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A Vehicle to Explore Cultures, a Journey of the Spirit: Two Ursinus College Watson Fellows Are Among 50 Nationally

Contact: Wendy Greenberg, Ursinus Communications, 610-409-3300


COLLEGEVILLE, Pa., Mar. 21 /Standard Newswire/ -- Ursinus College seniors Markus Weise of Burlington, Vt., and Katherine Ringler of Tempe, Ariz., are among 50 college seniors in the nation to receive prestigious Watson Fellowship awards, allowing them to pursue a creative research project abroad. They are among four students from select colleges in the Philadelphia area, which includes Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore and Ursinus.


The Thomas J. Watson Foundation awards the travel grants to college seniors of unusual promise for a year of independent exploration and travel outside the United States. In addition to their academic achievements, the Fellows are selected based on leadership, on and off campus. Each year nearly 1,000 students apply for the awards.


"The awards are long-term investments in people, not research," says Rosemary Macedo, executive director of the Watson Fellowship Program and a former Watson Fellow. "We look for people likely to lead or innovate in the future and give them extraordinary independence in pursuing their interests."


For Weise, a bicycle will be a vehicle not only for getting around, but for exploring cultures, as he embarks this August to Namibia, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Tanzania to pursue his project, titled, "On Your left!: Making and Maintaining Bicycle Cultures in Cities."


Ringler's journey of the spirit will begin in Macedonia and take her to Ireland, India, Venezuela, Italy, Tanzania, and possibly China, tracing the life journey of Mother Teresa. She hopes to gain insight into how Mother Teresa developed a vision of service. Her project is titled "A Mission of Charity: Following the Footsteps of Mother Teresa."


Ringler is one of two students in the state who was selected for the PennAce Award based on her service with the International Medical Corps in Nairobi, Kenya. She is a Leadership Scholar and involved in many service activities on and off campus.


Weise, who runs cross-country and track for Ursinus, was named to the Centennial Conference Honor Roll, and was a Summer Fellow.


Weise received his first bike as an eight-year-old living in Germany, and although he let it go for a while, he rediscovered the bicycle in high school, eventually riding a hundred miles-plus each week.


"Riding a bike was simple," according to Weise. "I had a destination and that was all. I had no worries while on a ride except for the next big hill." He learned the unspoken languages and etiquette of helping other cyclists, but also learned about himself and society, eventually pushing his limits in other areas well, including academics, independent research and study abroad.


During his year abroad, he will assess the place of bicycles in cities, especially where there is increased motor vehicle traffic, such as Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, as well as Windhoek, Namibia and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where the bicycle is enjoying popularity. He will look at spaces such as bike lanes and wide shoulders, but also at the value the culture places on the bicycle.


Weise will experience these cities from a bicycle rider's perspective, including buying a bike in each city, and will ride with local commuting and recreational cyclists. He plans to conduct informal interviews with residents, especially in bike shops, to assess how the bicycle is perceived.


Weise hopes to grow as a cyclist, and as a human being, and to leave each cycling community a little better off in their understanding of their place in their community. "For me, the bicycle is a way of knowing may surroundings," he says. He hopes to use it "as a vehicle to find out about the world."


Ringler grew up in a soup kitchen, one her mother founded in their home in Mesa, Ariz. The soup kitchen evolved into an extensive homeless outreach center. Raised by a role model who made a difference in her community, Ringler learned at an early age, she said. "to live out the ideals of service and social justice" and pledged to make these values a central part of her life.


At Ursinus, Ringler established and leads about 25 students on the Meal Service Team, who staff a weekly food bank, cook meals, run food drives and implement hunger awareness events. She designed her own major, Peace and Justice Studies, as a pre-medical focus.


In Kenya this past summer, she was able to combine her major's focus and interest in international health in an internship with the International Medical Corps, working with a support group for HIV-positive women at a health clinic in Kibera. She also planned an HIV education program for schools.


With an early interest in Mother Teresa - and a middle name of Teresa - Ringler hopes her project will help her to understand what led Mother Teresa to serve, and how she established an international organization of service which continues to thrive. Her journey will start in Skopje, Macedonia, Mother Teresa's childhood home for 18 years, seeking how cultural, social and religious community roots shaped the way she saw the world. She will continue to Rathfarnham in Dublin, Ireland, to stay with the Sisters of the Loreto Order, as Mother Teresa did. Later, in Calcutta, where Mother Teresa first established her mission, she will spend time with the Loreto Sisters at St. Mary's School for Bengali Girls where Mother Teresa began her missionary work, and in the foothills of the Himalayas, where she developed her own order.


Ringler says she will learn how "to create and build an essential foundation where there is nothing," and in Venezuela, Italy and Tanzania hopes to learn how to spread her own idea of service beyond one's community.


Seeing how each community and its people affected Mother Teresa and enhanced her mission, Ringler hopes to "gain the means to establish my own international service in the future, and gain valuable lessons for the best way to accomplish my dream," she says.


The Thomas H. J. Watson Fellowship Program was begun in 1968 by the children of Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder of International Business Machines Corp., and his wife, Jeanette J. Watson, to honor their parents' long-standing interest in education and world affairs. The Watson Foundation regards its investment in people as an effective contribution to the global community.


Ursinus College is a highly selective, independent coeducational liberal arts college located on a scenic, wooded 170-acre campus, 28 miles from Center City Philadelphia. The college is one of only 8 percent of U.S. Colleges to possess a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Its web site is located at