Siracusa Receives Watson Fellowship

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Publication Date: 3/17/2009

Rhodes senior Anthony Siracusa of Memphis has been awarded a prestigious fellowship from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation that will allow him to travel the world for a year studying bicycle communities on four continents.

The foundation awarded 40 fellowships this year to outstanding students from a carefully selected group of colleges and universities. “The competition was especially fierce given the extraordinary strength of the national pool of nominees this year,” according to foundation director Cleveland Johnson.

Siracusa graciously gives much of the credit for his success to support from the Rhodes community in the form of the Watson Committee that reviews, interviews and nominates candidates. “I am very grateful for the help of Professors Mike LaRosa, Judith Haas and David Mason, Dean Kathleen Laakso and Rhodes alumnus Joel Parsons who was a Watson Fellowship recipient for 2007-08,” he says.

Siracusa discovered the joys of cycling while apprenticing as a bicycle mechanic in high school and shared that love through a program called Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop.  In partnership with First Congregational Church in midtown Memphis, Siracusa founded a program that teaches individuals, often underprivileged inner city youth, how to build and maintain their own bicycles. “The idea is to teach neighborhood kids how to fix bicycles while providing them with a safe space as they learn these skills,” Siracusa explains. “The kids can build a bicycle, keep the bike, and practice teamwork while working in the shop. The program gives me a vent for two of my passions—promoting bicycling as an alternative to cars and working with troubled kids. The bicycle program addresses each of these issues, and is a creative way of interacting with young people in an educational environment.”

Siracusa’s winning proposal, People Using Pedal Power: Global Bicycling Communities: Denmark, the Netherlands, China, Australia, Mexico is directed at answering a fundamental question: What is the relationship between the bicycle’s ability to unite people into communities and the bicycle’s transformative potential for urban environments? “The answer to this question lies in understanding the people in bicycling communities,” he believes. “I hope to understand how thousands of kilometers of bike lanes are created in a city, how successful bike shops are started, weekly bicycle rides sustained, independent bike companies developed, innovative bike programs strengthened, and how individuals are formed with a bike at the center of their lives.”

The Watson Fellowship is the next step in the quest Siracusa began when he came to Rhodes. “I came here to gain the experience needed to choose between two possible methods of making a difference in the world—radical reform or patient integration,” he wrote at the beginning of his sophomore year. “For me, radical reform would be to innovate and expand the bicycle program I began at a Memphis inner city church.”

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program was established in 1968 by the children of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., the founder of International Business Machines Corp., and his wife, Jeannette K. Watson, to honor their parents’ long-standing interest in education and world affairs.  The Watson Foundation regards its investment in people as an effective contribution to the global community.

According to the Foundation, this year’s Watson fellows “come from 21 states and three foreign countries and exhibit a broad diversity of academic specialty, socio-economic background, and life experience. As the 41st class of Watson Fellows, they’ll traverse 78 countries, exploring topics from the poetry of Arab women, to endangered religions, to wolf/human interaction, to green entrepreneurship, to wildlife tracking.  A time-lapse photographer will study rare cloud formations in high latitudes.  A student, who collected cans/bottles as a child to support her family, will study informal waste collection systems, and an astrophysicist will take telescopes into the field to search out varied cultural perspectives on Cosmology.  A War News Radio veteran will explore how radio promotes peace and reconciliation in post-conflict societies, and a promising filmmaker will explore the competitive Rubik’s Cube subculture of “speedcubing.”