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The New American The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans Magazine · 2017–2018 Edition · Volume 22

Fei-Fei Li (1999) : Founding Mother of the Artificial Intelligence Revolution Building technology that reshapes human life

A profile of

Pavan Cheruvu (2004) & Vivek Ramaswamy (2011) Pursuing the potential of abandoned pharmaceuticals

A story by

Jason Kim (2011) Overcoming racial self-rejection

Artwork by

Ivan Forde (2017) & Estefania Puerta (2017) Illuminating a sense of identity

The New American 2017–2018 edition volume 22

board of trustees


Daisy M. Soros Chairman

Creativity, Originality, and Initiative Letter from the Editor


From the Director


Fellows in Brief


Office of the Registrar: Fellows in the Classroom


Addressing Alzheimer’s: Pursuing the Potential of Abandoned Pharmaceuticals Profile by Rebecca Beyer of Pavan Cheruvu (2004) and Vivek Ramaswamy (2011)


Applications for the Classes of 2018 & 2019


Class of 2017 Biographies


Jeffrey Soros President Peter Georgescu Paul Holdengräber Alex Iftimie (2009) Ann Kirschner N.J. Nicholas Jr. Peter Soros administration Craig Harwood Director Yulian Ramos Deputy Director

Meet Jason


Fei-Fei Li: Founding Mother of the Artificial Intelligence Revolution Interview by Nikka Landau

Cover Fei-Fei Li at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, 2017. Photo: Saul Bromberger & Sandra Hoover Photography.

Cover Story


Inside covers The Coming of Enkidu, silkscreen and cyanotype on paper, 2015. Artist: Ivan Forde (2017), MFA in visual arts candidate at Columbia University. Design Isometric Studio Printing Meridian Printing

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Hello My Name is : How I Learned to Stop Whitewashing Myself by Jason Kim (2011) Comela Artwork by Estefania Puerta (2017)


The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows Association Updates


Trustee Peter Georgescu Profile by Valentin Bolotnyy (2013)


Bedside Table: Books by Fellows



Creativity, Originality & Initiative From the Editor The class of 2015 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows filming a rendition of a song from the musical Hamilton during a class dinner at the program’s 2016 Fall Conference in New York City. Photo: Chris Smith.

our team of readers uses in reviewing applications is the degree to which a candidate has demonstrated creativity, originality, and initiative. When I talk with applicants about that criterion, I often point to Fei-Fei Li, a 1999 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, who graces our cover. Fei-Fei is the chief scientist of artificial intelligence and machine learning at Google Cloud and one of the great technologists of our time. one of the selection criteria

For most applicants, that’s not what we’re looking for. Rather, we want to see how they are creative in their field. But when it comes to Jason Kim (2011), he perfectly exemplifies how someone can be creative within a field that is creative by nature: writing. We supported Jason’s MFA at the School of Drama at The New School. We are delighted to republish a personal essay by Jason, who is a screenwriter and playwright. His essay, “Hello, My Name Is ” (page 42) originally appeared in Lenny Letter and captures his experience growing up as a Korean immigrant in St. Louis.

I hope her work can help prospective Fellows see who we are looking for: New Americans who are thinking outside the box, who want to do things differently, and who want to give back to society. You can find our profile of Fei-Fei on page 34. Two other Fellows who embody the type of creativity, originality, and initiative we are looking for are Vivek Ramaswamy (2011) and Pavan Cheruvu (2004), who are also featured in this issue (page 14). Vivek is the founder and CEO of Roivant Sciences, and Pavan is the chief of staff there. Together they are changing the biotechnology landscape and working to get lifesaving drugs to the patients who need them. Roivant is behind the largest biotech IPO ever. Talk about game changers!

Thank you for reading and celebrating our Fellows. If you know of a young person who might be a good fit for a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship, please send them our way.

Applicants often think that by creative we mean that they must have some experience in the arts.

Nikka Landau

The New American

In this twenty-second issue of The New American, you’ll find some of the biggest stories of the year from our Fellowship community in Fellows in Brief (page 4) and an interview with Trustee Peter Georgescu (page 54). The best example of our selection criteria at work is our new class of Fellows. You can read about their immigrant and academic journeys on page 22.

Fellows, past and present, often tell me that their first Fall Conference was a kind of homecoming. For many Fellows, the program is the first time they’ve been asked to examine their New American story or to purposefully connect with immigrants and children of immigrants from other backgrounds. They are surprised by the bonds that are instantly formed with their peers. This is perhaps the most magical element of the program that Paul and Daisy built: the feeling of belonging. For immigrants and children of immigrants, this gift is not taken lightly.

