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Hendrix Senior Named a 2022 Thomas J. Watson Fellow

IlanaSvartz_Headshot_web.jpgCONWAY, Ark. (March 17, 2022) – Hendrix College student Ilana Svartz ’22, a politics major and social justice minor from Austin, Texas, has been announced as a member of the 54th class of Thomas J. Watson Fellows.  

The Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant for purposeful, independent study outside the United States, awarded to graduating seniors nominated by one of 41 partner colleges. Svartz is the 39th Hendrix student to receive a Watson Fellowship. (See the full list

Svartz’s Watson project, titled “Compulsory Voting and the Culture of Civic Engagement,” will take her to Australia, Singapore, Luxembourg, and Bolivia. All of these governments have compulsory voting, with voter turnout topping 90% and civic engagement integrated into childhood education. She will examine how mandatory voting affects civic participation and political organizing in each of these places.

“I hope to understand whether compulsory voting alone is responsible for the high voter turnout rate or if there are other cultural norms or expectations that help to achieve this high voter turnout,” she said. “I will spend time in their capital cities and in more rural communities to see how voting culture differs, even within one country.”

Svartz became interested in voter engagement while taking a course titled Numbers in American Politics, one of the team-taught course options offered at Hendrix as part of the first-year curriculum The Engaged Citizen. The class was team-taught by math and politics faculty members and examined electoral systems and reforms from both perspectives.

After this class, Svartz sought more opportunities at Hendrix to further her interest. She has been part of the Arkansas Student Congress debate team all four years at Hendrix, leading the team this year and winning awards for writing two voting-centered bills. Her participation in the Hendrix Model UN and Mock Trial teams helped her grow comfortable with public speaking and interviewing. And as a Hendrix junior, she completed an Odyssey project in the Service to the World category that had her volunteering in phone banking during the 2020 election.

“During this project, I was able to see how hard it was to get people to vote, which made me meditate on other ways we can get people engaged, and ultimately led me to my Watson topic,” she said.

Svartz also participated as the Arkansas Delegate in the Henry Clay National Student Congress, where she worked with a group of students from around the country to propose a solution to election issues; and during her junior and senior years, she interned with Arkansas United Community Coalition as a part of her Arkansas Politics course. The internship gave her the opportunity to work during the legislative session and help to coordinate a lawsuit challenging voter suppression.

“I am incredibly grateful for everyone at Hendrix who has helped foster my passions and who has given me so many opportunities, both in and out of the classroom,” Svartz said. That support includes hearing about the Watson Fellowship during her junior year from Bailey Library Director Britt Anne Murphy, who serves as the College’s Watson liaison.

“Ilana built upon her experiences as a student of politics, a canvasser, and a leader in Arkansas Student Congress to create an extraordinary proposal for world travel,” Murphy said. “When the pandemic hit, she lost an opportunity to study abroad but turned it into an opportunity to connect with her Texas community through politics. Ilana’s passion to engage cultures around civic engagement is certainly timely. As a voter and political activist, she is eager to interact with people who experience other systems of government. Her direct experience with the legislative process has helped her see how voters in this country engage, and this year of travel as a Watson Fellow will teach her about how those in other parts of the globe relate to their governments.”

Svartz is among five Hendrix students to become Watson Fellows in the past four years. Murphy said that this year’s four candidates from Hendrix continued their predecessors’ tradition of working collaboratively as they prepared to apply.

“Our four candidates this year – Ilana, Kashti Shah, Charlie Stewart, and Anushka Yadava – worked together closely and supported one another through every draft and interview prep session,” she said. “They all are to be celebrated for pulling together excellent proposals for international travel in a world still fraught with COVID restrictions and other uncertainties.”

Murphy said that similar to the past two years, the Watson Foundation will take into account the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as the new Watson Fellows plan their travels. “The Watson Foundation is hopeful that most Fellows can begin their journeys by August 1, but they will continue to be flexible about travel dates for the international stays Watson Fellows require.”  

About Hendrix College 

A private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To learn more, visit