Ben Wesley’s ’16 lifelong interest in cars combined with intense curiosity about the world will serve him well when he travels to four countries as a Thomas J. Watson Fellow for 2016-17. Wesley’s project “What Moves Us: Exploring the Reflection of Culture in Car Enthusiasm” will take him to Brazil, Japan, South Africa and Germany.
Major: Biochemistry/Molecular Biology
Current Vehicle: Subaru WRX
First Vehicle: Honda Accord
Hometown: Westford, Mass.
High School: Westford Academy
Wesley, a biochemistry/molecular biology major, and Gaela Dennison-Leonard ’16 were among 40 national winners of the fellowships from among 152 finalists. Each fellow receives a $30,000 stipend for a year of travel and exploration outside the U.S. Thirty Hamilton students have received Watson Fellowships over the past 18 years.
“Car enthusiasm is a world-wide phenomenon,” said Wesley in summarizing his project. “The time and energy that car enthusiasts put into their cars turn their vehicles into more genuine representations of their values,” he said. “I’ll spend time with and work alongside people who display a passion for cars to understand how car enthusiasm and national culture reflect upon each other.”
Wesley said the countries that he has chosen to visit differ socially, politically and geographically. Brazil for example mandated that all cars run off ethanol and for a time required that all cars sold there be produced domestically. “These two factors have resulted in a country with different engine technologies coupled with a completely different classic car market than anywhere in the world,” he remarked.
Japan, Wesley said, has spawned six global carmakers. “What really caught my attention however is the enormity of the custom culture in Japan,” he explained. “Japanese car culture emphasizes personalization which results in a massive population of modified cars.”
Wesley said that the most compelling aspect of South Africa’s car culture is its unique motorsport, Spin, where the driver and co-driver perform acrobatic stunts in or next to their cars, all performed while the car is move in a constant controlled drift.
In Germany, car culture historically favors performance over visual modifications, Wesley noted. “As a result the performance tuning shops tend to be more corporate but also operate at a far higher level of quality.” He hopes that spending time with designers at companies such as G-Power, Carlsson (Mercedes Benz) and ASA Kompressor will provide a more engineering-oriented take on car culture.
Wesley’s fascination with cars and engines led him to develop the curriculum for an independent study course at Hamilton “Anatomy of a Car: How Function Defined Form.” The class, which he has taught three semesters, is “less about how to do things and more about why all the things under your hood are there and how they work,” he explained. Watch Wesley's video Repur(posed) below to see how the pieces of an engine fit together.
Among his other activities, Wesley has served as a summer science research assistant, is an associate member of Sigma Xi science honor society, served as chair of Honor Court, senior advisor for radio station WHCL, works at the Climbing Wall and rock climbs in the Adirondacks, and wrote for The Duel Observer.
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. The Foundation initially used its resources to support a variety of programs. In 1968, in recognition of Mr. and Mrs. Watson’s 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 then, the Fellowship Program has granted more than 2,800 Watson Fellowship awards, with stipends totaling more than $29 million.