Isa Amaro Varas ’23 awarded distinguished Watson Fellowship
Moriah Prescia ’22 has been awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship by the Watson Foundation to embark on a year of international discovery and exploration of the funding, production and distribution of documentaries that inspire environmental justice and social activism.
An anthropology major and film studies and environmental studies double major from Pueblo, Colorado, Prescia is one of 42 students from 21 states and eight countries who make up the 54th class of Thomas J. Watson Fellows. The highly competitive Watson Fellowship is a one-year, $36,000 grant for purposeful, independent exploration outside the United States, awarded to graduating seniors nominated by the 41 participating institutions.
Prescia will travel to Brussels, Belgium; Taipei, Taiwan; New Delhi, India; and Mexico City, Mexico. She will spend three months in each location to immerse herself in different aspects of global filmmaking and explore how people across the globe use documentaries to illuminate important stories that advance social and environmental justice.
“I believe that film is a powerful tool for building empathy, bridging knowledge gaps, and inspiring action,” Prescia said.
“Like many who grow up in rural America, I joined the Air Force right after high school as a means to travel and pay for college. I was active duty for eight years, working as an Urdu Language Analyst, but spent the majority of my time stateside. During that time, my exposure to the injustices communities were facing, often at the hands of the U.S. military, led me to understand my true passion for human rights, environmental justice and film. I decided to apply for the Watson Fellowship as a means to explore these intersections on a global stage.”
Prescia will begin her Watson experience working with a Brussels-based, co-production program that helps aspiring filmmakers in the Middle East and North Africa tell the stories that are important to them through documentary workshops.
“Making a film is so much more than making a recording. It is an exchange, a give and take relationship between the cinematographer and the subject,” Prescia said. “When filming someone, you ask them to expose themselves, their emotions, their entire being. They trust you to hold their story, to savor it, to retell it with dignity and accuracy. Acknowledging this fragile, privileged relationship, I want to keep my own positionality in mind.”
Prescia will then travel to Taiwan to collaborate with the Environmental Justice Foundation, a non-profit organization working to document environmental and human rights abuses and advocate for the protections of people. She will work in a regional office that highlights the maltreatment of migrant fishermen and illegal fishing practices.
In New Delhi, Prescia will partner with Chintan, an Indian-led environmental research and action group focused on mitigating waste pollution and protecting the health and wellness of waste-pickers through policy, education, programs and media.
Finally, she will travel to Mexico City to work with Cinema Planeta, a film festival that emphasizes environmental protection and hosts year-round conferences, discussions, workshops and community events.
On campus, Prescia has served as the program coordinator for the Office of Equity and Compliance, a Genesis Program ambassador, a tutor in the Anthropology Department, a Queer Peer mentor, and a member of Underrepresented Voices in Film club.
Prescia said she is “unbelievably grateful” to Conn’s entire Watson committee, including Melissa Ryan, director of the Walter Commons for Global Study and Engagement and director of international fellowships, who supported her interest in the fellowship with great enthusiasm; Associate Dean of Global Initiatives Amy Dooling, who helped Prescia “dream big” and visualize her project; and Faulk Foundation Professor of Psychology Jefferson Singer, who helped her prepare for her interview and fine-tune her application essays; as well as Professors Ian Harnarine and Joyce Bennett, who “were both unbelievably supportive by writing letters of recommendation and even taking calls with me over the summer break to talk through my project.”
Following her Watson experience, Prescia will embark on a career as a freelance filmmaker. She plans to partner with nonprofits working within the human rights and environmental justice fields to explore topics including food sovereignty, climate change, migrant protections, access to safe drinking water and the right to clean air.
Prescia is Conn’s third Watson winner since the Watson Foundation reestablished its partnership with Connecticut College in 2019 in recognition of Conn’s excellence in global education and the power of its personalized, inquiry-based Connections program.
Connecticut College offers a wide range of fellowship opportunities for students and recent graduates. For more information, visit The Walter Commons or email firstname.lastname@example.org.