Jasper White '22 is a Thomas J. Watson Fellow. He will travel the globe for a year to resear... Jasper White '22 is a Thomas J. Watson Fellow. He will travel the globe for a year to research the disease that's driving many frog species to extinction, Credit: Sofia Dragoti ’25

White will travel to Ghana, Australia, Spain, and Panama to study a fungal infection called chytridiomycosis, which has been pinpointed as the cause for the extinctions of 1/16th of all known amphibians within the last thirty years. He is one of just 42 students from colleges and universities across the US to be awarded the year-long fellowship in 2022.

“I just love amphibians. Frogs are generally my favorite things in the world,” White said. “I’ve been hearing a lot about the amphibian chytrid fungus for a while now, and for the past few terms a lot of my finals have been based around this fungus. The Watson Fellowship really seemed like the perfect way for me to get out there and get a first hand look at chytrid and see how it’s affecting amphibian and human populations.”

2022 Thomas J. Wat­son Fel­low­ship awardee Jasper White '22 works during a spring night to d...2022 Thomas J. Wat­son Fel­low­ship awardee Jasper White '22 works during a spring night to document salamander populations near College of the Atlantic. Credit: Sofia Dragoti ’25White’s self-designed academic focus at COA has been on the biological sciences. While frogs may be his passion, he’s been absorbed with working with all sorts of animals during his time at the college, he said

“I just love getting out there and doing research on really any group of animals,” he said. “I think it’s all so fascinating, so I’ve worked with mosquitos, gulls, and salamanders, and I hope to work with many more groups in the future.”

Being named a Watson fellow represents an incredible honor and opportunity, White said, adding that even just the process of applying was fruitful in itself.

“It was really incredible, kind of unbelievable, and kind of shocking,” White said. “I really did a lot of self-discovery and exploration throughout my application. By the end I felt like, if I get it, it’s going to be the greatest opportunity I’ve ever had, but if I don’t, the work I have done will be really valuable to me anyway.”

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 part­ner insti­tu­tions. The fellowship is a rare window after college and pre-career for students to engage their deepest interests on a global scale, their website states. Fellows conceive original projects, execute them for a year, and embrace the ensuing journey. They decide where to go, who to meet and when to change course.

“We are so proud of Jasper, and I know he is going to have some amazing, life-changing experiences during his Watson year. It will definitely be an incredible adventure,” said COA President Darron Collins ’92, who was awarded a Watson Fellowship during his senior year at COA. “Jasper, we’re all really excited for you.”

For his Watson project, White will be studying the impacts and causes of chytridiomycosis, which has spread to amphibian populations all over the world and threatens many with extinction.

“It’s been around for a long time, but only in the past 30 years have we started acknowledging its effects on amphibian populations,” he said. “ It’s probably been evolving for a few thousand years at least, but once it actually got into the globalized market for amphibians, for pets, food, and weirdly enough, pregnancy testing, that really spread the fungus rapidly.”

White will be collaborating with researchers in Ghana, Australia, Spain, and Panama, and he said he’s most excited to get out into the field.

Frog populations around the world are threatened with extinction by the amphibian chytrid fungus,...Frog populations around the world are threatened with extinction by the amphibian chytrid fungus, which Thomas J. Watson Fellow Jasper White ’22 will study over the course of a year.“There’s this movement toward herpetological research in Ghana. If I can get out there with the people who have rediscovered species that were once thought to be extinct, and be in a raging river with them working directly with these frogs, that’s kind of what I’m most excited about. I think getting into labs and museums and the field will also be really exciting,” he said.

The Watson program produces a year of personal insight, perspective and confidence that shapes the arc of fellows’ lives, according to their website, watson.foundation. Started in 1968, Watson Fellows comprise leaders in every field. The one year stipend is $36,000. In addition, the foundation provides health insurance, the equivalent of 12-months of payments on outstanding institutional and federally guaranteed loans, and an additional stipend for the support of personal assistance services or spouse. Only partner colleges may nominate students.

White said that he can’t wait to start his travels.

“It’s really important to look at things that people haven’t looked at before and try to get into new spaces and test for the fungus, and to talk to people on the ground and bring those stories back to wherever I can,” he said. “Interacting with different communities is really important, so I’m glad I’m getting the opportunity to do that.”