campos ’24 awarded watson fellowship

The Thomas J. Watson fellowship is a one-year grant for purposeful, independent exploration outside the United States, awarded to graduating seniors nominated by one of 41 colleges, including Wesleyan University. The Watson Fellowship allows fellows to engage with their deepest interest on a global scale. Fellows create and develop original projects and embark on the journey for a year. Fellows decide where to go, who to meet, and when to change course. The program aims to produce a year of personal insight, perspective, and confidence that shapes the arc of fellows’ lives. Each year Wesleyan may nominate four candidates. History and environmental studies major Dylan Campos ’24 is one of this year’s Watson fellowship awardees.

Hi, Dylan! Can you tell me a bit about yourself ––what you’re studying, where you’re from, and how you became interested in environmental studies?
Hi! My name is Dylan Campos, I use he/they pronouns, and I’m a senior studying history and environmental studies with a minor in global engagement. I’m from Branford, Connecticut, so not terribly far, maybe 40 minutes, and I’m actually a transfer student. I was originally at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. As a class of ’24 person––a high school class of 2020 person–– COVID did so many things matriculating into college, and so I ended up here my sophomore year. I always knew I was interested in the environment, I just didn’t know exactly how or what. In high school I was really into water and coastal work, living in a shoreline town, and actually it wasn’t until I was at Hampshire that my interests pivoted towards agriculture. And then here at Wesleyan it’s narrowed towards food and food politics, food security, and that’s where I am now. 

Could you explain what the Watson fellowship is for those who might not be familiar with it?
Sure! The Watson fellowship––the Thomas J. Watson fellowship, because there are two–– is given to select seniors by the Watson Foundation. It’s $40,000 to do a year-long, international, independent, original project. And it could be about anything, you have to just design the whole thing––where you go, what you’re going to do, who you’re going to meet, and how you’re going to pay for it with the $40,000 allocated to you. I found out about it maybe my sophomore year here. And I was like, ‘oh, that’s like, cool.’ Then, while I was abroad last spring on a program that took me to three different countries, I was having lunch with a professor in this café in Cape Town and we were talking about the future. He was like, “You know, kids like you, the ones who do this program, they love to apply for the Fulbright or, you know, the Watson.” And I was like, “the what?” I realized I had forgotten about it. But then he reminded me and said, “Well, if you like this, you could do it for a whole year post-grad.” I think that’s when I started to take it seriously. 

Can you walk me through your project, what kind of research you’re planning to do, what brought you to the topic?
I wanted to continue the research that I’ve been doing––the research I’m doing now for my senior year but also was doing while I was abroad, looking at global food insecurity, urban agriculture, and periurban agriculture. At the time, I was doing research on urban agriculture from the lens of food vendors and the formalization of food economies in cities, and how, in my belief, informal food vendors and food economies bring the most nourishment and foster community in cities. I knew I wanted a new angle, so my Watson project centers less on food distribution and more on farmers, urban farmers and periurban farmers, seeing their farming and gardening communities as spaces and vessels for political engagement. In my opinion, these farmers have untapped potential for political power in the way they can shape food policy, the way that people in cities feed themselves and understand nutrition, and where food comes from. Food apartheid is terrible but incredibly prevalent in many parts of the world. In the state of global capitalism that we live in, food and agriculture are so disconnected from people, especially people in cities. So I just want to travel to understand that, to understand the stories of farmers and what they’re doing to combat urban food insecurity and hunger. 

What do you hope to learn professionally and personally from your Watson year?
It’s definitely scary to think about traveling to six different countries, four different continents, for a whole year. It’s a little bit like there’s no safety net, but they trust you that you’ll cross the tightwire. I know I sound like every college senior when I say that I don’t know what I want to do necessarily, I don’t know where I’ll be in 10 years or 20 years, but as much as I learn about farms and food systems and agriculture and policy and people this year, just professionally, I also hope that I learn more about myself and what I want for years to come. I’m hoping that the wisdom and knowledge I take from the Watson and give to the Watson will apply to whatever future endeavors I do, whether it be working at a nonprofit, maybe working in government, I don’t know. 

How did the Bailey COE and environmental studies at Wesleyan contribute to your decision to pursue a Watson fellowship
The Bailey COE has helped me so much for a variety of things. I was a COE fellow this past summer with a grant to do my senior research work, which is also about urban agriculture. Being able to do that work and continue the work from my study abroad is what I think strengthened my Watson application and my ability to pursue this. So really, the COE has been very foundational in my previous research that evolved into this. In terms of coursework, I’ve taken really cool and interesting classes that helped me build a pool of knowledge that’s necessary for this, doing sustainable agriculture and food systems. Even environmental law and politics courses have definitely helped me. Environmental studies and the COE are expanding on food and food insecurity now more than ever, and I’m so excited for that. Honestly, I wish I had that two years ago. But even though I’m leaving and I can’t take all these fabulous classes now, I’m very glad they’re there. I’m glad about the direction of the COE and where it’s going because it helps me, and it would have helped me a lot earlier in my career at Wesleyan, and I’m hopeful that it helps a lot more people. 

Is there anyone at Wesleyan who made a difference in the way you see environmental studies?
I feel like I’ll just be naming every ENVS professor I’ve ever had! Just more aspirationally, Christine Caruso, the new assistant professor of the practice in the COE, is doing a lot of food justice and food-related stuff. And I’m really excited to see how she navigates Wesleyan and how students continue with her classes. I hope there’s a much more vibrant food agriculture community in the COE and at Wes because of her, because I know that she’s an incredible professor. For the record, I’ve technically never taken a class with her, but I met her because she co-taught my senior seminar and then I worked with her on an environmental justice conference that happened last fall. But I know she’s a great professor, I hear great things from my friends about her classes.

And last but not least, do you have any advice for younger students with similar interests?
I would say do your research! Find what really interests you, because I know for me, I started thinking very broadly and that just opened so many cans of worms, like, “Oh, you’re interested in the environment? What about it?” or “Oh, you’re interested in agriculture? What about it?” So dive in, and once you find something cool that really, really interests you, go at it. And find anyone else even remotely interested in a similar thing. Start from there. For people interested in the environment, take these classes, build community, talk to professors. I’m a big community person. I’m just trying to foster community, and the COE is a great group of people that come together to share in their love for the environment and try to stop climate change.