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Watson Fellowship to Send Julie Morel ’19 Around the World

Julie Morel ’19 plans to become a midwife. But before she begins her three years of formal training, she’ll travel the world examining the roles that culture, religion, spirituality and family play in maternity care in four diverse nations.

Julie Morel ’19 will travel to four countries on four continents as a Watson Fellow.Photo: Jackson Hardin ’19

Morel, a Science Technology and Society major from Brooklyn, is one of 41 college students in the country to be awarded a 2019 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which provides graduating seniors the opportunity to conduct 12 months of independent study outside the United States. She’ll meet with pregnant women, mothers, midwives, community health professionals and others in the field in Guatemala, Ghana, Vietnam and the Netherlands. She begins her journey in Guatemala Aug. 1. 

Morel has been interested in women’s health issues since she was in high school and worked in a women’s health clinic in Buffalo, NY before she came to Vassar. She spent the first semester of her junior year studying birth practices at a public health agency in India, and she’s writing her senior thesis on midwifery. 

Morel describes her upcoming adventure as exciting, but a little “scary” too. “One of the requirements of the Watson Fellowship is that you can’t go anywhere you’ve been before,” she explains, “so I’ll be visiting four countries and cultures I know almost nothing about. But having that experience in India makes me, and my parents, less anxious about what I’ll be doing. The Watson people want to take you a little outside your comfort zone, and I think I’m ready for that.”

She says the breadth of her activities at Vassar prepared her well for her next adventure. “Vassar gave me the chance to explore my interests outside of a strictly academic sphere by enabling me to engage the knowledge I learned in the classroom with real experiences outside of the college's typical boundaries,” Morel says. “Whether this was through my work study position as a wellness peer educator for the Office of Health Promotion and Education, through my fieldwork with the local community health center's pregnancy support group, or through my semester abroad conducting field research about rural Indian maternity care, Vassar provided me with the resources, skills, and confidence to broaden my learning environment.”

While Morel will spend the next few months finalizing her plans in the four countries she has chosen to visit, she isn’t ruling out adding other experiences along the way. “The program has a lot of flexibility,” she says. “You can add or subtract from your plans as you learn more about your subject matter, so I may end up visiting other countries before my year is over.”

And when the year of travel ends, the learning will continue when all of the 2019 Watson Fellows gather at a conference to share their experiences. “I looked at the list of topics the other recipients chose and they’re all so different, everything from skateboarding to wildfires to suicide,” Morel says. “I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone.”