March 24, 2014
HOUSTON, Texas – Rice University student-athlete Heather Olson has been awarded one of only 39- nation-wide Thomas J. Watson Fellowships for 2013-14 as announced by the Thomas J. Watson Foundation.
Olson, a senior from of Grayslake, Ill. (Warren Township HS), becomes the fifth women’s track athlete to win a prestigious fellowship in the last three years and is the sixth Rice athlete to do so during the same tenure. Olson joins former Rice track and field great and current volunteer coach Becky Wade (2012) and former Owl volleyball player Tamara Trownsell (1994) as the only Rice student-athletes to win the Watson Fellowship.
The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship offers college graduates of “unusual promise” a year of independent, purposeful, exploration and travel – in international settings new to them – to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community. Olson will receive a $28,000 stipend for the year.
Olson will spend her Watson Fellowship year traveling to Denmark, India, Nepal, Japan, Australia and Brazil.
“In recent decades, food contamination scares, climate change, and uncertain energy politics have intensified the interest in gardening worldwide,” says Olson. “As cities grow, so too does the need to create spaces that foster community and beautify the neighborhood. In the cities that I visit as a Watson fellow I will investigate all aspects of the establishment, maintenance and preservation of community gardens. By speaking with gardeners, community leaders, organizations and city officials; I am interested in the ways people enact visions for the future, solve problems and resolve conflict around community space. Exploring cities on foot, I will see what frustrates and inspires gardeners and discover the individual innovations of that imbue the city with character and life.
Olson was the 2014 Rice Scholar Athlete for women’s cross country and is a two-time (2011, 2013) USTFCCCA All-Academic Team selection. She was a Rice honor athlete in 2013, achieved a C-USA Academic Medal in 2010 and has been named to the C-USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll three consecutive years. She will graduate from Rice with a Philosophy degree and currently boasts a 3.77 GPA.
Olson has qualified for the national outdoor championships her freshman (1500m), sophomore (3k steeplechase) and junior seasons (steeplechase).
“When I think about Heather Olson I think about perseverance, overcoming obstacles and an extremely passionate person about everything she’s involved with,” Rice women’s track and field head coach Jim Bevan said. “Whether it’s track, her friendships or extracurricular projects like this urban gardening; she is an extremely passionate and persevering person. She’s so deserving and I’m so happy to see her honored in winning this Watson fellowship. She’s someone that everybody’s going to remember years from now.”
Olson’s reward comes on the heels of the women’s track and field team posting its highest-ever GPA (3.45) and the women’s cross country squad recording the highest team GPA (3.73) in Rice history.
The Thomas J. Watson Foundation was created in 1961 as a charitable trust by Mrs. Thomas J. Watson, Sr., in honor of her late husband, the founder of International Business Machines Corp., widely known as IBM. The Foundation initially used its resources in support of a variety of programs. In 1968, in recognition of Mr. and Mrs. Watson's long-standing interest in education and world affairs, their children - Mrs. Helen W. Buckner, Mrs. John N. Irwin II, Mr. Arthur K. Watson, and Mr. Thomas J. Watson, Jr. - decided that the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program should constitute a major activity of the Foundation. Since that date, the Fellowship Program has granted more than 2,700 Watson Fellowship awards, with stipends totaling more than $29 million.