St. John’s University students continue to enjoy extraordinary academic, cultural, and professional development opportunities as recipients of the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, a highly selective, three-year program for outstanding undergraduates from 12 participating New York City colleges and universities.
The program features summer internships in New York City and around the world. Watson Fellows go on to success in leading graduate and professional schools as well as in their careers. Three recent alumni of St. John’s and the Watson Fellowship—Adela Ruiz ’13C, ’14G; Meiyi Shi ’14C; and Lauren Smyth ’13C—have agreed to share their experiences and achievements.
Adela Ruiz ‘13C, ‘14G
“You never really leave St. John’s,” said Ruiz, who has traveled all over the world, from backpacking through China to volunteering with the Daughters of Charity in Kenya. As a fellow in the Watson class of 2012, she interned at Year Up, a nonprofit organization that connects low-income youth to the workforce, and with then-New York City Council member Leroy Comrie before joining the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy. Then, in a trip sponsored by St. John’s Campus Ministry, Ruiz traveled to Kenya with the Vincentian Lay Missionaries to teach art at a summer camp run by the Daughters of Charity. Adela was still an undergraduate when she joined the Daughters of Charity again to conduct art and music sessions at a hospice in Ireland. As a graduate assistant, she worked with Annalisa Saccà, Ph.D., on a Title IV grant program to develop an undergraduate curriculum in sustainable development.
After earning both the Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, with minors in Italian and Spanish, and Master of Arts in Sociology from St. John’s, Ruiz traveled through China with the Woodenfish Foundation, studying Buddhism and participating in a five-day silent retreat. Upon her return to the United States, she began working with the Open Society Foundations’ Open Society Justice Initiative, where she coordinates the internship program, among other responsibilities. The Initiative hosted its second Watson Fellow this past summer, and Ruiz found the role reversal incredibly rewarding. “I could see myself in that experience,” she said.
What bridges the diversity of her experience, Ruiz said, is her role as a “connector” attuned to the “generosity of community”—something she learned at St. John’s and through Watson. “The professors at St. John’s,” she noted, “were women of color who looked like me. They were so intelligent and committed to making the world a better place. Watson, too, continues to inform my life because I would otherwise have taken a much more traditional path. It pushed me to not be afraid.”
Ruiz is also co-founder of her own non-profit organization, Immigrant Advancement Matters, which is inspired by her own experience as an immigrant from the Dominican Republic. She plans to return to graduate school for a degree in disability and youth studies.
Meiyi Shi ’14C
Shi completed her Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Chemistry at St. John’s in just three years. After a gap year traveling and working as a medical assistant, Shi enrolled in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. For her first two years of medical school, Shi managed the student-run Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic, where she became passionate about women’s health as well as providing medical services to low-income patients and those without insurance. She is now doing clinical rotations as part of her third year in medical school.
As a fellow in the 2014 Watson class, Shi interned at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Cancer Center, where she developed her interest in medicine. “I was always interested in science,” she said, “but at Beth Israel, I met patients and physicians who changed my outlook on medicine and what it could do for people.” Shi also interned in the business research department of The Conference Board, performing data-based research on leadership experiential training programs. For her third Watson internship, Shi traveled abroad to Germany to serve as a student advisor at The Free University of Berlin. She also toured Germany as well as Prague, Sweden, Italy, and Austria.
“Watson was a life-changing opportunity that allowed me to develop professionally and personally,” said Shi. “I used to be more introverted and soft-spoken and focused solely on science, but Watson broadened my perspective to the world beyond science and what was familiar to me. It taught me to keep an open mind, to think broadly and inclusively.”
Lauren Smyth ‘13C
Smyth graduated from St. John’s with a double major in Anthropology and French, and minor in Art History. She is now completing her Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
When she came to St. John’s from her hometown of Skokie, IL, Smyth wanted to be an architect, but the internships she completed as a fellow in the Watson 2012 class spurred an “interest in research and stories.” Smyth interned at the Rubin Museum of Art, Fast Company magazine, and the Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya Foundation (MVF), a non-governmental organization (NGO) focused on children’s rights and education. The following summer, she received a Graduate Admissions Assistance Program (GAAP) Summer Research Grant to conduct research in Lilongwe, Malawi, continuing her interest in how NGOs and governments interact. Her doctoral dissertation focuses on the histories of Ladakhi Muslim spatial production.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without St. John’s and Watson,” said Smyth. “They both helped me understand the research process and sparked my interest in how people engage with themselves.”