From the Director it ’s hard to imagine that, twenty years ago,

Paul and Daisy Soros sat down to breakfast and said, “Let’s build a community of immigrants and children of immigrants.” But that’s just what happened. The organization grew out of Paul and Daisy’s own experience as immigrants from Hungary who escaped Nazism and Communism and made their way to the United States. The Fellowships recognized how pivotal graduate school was for Paul, who became a leader in civil engineering. And they underscored Paul and Daisy’s shared commitment to education, healthcare, the arts, entrepreneurship, and much more. From the outset, Paul and Daisy sought to build a strong community. While they intended each Fellowship as a gift to its recipient, they also wanted Fellows to feel connected to one another and to the program as a whole. Working with the founding Trustees and Director Warren Ilchman, they designed a Fall Conference for the first class that has remained the cornerstone of the Fellowships. In addition, the director visited each new Fellow on his or her campus. Since then, we’ve hosted 20 successful Fall Conferences, and we’ve conducted 595 campus visits, making a personal connection with each Fellow and the mentors who inspire them.

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Ten years ago, we had a reunion, which allowed Fellows from across the country to reconnect and strengthen old bonds while forming new ones. Now we’re getting ready to celebrate twenty years with another reunion. Scheduled for June 2018, the reunion will bring together Fellows to connect and share with one another. It will also be a time for Fellows to deepen that sense of belonging. As we move into our third decade, we are looking forward to celebrating our founders, the diversity and strength of the community, and the contributions New Americans make to the United States. We are preparing to engage in a Theory of Change process that will solidify the goals that Paul and Daisy set out to accomplish through the Fellowships. More than illuminating and refining the work we do, we plan to use the process to position the Fellowships for the first comprehensive evaluation the program has undertaken. Thinking of all that the Fellowships program has accomplished since 1997, the important work that lies ahead, and the remarkable community that is constantly being renewed, our twentieth anniversary year is a time for us to look back, look forward, look inward, and look to one another for inspiration and friendship. Yours Truly, Craig Harwood, Director


fellows in brief


Conor Liston dem ystif ying depre ssion Leo Tolstoy famously proclaimed that “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Now Conor Liston, an assistant professor of neuroscience and psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine and the son of Irish immigrants, has discovered that unhappy individuals are unique too. But while Tolstoy’s words were the opening lines in a piece of fiction—his novel Anna Karenina—Conor’s work is backed up by scientific evidence. In a December 2016 study published in Nature Medicine, Conor and his colleagues analyzed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans to identify four distinct abnormal connections in the brains of people suffering from depression. Each so-called biomarker was associated with different symptoms. Understanding how a patient’s brain is affected by a particular form of depression will allow doctors to better determine appropriate treatments. Next, Conor plans to explore if the research could be applicable to other forms of mental illness.

Conor researches neuroscience at the Feil Family Brain & Mind Research Institute at Weill Cornell Med ici ne, where he a lso teaches psychiatry. Over the next five years, as a 2017 Rita A llen Foundation Scholar, he will receive $500,000 to study short-term memory loss.

The New American


Carolina and her husband, A ndre Kydd, at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Match Day, where Carolina found out she would be doing her residency at Boston Children’s Hospital, her first choice. Carolina was nine months pregnant with the couple's daughter, Matilda Carola. Photo: Johns Hopkins University.

Carolina Montaño ch asing the drea m Carolina Montaño was halfway through medical school in Colombia when she was forced to flee her country after her father was targeted by terrorists. In the United States, where the family was granted asylum, her dream of becoming a doctor had to begin all over again. Carolina needed a US bachelor’s degree; she started with English-as-a-second-language classes at a community college in Miami. Eventually, she made her way to Brigham Young University, where she studied neuroscience and molecular biology and earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average. After two years at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and a summer at the Mayo Clinic, she went on to an MD/PhD program in human genetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. In May, nearly twenty years after she came to the US, she graduated. One week earlier she had her first child, Matilda Carola. Carolina, who plans to become a pediatrician, is now a resident at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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A bdul speaks at a Day Without Immigrants rally, which was held on May 1 in Lansing. A bdul launched his campaign for governor in the spring of 2016.


Abdul El-Sayed muslim a merica n could m a ke history in michiga n If Abdul El-Sayed is elected governor of Michigan in November 2018, he would be the first Muslim to hold that position in the United States. But in interviews on the campaign trail, Abdul, the former head of the Detroit Health Department, says how people pray matters less than what they pray for. In Detroit, Abdul helped launch SisterFriends, a volunteer effort designed to reduce infant mortality through mentoring; built a program to provide glasses to children who need them; and, after the water crisis in Flint, tested all 360 Detroit Public Schools for lead. The son of Egyptian immigrants, Abdul left a position as assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University to return to his home state after connecting through the Paul & Daisy Soros alumni newsletter with Richard Tao (2014), then a senior adviser to Detroit’s mayor. This year, in addition to announcing his candidacy for governor, Abdul coedited a book, Systems Science and Population Health, published by Oxford University Press in March.

