Galen Hecht ’16 is a 2016 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship award winner.Galen Hecht ’16 is a 2016 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship award winner. Credit: Marc Fawcett-Atkinson

Hecht, who is from Santa Fe, New Mexico, will receive a $30,000 stipend as part of the prestigious award, and plans to explore rivers in Sweden, Finland, India, and Chile as part of his ambitious, year-long project. He is one of just 40 college seniors nationally to receive a Watson Fellowship during this 48th year of the program.

“Watersheds are essential, dynamic bodies of topography that define people in their places,” Hecht said. “On my Watson year, I will immerse myself in the poetry of rivers, voyaging from headwaters towards the sea to learn about the connections that people form with place, constantly asking how and why we humans treat natural resources the way we do, and asking, ‘How, really, do we coexist?’”

With “Poetic Cartography: Charting People’s Place in Three Great Watersheds,” Hecht seeks to replace the political logic that has dictated maps and boundaries and replace it with something more natural, instinctive, and human-ecological, he said. Because of the vital roles watersheds play in life and society, Hecht realized that focusing on them would “combine a lot of my interests and provide a framework that I thought was very flexible way of exploring a place and its people. It’s a way of thinking about space, place, politics, and science that acknowledges the multiplicity of a place.”

Born to be a Watson Fellow

Hecht’s personality and thirst for knowledge and understanding make him the ideal recipient for the Watson Fellowship, said COA President Darron Collins ’92.

“Galen Hecht was born to be a Watson Fellow,” said Collins, who also received a Watson Fellowship upon graduation from COA. “He’s got the perfect mixture of smarts, curiosity, and sense of adventure – a healthy dose of all three.”

Hecht is an intelligent, perceptive student with a ready smile and a genuinely warm and welcoming demeanor, qualities which should go a long way toward helping him connect with the many people he will encounter on his journey, said COA writing professor Anne Kozak, who nominated Hecht for the Watson Fellowship.

“He’s got the perfect mixture of smarts, curiosity, and sense of adventure – a healthy dose of all three” - COA President Darron Collins ’92.

“Galen embodies the characteristics of a Watson Fellow—his exploration is a quest for a better understanding of how sense of place informs decisions about commons and how that knowledge can lead to ensuring resources like water remain viable for future generations,” Kozak said. “People gravitate to him and he honors them. This quality will open doors for him as he travels and those he meets will long remember him.” 

Competitive award

College of the Atlantic is one of just 40 American institutions qualified to nominate Watson candidates, a group which includes Bates, Oberlin, Bryn Mawr and other exclusive liberal arts colleges. The 2016 class of Fellows come from 21 states and eight countries, and will travel to 67 countries around the globe to explore topics such as coastal aquaculture, the refugee experience, and indigenous drumming and dancing.

Galen Hecht ’16 filming on location in the American Southwest. Hecht is a 2016 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship award winner.Galen Hecht ’16 filming on location in the American Southwest. Hecht is a 2016 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship award winner. Credit: Marc Fawcett-Atkinson

“The Watson is a rare window of time after college and pre-career to engage your deepest interest on a world scale. Fellows conceive original projects, execute them outside of the United States for one year and embrace the ensuing journey. They decide where to go, who to meet and when to change course,” Watson Foundation materials state. “The program produces a year of personal insight, perspective and confidence that shapes the arc of fellows’ lives. Started in 1968, Watson Fellows comprise leaders in every field.” 

Humanity as a vast, complex collective

Hecht is a graduate of the Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific, which is located in Victoria, British Columbia. It was there, he said, that he learned to think of humanity as a vast, complex collective. He has continued to explore this idea at COA through the study of literature, anthropology, performing arts, and film, he said. 

“Poetic Cartography” is an ambitious project that well reflects Hecht’s interests and passions, Kozak said.

“Since childhood, he has developed a sense of place; the arid landscape of New Mexico both defines who he is and underscores the importance of water—waterways that we have dammed and diverted. Had the boundaries of western states been drawn to encompass watersheds…the resources within those watersheds could have been ‘governed consciously and respectfully to create ‘a great body of commonwealths,’’ he wrote in his proposal. This notion of commons, of valuing resources, of using them wisely is an integral part not only of this proposal but of who Galen is,” Kozak said.