PASADENA, Calif. -Huaising (Cindy) Ko, 22, of Ramona, California, was today named one of only 50 college seniors in the nation to receive a $25,000 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for a year of "purposeful exploration."
Originally Ko chose to major in the biological sciences due to her interest in the field of medicine. However, at Caltech she discovered that the field of mechanical engineering fascinated her and allowed her to do interdisciplinary work related to her interests in medicine. As a Watson Fellow Ko will be able to embark on another aspect of medicine that interests her: the tension between modern and traditional medicine.
Ko will receive a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Caltech in June and weeks later will begin a journey to Peru, Chile, China, South Africa, and Ghana to study "Traditional Healing: Antithesis or Inspiration to Western Medicine?"
"Throughout the world, every culture has its own way of healing its sick, coexisting with the clinics and hospitals of Western medicine," says Ko. "I became interested in the relationship between traditional medicine and Western medicine five years ago when my grandfather fell ill with cancer and there were competing treatments related to both modern and traditional medicine Sometimes one type of medicine would be able to treat my grandfather in ways the other could not, and other times, their philosophies would conflict."
Ko has served as a volunteer at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Children's Hospital Los Angeles, and at hospitals in Buenos Aires, Argentina, (the last as a recipient of a Caltech Bishop Scholarship for Study Abroad).
"In my future, I see myself as a physician with a globally oriented perspective on medicine. I want to be aware of how medicine is practiced and how it fits into daily life in other countries. If you are able to integrate traditional medicine and Western medicine you can reach a larger segment of the population that needs your help for their health, but maybe they are afraid to ask."
In the meantime, Ko, who finished her requirements for her bachelor's in mechanical engineering in December, is working for a few months as an engineer at the Doheny Retina Institute at the USC Keck School of Medicine helping to create better tools to help eye surgeons.
The draw of engineering started in her freshman year when she saw the joys and frustrations shared by teams of students competing in the annual ME 72 mechanical engineering student competition. In her junior year she asked if she could take engineering courses and she eventually switched majors. "It was my opportunity to try something new. I really liked my engineering courses. The environment is so different from biology because in engineering the students work together in teams because they know they'll be working like that when they graduate. But I have never envisioned myself in a traditional engineering career. I believe studying medicine with the application of an engineer's training will add a unique dimension to my education. My academic background will lend me a logical basis to make diagnoses and decisions, allow me to creatively solve problems and help me devise strategies for improvement," she said.
The Watson is a one-year grant for independent study and travel outside the United States awarded to graduating college seniors who were nominated by the participating institutions. The mission of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program is to offer college graduates of unusual promise a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel outside of the United States in order to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community.
The Thomas J. Watson Foundation was created in 1961 as a charitable trust by Mrs. Thomas J. Watson, Sr., in honor of her late husband, the founder of IBM. In 1968, in recognition of the Watsons' long-standing interest in education and world affairs, their children decided that the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program should constitute a major activity of the foundation. Since that date, the fellowship program has granted more than 2,300 Watson Fellowship awards, with stipends totaling more than $29 million.