myself in theater."

According to Gyurgyik, a physical approach to acting is more common outside of the United States. U.S. thespians tend to focus on mastering roles by understanding character psychology. Gyurgyik experienced the differences in these actor-training styles her junior year abroad at the Royal Academy in Dramatic Arts in London. "In America we learn very early to act by looking at and analyzing the text," she said. In London, I had to learn to get out of my head and to train from a physical standpoint. I came to act more from impulse and from what my body was telling me to do as well as from thought analysis."

First on Gyurgyik's travel itinerary is Tibet, where she plans to study yoga with a Tibetan monk. She will then fly to Brazil to train with Zikzira, a physical theater company, to Serbia with the Dah "theater of breath," and finally to Italy to the work center of renowned theatre practitioner Jerzy Grotowski.

Though she may employ some translators along the way, Gyurgyik noted language barriers shouldn't be a problem. "After all, I am on a journey to express myself through movement," she joked.

Gyurgyik hopes her Watson experience will instill her with self-confidence and the ability to adapt to whatever her future career might entail. "I want to work professionally as an actor," said Gyurgyik. "I want to explore and learn from as many different methodologies as I can."

Alexis Valauri-Orton, a biology major from Seattle Wash., will also use her award to explore her strong interest in ocean acidification. Her Watson proposal, "Thinking Outside the Lab: Discovering the Human Toll of Ocean Acidification," will take her to reef and fishery-dependant destinations so she can better understand the social impacts of this dire phenomenon.

Valauri-Orton's concern about ocean acidification grew from a more general interest in marine biology. She took marine biology classes in high school and competed on her school's National Ocean Science Bowl team. She credits her father for alerting her to acidification. "When I was younger my dad left articles on my bed, and when I was 16 he left me an article from The New Yorker on ocean acidification. I was shocked. I remember thinking "Ocean acidification is a major issue. How come nobody knows about it!?'"

Ocean acidification occurs in seawater due to rising atmospheric CO2 levels. The ocean absorbs atmospheric CO2, causing the death of coral reefs which, Valauri-Orton says, will all have begun dissolving by 2050. "The reefs are done for. Even if we stop CO2 pollution this minute, we might be able to save a few tropical reefs, but that's it. This is a problem because reefs play a major role in providing things like food and shelter for other marine life."

Because Davidson does not have the facilities to study marine biology, Valauri-Orton has studied the problem independently. "I've kept up with the topic in little ways," she said. " I wrote my final paper on it for my environmental studies course freshman year, I created a web-site on it for animal physiology, and, as part of my senior capstone project, I'm writing a mock grant proposal that would help fund ocean acidification research."

In summer of her sophomore year she interned at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, where she helped develop a curriculum for high school students to learn more about the phenomenon.

Valauri-Orton will use her Watson Fellowship to travel to Norway, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Peru and Mauritius. She looks forward to talking with people who work at fisheries or in the fishing industry. " I have no idea what I am going to find," she said. "I don't know how these other cultures are viewing this issue, but I'm traveling to discover other-worldly perspectives."

Valauri-Orton's other passion in life is music. She's no stranger to travel and, last summer, played 11 shows on a cross-country tour from Davidson to her home in Seattle. She's also produced two CDs. "I hope to connect to some people in my Watson travels through music," she said. "I plan to carry an old flute and possibly a guitar where ever I go."

All fellows are required to maintain contact with the fellowship program during their year abroad through quarterly progress reports, and must submit a final evaluation of their year with an accounting of the expenditure of fellowship funds. Seventy-eight Davidson students have received Watson Fellowships since the program began.


  • March 20, 2012