Gabriel Rivas Orellana ’23 Named Colby Global Fellow

Colby’s “internal Watson” offers a second chance at a transformative post-graduate global experience

Gabriel Rivas Orellana
Colby Global Fellow Gabriel Rivas Orellana '23 wants to give back to the transgender community and will spend the summer in Buenos Aires working with trans people.
By Laura MeaderPhotography by Ashley L. Conti
March 28, 2023

As a college senior nearing graduation, Gabriel Rivas Orellana ’23 is ready to move on. His immediate next step fell into place recently when he was named Colby’s 2023 Global Fellow. The fellowship, he said, is the perfect end to his Colby story.

As the Colby Global Fellow, Rivas Orellana (he/they) will receive $10,000 and travel to Buenos Aires to work with transgender people in Argentina’s capital for nearly three months. The idea is to give back to the trans community.

Rivas Orellana, a Latin American studies major, spent much of their time at Colby examining what it means to be transgender, especially for themself growing up in Houston. “I’m culminating my chapter here, and being at Colby helped me reckon with a lot of my childhood, how I come to terms with it, and how I move on,” said the Posse Scholar.

Rivas Orellana was one of Colby’s four finalists for a 2023 Watson Fellowship. He didn’t win but was ranked highest among the finalists and awarded the Colby Global Fellowship. That will allow him to complete part of his original Watson project, Filling the Gaps: Trans Belonging in Latin America.

Gabriel Rivas Orellana holds a baby picture of his younger self, the impetus for his Watson project. “I wanted to see myself as a trans person of color represented in the larger culture. Since I wasn’t, I conceived this project in an effort to help mend the visibility gap for trans people of color. It won’t ameliorate all the issues we face right now, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

The Colby Global Fellowship was made possible by a gift from former Watson Fellow and alumnus Joe Meyer ’79. Rivas Orellana is grateful to Meyers for an opportunity they “couldn’t say no to.”

“Gabriel is a person with a unique ability to bring people together around shared goals, who tirelessly and boldly works at raising campus and international awareness of transgender and LGBTQ+ issues,” said Steven Nuss, associate professor of music and member of Colby’s Watson committee. “Gabriel’s consequential work with Students United for Black and Latinx Unity and the student board of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs has demonstrated their passion for creating inclusive spaces and shared dialogue as they continue to advocate for and build communities of care.” 

Modeled after a Watson Fellowship, the Colby Global Fellowship funds a student-designed project requiring international travel immediately after graduation to foster inner growth. Each year Colby submits four finalists to compete nationally for one of the Watson Foundation’s 40 prestigious fellowships. During that process, a faculty committee ranks the finalists’ proposals. The Colby Global Fellowship is awarded to the highest-ranked proposal that does not win a Watson Fellowship. 

Established in 2021, the Colby Global Fellowship incentivizes more students to apply for a Watson. Often referred to as an “internal Watson” at other colleges, the Colby Global Fellowship offers students a second chance at a transformative post-graduate global experience. 

For Rivas Orellana, that experience will involve working with one of two organizations in Buenos Aires and recording oral histories of trans people. The first is Archivo de la Memoria Trans (Archive of the Trans Memory), which is actively looking at historical material of the city’s trans community, creating a digital archive, and sharing it worldwide. The other is Mocha Celis, whose mission includes helping trans and non-binary Argentinians earn their GEDs.

Rivas Orellana is still considering which organization to work with. Whichever they choose, they’ll dedicate themselves solely to it as a show of solidarity, commitment, and desire to develop lasting relationships.

“Gabriel is a person with a unique ability to bring people together around shared goals, who tirelessly and boldly works at raising campus and international awareness of transgender and LGBTQ+ issues.”

Steven Nuss, Associate Professor of Music and Watson committee member

Nuss believes Rivas Orellana’s work in Argentina will allow him to “build a modern and authentic representation of queer and trans people in Latin America and elsewhere that can serve as models for engendering more inclusive and effective cultural dialogue and meaningful change.”

The Colby committee requires the fellow to leave by July 1 and complete the fellowship by the end of 2023. Rivas Orellana plans to leave for Buenos Aires in mid-June and stay through early September. When he returns, he hopes to have a job lined up working with immigrant communities and helping them navigate the legal process to obtain proper documentation. He foresees law school in the near future and perhaps a master’s in public health.

To Joe Meyers, Rivas Orellana says “thank you” for his generosity and the “huge” opportunity.

“It’s amazing,” Rivas Orellana said, “to know there are other people who don’t even know me but appreciate the work that Colby students are doing.”

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