The New American


Corinna Zygourakis ta king a sca lpel to oper ating room waste

The high cost of healthcare in the United States is a perennial concern, and a new study shines light on a corner of the budget most people probably don’t even consider: opened but unused disposable supplies in operating rooms. In a piece published in the Journal of Neurosurgery in 2016, Corinna Zygourakis and her coauthors tallied up such supplies in fifty-eight neurosurgical procedures at the University of California, San Francisco, and calculated that surgeons waste about $968 in supplies—including sutures, sponges, gloves, and drill bits—in each case. That adds up to approximately $242,968 wasted each month—or $2.9 million per year. It doesn’t have to be that way. In a follow-up study, Corinna found that supply costs dropped by 6.5 percent among surgeons who received scorecards with their operating room costs. The daughter of Greek immigrants, Corinna just completed her residency at UCSF, where she served as chief resident in the Department of Neurological Surgery.

Photo: Susan Merrell.

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Akbar Hossain 300 cups of coffee Like many Muslims, Akbar Hossain knows something about bigotry. He immigrated to the United States with his family from Bangladesh just two days before 9/11, when he was nine years old. More recently, according to an op-ed he penned in the Philadelphia Inquirer, a middle-aged white man screamed, “Go back to your country!” at him in the City of Brotherly Love, where Akbar attends the University of Pennsylvania Law School. But Akbar is determined to beat back bigotry with kindness. In his Inquirer piece, he offered to have coffee with anyone who wanted to learn more about Islam or meet a Muslim, and included his e-mail address. Since then, he’s received at least 300 invitations and met with 42 people and counting. The coffee conversations are just the latest in Akbar’s long-running commitment to his community. As an undergraduate student, he served low-income refugee families through United Way and worked on asylum cases. Last year, he became the youngest person ever appointed to the Planning Commission in his hometown of Norristown, Pennsylvania.

A kbar meets at a café with Faleeha and David, two of the hundreds of people who reached out to him af ter his op-ed was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2016.

The New American

Left and Below Two images from Tiffanie’s film Wonderland, which fol lows a you ng woma n and her family on a trip to Las Vegas.


Tiffanie Hsu wonderl a nd ’s w u n der kin d director collects more honors Wonderland, the latest film from director Tiffanie Hsu, has continued to rack up awards since its release, in 2016. In January, the film, which chronicles a young girl’s attempts to keep her mother’s gambling under control in Las Vegas, won second place in HBO’s Asian Pacific American Visionaries Short Film Competition. Tiffanie previously received the Alumni Jury Award for the work as part of the MFA Director’s Spotlight at UCLA, where she is an MFA student. The HBO win earned Tiffanie a red carpet premiere at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in April; her film also will be featured on various HBO platforms. Born in Wisconsin to immigrant parents from China and Taiwan, Tiffanie began making films as an undergrad at Harvard and got her start in Hollywood working with director Ang Lee on Life of Pi.

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The New American

Concentration of Doctors from Affected Countries Lowest




Valentin Bolotnyy putting immigr a n t doctors on the m a p

If President Trump’s executive order barring immigration from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen had been enforced against the 7,000 existing doctors in the United States from those countries, 14 million medical appointments each year would never have been provided. That’s according to the Immigrant Doctors Project, created by Valentin Bolotnyy, an economics PhD candidate at Harvard University, and his colleagues. The website, which launched in March, has been used in litigation challenging the travel ban and features an interactive map that tells viewers how many doctors practicing in the US received their medical training in one of the six targeted countries (in New York City, there are between 250 and 500 such doctors). Valentin’s own immigrant story began in Ukraine, where he was born to Jewish parents. His family came to the US as refugees when he was eight. Among those who helped on the project: 2017 Fellow Peter Hong, who is currently pursuing an MBA at Harvard Business School.

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Anika Singh Lemar (2002) Yale University


Mariangela Lisanti (2007) Princeton University Theoretical particle physicist and Princeton Assistant Professor Mariangela Lisanti has designed a new seminar for freshmen and sophomores who are curious about physics and research. Her goal is to introduce a diverse population of students to physics, mentors in the field, and research opportunities. In the course, students will explore both experimental and theoretical physics through a number of projects that focus on one of the greatest mysteries in physics today: the nature of dark matter. She wants to give students a taste of programming and numerical techniques and develop their scientific writing and presentation skills. Mariangela knew from a young age what she wanted to do, but many students don’t. Mentorship and early research experiences can help students stick with physics, so by providing these opportunities to more students, she hopes to help diversify the field. Mariangela is the child of immigrants from Italy.

