Senior Kelly Freeman Awarded Watson Fellowship

Kelly Freeman ’02 has been named a Thomas J. Watson Fellow, joining an elite group of 60 students selected this year to conduct independent research projects abroad. Freeman, from Riverside, California, will spend the year traveling through South America and India where she will study the impact of telenovelas on popular culture. Telenovelas, often compared to English-language soap operas, are popular primetime dramas that air for approximately six months before coming to a dramatic close.

“I’m really fortunate to have a year-long independent cultural exploration,” says Freeman. “The Watson provides the ideal way to explore cultures on your own-outside the restrictions of formal academic programs.”

“Kelly is an outstanding student whose talent for and pursuit of perfection in languages is rivaled by her deep seated interest in other cultures,” said Carrie Chorba, CMC assistant professor of Spanish and an adviser to Freeman throughout the Watson process. “Her project is unique and will allow her to study the reception of soap operas across cultures as she experiences, first-hand, viewers’ relationship to that medium and the ways in which the industry targets its audience.”

Freeman’s project will look at telenovelas in two ways: the social implications of the programs and the culture’s connection to the mass media. After studying abroad in Spain, Freeman said she believes the best way to explore a country’s culture is to understand family relationships, the subject matter explored by telenovelas. Controversy often arises over the ways these relationships are portrayed in these programs, and it is this relationship between the portrayals seen on television and real-life family relationships that Freeman will study.

“Kelly’s project on telenovelas is an imaginative exploration of the role of culture, specifically the Third World version of television ‘soaps’ on attitudes and values in these respective societies,” says Roderic Camp, Philip M. McKenna Professor of the Pacific Rim. “Kelly hopes to analyze the impact cross-culturally of telenovelas on women, and how watching these programs over time affects their lives and behavior. She plans to interview the producers and actors of leading shows, as well as view them with ordinary members of the audience.”

The Watson Fellowships were established in 1968 to honor Thomas J. Watson, Sr., founder of IBM Corporation, who had a long-standing interest in education and world affairs. The program’s goal is to identify prospective leaders and allow them to develop their independence and become world citizens. Freeman will join an alumni body of over 2,200 Watson fellows, who have gone on to pursue careers in a number of professional fields.