Lenox, K. Executive Editor-in-Chief
Zakiyya Ashe ’17 is a Biology Major. For many who know her, Zakiyya is also an at-ease artists. Taylor Brown ‘17 said, “Zakiyya has a way of making you chuckle, even on your not-so-good days.” Four years ago before committing to University of Dayton, Zakiyya learned about Berea College through her mother. “My mom came to Berea for a computer science conference and Mr. Fred, who works at Boone Tavern, told her all about the school! She told me, I checked it out, liked it, and here I am,” Zakiyya said.
Like many secondary school seniors across the globe, finding that “best fit” as most school counselors and college admission counselors put it, is not an easy task. Zakiyya chose Berea College because of several opportunities the college offers. Zakiyya said “Not going to lie, it was free and I’m broke. Plus I heard they had study abroad opportunities and that was a top priority for me. Then when I got here, speaking to international students and learning about their cultures made me happy so I stayed.”
On choosing her major, Zakiyya stated, “At first, I wanted to become a doctor, so I chose Biology/Pre-med. Then I realized I didn’t want to do that anymore so now I’m just studying Biology for fun.” Some of her favorite and challenging classes were Herpetology, Experimental Zoology, and a class she had studying abroad where she used electroencephalography. Outside her major Zakiyya is interested in reading, drawing, theater, secretly dancing in her room, and anime.
When asked about her motivation to apply for the competitive, prestigious and highly sorted Watson Fellowship, Zakiyya said, “I saw students excitedly apply for the award during my sophomore year and I really had no clue what it was, so I didn’t think much of it— until spring semester of my junior year. Someone told me I could study anything I wanted and I thought it was a joke. The first thing that came to my mind was studying cartoons and why I really like them… I didn’t think anyone would actually care, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I just applied. The idea of traveling AND studying cartoons was too awesome.”
The Watson Fellowship did come with its own set of challenges. “Trying to write the personal essay and project proposal were difficult. I had to go through so many drafts until I figured out the points I wanted to get across. It took me the whole summer and half of fall semester. Then on top of that, I usually freak out about any type of interview process because sometimes I get really nervous talking to others… so that was fun,” Zakiyya said. However, receiving this exciting news made the challenges all worth it. “I tried to avoid seeing the news all morning on the day the results were supposed to come out because I was so nervous. Many people found out about the award before I did and emailed me saying congrats! I went to check the results because I couldn’t believe it—and I nearly threw my phone because I was speechless”, said Zakiyya.
Zakiyya’s Watson project will involve studying minorities in animation and graphic novels. “These minorities are not limited to race, gender, and the LGBTQIA+ community, but also includes those of different religions, disabilities, and others who have been marginalized. I want to explore how they see themselves represented in animations. It is often the case that minorities are rarely included in animations (let alone other types of media) and if they are, they’re some bogus, shallow, background characters without storylines or have had their stories written/misconstrued by people who don’t even identify with them. This can have an effect (and real life consequences) on those who create or enjoy this content and don’t get to see themselves represented. I want to extensively understand why,” Zakiyya relayed.
As for now, Zakiyya is preparing for two major life-changing events in her life, graduating in May and preparing for her Watson journey. Zakiyya said, “I’ve been teaching myself Korean and French whenever I have free time, and also keeping in touch with my contacts in different countries so I can figure out where the project will go!” Amongst the countries she will be visiting for her project, Zakiyya is most excited to see Australia because they have some of the best “anime” communities with many conventions.
To future Watson hopefuls Zakiyya offers a suggestion, “When creating your project, make sure you absolutely do something that you’re passionate about. Just think about it –you’re creating the project of your dreams! When someone else reads what you want to do, it should be clear how your project developed from the experiences you’ve had in your life and make them so excited, they want to do the project for you! Don’t worry about your project being the next big thing to save or change the world, or trying to impress the committees/interviewers—really focus on what ignites a fire inside of you and gets you talking for hours.”
In all, Zakiyya can attest to a life-changing experience in her journey as a Berean. “I enjoyed it! I’ve learned a lot about people, myself, and managed to stay out of drama if that means anything. To me, Berea is a fun (yet strange) community—I highly doubt I would have had the same experience at any other college. I never really thought about the Appalachian region before Berea, but I’m glad that I’ve had a chance to experience it,” Zakiyya shared.
Post Watson fellowship, Zakiyya plans to either go back to Japan or South Korea to learn Japanese and Korean and teach English, while pursuing her most likely passion: becoming an animator.
On the subject of her legacy as she continues her journey in this world, Zakiyya said, “I just want to find people that feel the same way about minorities in cartoons as I do. Maybe we can get together in the future to create new content for viewers that fits the actual diversity we have in real life.”
The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship comes with a $30,000 prize for a purposeful exploration—traveling the world for 365 days. Among other things, qualities sought for by the foundation in the selection process includes: leadership, imagination, independence, emotional maturity, courage, integrity, resourcefulness, and responsibility. Ann Butwell, Education Abroad Advisor at The Center for International Education said, “We are so proud of Zakiyya for winning a Watson!” Some of the recent Watson fellows from Berea College include, Moondil Jahan ’16, Tuvshinzaya Amarzaya ’15, Dylan Hunziker ‘14 and Loreal Bell ’13.