Williams College Senior Wins Prestigious Watson Fellowship

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: 413-597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., March 19, 2018— Williams College senior Rob Hefferon has been named a Thomas J. Watson Fellow for 2017-18. Winners of the fellowship receive a stipend of $30,000 for 12 months of independent study and travel outside of the United States.

Rob Hefferon '18Hefferon joins 39 other students selected as Watson Fellows from among 152 finalists nominated to compete on the national level. The fellows, who hail from eight countries and 17 states and are selected from private liberal arts colleges and universities, will travel the world exploring a diverse range of topics and disciplines.

Hefferon, a Spanish and political science major from McLean, Va., will use his fellowship to pursue a project titled “Brewed Awakening: Ethical Dilemmas in Coffee Culture.” His project aims to explore the inner workings of the coffee business, from farm to shop. Furthermore, Hefferon intends to use coffee as a looking glass into societal issues such as socioeconomic inequality, racism, elitism, and climate change.

His research will take him to the Netherlands, Tanzania, Panama, Colombia, and Japan, countries that each play an important role in understanding the coffee supply chain and culture. In addition, it will aim to provide a deeper understanding of the past, present, and future of coffee production and consumption.

Hefferon’s interest in the coffee industry stems from both a passion for coffee and a desire to be a more conscious consumer. During his third year at Williams, he spent a semester studying in Bolivia, where he witnessed firsthand the direct impact of climate change on coffee farmers and the ways in which they found solutions to issues such as drought and pollution. A coffee enthusiast, he has worked as a barista and coffee shop manager. A community leader, he was awarded the college’s Grosvenor Cup, given annually to the senior who has best demonstrated concern for the college community.

“I’m incredibly honored and humbled by the opportunity to undertake a Watson year,” Heffernon said. “While I’m certainly nervous at the unknowability of what is to come, my overwhelming emotion right now is excitement for the growth and discovery that I’m hoping to get out of this process.”


Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.