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.

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.”


Cathryn Westra,, 20 March 2012, Article.

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