News Center

Hendrix College Senior Receives Thomas J. Watson Fellowship

WatsonFellow_SavannahWiegel_web.jpgCONWAY, Ark. (March 18, 2021) — Hendrix College student Savannah Wiegel ’21, a biochemistry/molecular biology major from London, Arkansas, has been announced as a member of the 53rd 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. Wiegel is the 38th Hendrix student to receive a Watson Fellowship. (See the full list

Wiegel’s project, “Healing Words: Building Community Health through Narrative Medicine” will take her to Ireland, Switzerland, Japan, Guatemala, and Argentina, where she will explore the intersection of storytelling and medicine to inform public health initiatives. 

“I would like to build stronger, sustainable systems of community health that promote personal, empowering conversations about health of the mind and body, and I want to thank the Watson Foundation for their support in pursuing my dream,” she said. “And I’m so thankful for my friends, professors, and peers who supported me throughout my four years at Hendrix and during this application process.”

Wiegel became interested in the Watson Fellowship during her very first Odyssey project at Hendrix, which also was one of her first exposures to public health. She heard about the Watson Fellowship from Hendrix nominee Kaersti McLellan ’19, while they both participated in the group Odyssey project “Exploring Aspects of the Nicaraguan Healthcare System.” Their experience included traveling to Nicaragua to learn about how kidney transplants are conducted there. “Being in that global setting helped me realize my dream to become a Watson Fellow,” she said.

Since that time, Wiegel says her involvement with the Narrative Medicine group on campus, her pursuits as a Murphy Scholar in Literature and Language, Spanish classes and Spanish-speaking Odyssey opportunities, and the investment in science communication opportunities at Hendrix helped her bring her Watson Fellowship project proposal to life. 

When Wiegel’s interest in narrative medicine began, she viewed it primarily on the individual level: the importance of telling and understanding experiences and emotions shared in one-on-one patient interactions. “It wasn’t until halfway through my junior year that I saw the potential narrative could have in public health, especially in the context of a pandemic,” she said. “I knew I wanted to find a way to intertwine my passions for narrative medicine, science communication, and public health, and I’m so honored to be able to pursue my dream in a global context.”

As a medical translation intern and aspiring health professional, Wiegel has witnessed how misunderstandings, health inaccessibility, and moral fatigue create deficiencies in healthcare provided to communities. 

“The medical experience is believed to exist within the hospital walls, but there is so much left unspoken and even more left untreated,” she said. “Narratives empower individuals and give agency to communities to understand illness, suffering, and humanity, and I hope to discover new ways to incorporate narrative in community health on my Watson journey.”

“Savannah built upon her experiences in the Odyssey and Murphy Scholars programs to create an extraordinary proposal for world travel,” said Bailey Library Director Britt Anne Murphy, who serves as the College’s Watson liaison. “Her persistence in reaching out to international partners in a pandemic was critical to the success of her proposal. Indeed, her passion for narrative medicine is needed now more than ever to provide healthy channels of communication between health professionals and their patients.”

Wiegel’s time at Hendrix has included multiple experiential learning opportunities. To name just a few, she has spent two years leading the Narrative Medicine group as part of her Murphy Scholar activities; co-coordinated a financial literacy forum through the Arkansas Geriatric Education collaborative, also funded by UAMS; volunteered with Arkansas Hospice (pre-pandemic) through the Odyssey Program; performed summer research in genetics guided by Hendrix Professor Dr. Andrea Duina; and currently participates in a National Institutes of Health-funded translational research collaboration between Hendrix and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Beyond medicine and science, she has learned about the Spanish Civil War and Spanish exile literature with the support of the Odyssey Program and the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation, studied abroad through the Hendrix-in-Madrid program, and spent three years mentoring first-year students through the Explorations: Liberal Arts for Life common course.

“Our candidates this year – Savannah, Brittany Chue, Peyton Hall, and Mallory Magruder – worked together closely, even though most of it was on a virtual platform,” said Murphy. “They all are to be celebrated for pulling together excellent proposals during a year when more than the usual obstacles were thrown at them.”

Murphy said that similar to last year, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will be taken into account as the new Watson Fellows plan their travels. “While the Watson Foundation is hopeful that most Fellows can begin their journeys by August 1, they continue to be flexible about deferring journeys until the world is safe enough to allow 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