The Middlebury Campus

Middbrief – Cavness ’09.5 wins prestigious Watson Fellowship

By Middlebury Campus


Each year, the Thomas J. Watson Foundation reviews approximately 180 finalist applicants from 47 participating universities, eventually settling on 40 recipients of the Watson Fellowship.

The fellowship is designed to “offer college graduates of unusual promise a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel outside of the United States in order to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness and leadership, and to foster their human and effective participation in the world community.”

The $25,000 awarded to each fellow funds a year of independent study and research on a topic chosen, designed and planned by the fellows themselves based on personal background, interests and passions rather than through a structured organization.

Recently, the foundation announced this year’s Watson Fellowship Recipients, including Middlebury’s own Charles “Cully” Cavness, Class of ’09.5. Cully’s proposal, titled “Beyond the Bottom Line: a New Definition of Success in Geothermal Energy,” traveling around the world (to countries including Canada, Iceland, Australia, China, Japan and Kenya) and helping energy entrepreneurs, scientists and investors learn how their projects succeed and fail.

Cavness, a geology major with a family background in oil and gas entrepreneurship, hopes to use his project to “find my own definition of success, one that satisfies my ambitions to produce energy and my responsibility to use my resources and opportunities to help the world … I’ve been studying energy for years, so this fellowship kind of flows naturally from my interests.”

“I leave in July,” said Cavness.

“Until then I’m working as a cyclist … and networking my ass off in order to find contacts and work experience opportunities abroad,” says Cavness.

“This fellowship had opened the door to people I never thought I would meet: I just got an e-mail from the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior, I’m meeting with someone in charge of Canada’s national bank, and I’ve had lunches with presidents and CEOs of energy companies every week for about a month now … My inbox is blowing up right now. It’s been a really exciting and hectic month since the announcement.”

The seven-month application process was intense, involving more than 24 proposal drafts and multiple stages of review by both a Middlebury panel and the foundation itself. With no end in sight to the demanding schedule, Cavness nonetheless feels ready: “As for preparation, I believe that Middlebury prepares you for anything. I’m already benefiting from the confidence, network, and skills that Middlebury affords its alumni.”

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