When it comes to impact, it’s easy to see why any Yale Law School student would want to take Anika Singh Lemar’s Community and Economic Development clinic. Each year the clients of the clinic change, but they all allow students to work on transactional legal services while advancing economic opportunity. In 2017 one group of clinic students focused on housing advocacy through their work representing the Fair Share Housing Center and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council. Students wrote comments on guidance from the Department of the Treasury, produced a white paper for state housing agencies, and went to DC to meet with multiple House and Senate staffers to advocate for S.548, the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017. Anika was born to parents of the Sikh faith who immigrated to the United States from India.

Students in the Community and Economic Development clinic at Yale Law School following a meeting with Senate staffers in April 2017.

The New American

With so many Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows connected to universities across the United States and the world, we wanted to learn more about some of the new courses that they are teaching. We checked in with four Fellows to find out what they’re most excited about teaching this year.


Dov Fox (2007) University of San Diego

A bodega in Spanish Harlem. Photo: Emily  –   A nne Rigal.


Van Tran (2004) Columbia University Astoria, Chinatown, Borough Park, East Harlem, Jackson Heights, Koreatown—these are just a few of the neighborhoods that Van Tran has taken his students to as part of his course on immigrant communities in New York City. Through the people, landmarks, institutions, businesses, food, art, and demographics of each community, Van’s students are able to learn about, and contrast, the experiences and histories of various immigrant groups throughout the city. One day, they might be learning about dumplings from a first-generation Chinese immigrant, and the next, they may be learning from a scholar on neighborhood divides. Van wants his students to investigate the invisible workings of ethnic culture as they shape the lives of immigrants and their children in diverse neighborhoods in this iconic immigrant city. Van, who was born in Vietnam and is an assistant professor of sociology at Columbia University, first began exploring New York City when his family was resettled there, in 1998. He brings his own experience as a New American to the classroom, as well as his expertise in the integration and incorporation of immigrant groups across the United States.

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Dov Fox teaches and writes on the legal and ethical implications of advances in medicine and technology at the University of San Diego School of Law (USD). In his newest interdisciplinary course, USD law students come together with medical residents from Kaiser Permanente to understand the ins and outs of medical malpractice lawsuits and trials. The young doctors and future lawyers walk through each stage of a malpractice lawsuit, from injury to depositions to settlement or verdict. Medical residents learn how to prepare themselves and their future practices for potential lawsuits, while law students acquire hands-on experience working with or against healthcare providers. Dov co-teaches the class with Rick Barton, who is a partner at the law firm of Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP. Dov was born in Rehovot, Israel.

Photo: University of San Diego.


An out-of-the-blue e-mail from Pavan Cheruvu (2004) to

Vivek Ramaswamy (2011) led to Pavan’s current position:

chief of staff at Roivant Sciences, the innovative pharmaceutical company

that Vivek founded and leads.

Pursuing the Potential of Abandoned Pharmaceuticals

The New American

by Rebecca Beyer

Opposite Pavan and Vivek at their offices in Midtown Manhattan. Right, above Vivek learned about Alzheimer’s disease at a young age. He would join his mother, Geetha, a geriatric psychiatrist, on trips to local nursing homes, where he played the piano for residents with dementia. Right, below Pavan with his sister and their maternal grandmother in Bangalore.

When Pavan Cheruvu sent Vivek Ramaswamy an e-mail out of the blue, in the fall of 2015, he did so because he wanted to work with Vivek, a fellow Paul & Daisy Soros alumnus and the founder of Roivant Sciences, a biopharmaceutical company that aims to accelerate the development of new medicines. But he wasn’t applying for a job. He was proposing one.

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Follow the company on Twitter at @Roivant

“I realize this is unconventional but I obtained your email from the PD Soros alumni site, and I’m reaching out because I’ve been following your progress over the last year,” wrote Pavan, a 2004 Fellow, on Tuesday, September 15, a few months after Roivant subsidiary Axovant Sciences, which focuses on Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, had a record-breaking IPO. “In brief, I would like to work with you.”

Left to right Vivek’s parents, V.G. and Geetha, in India. V.G. spent most of his career at General Electric. Geetha trained in ophthalmology in Mysore before pursuing her career as a geriatric psychiatrist in Ohio. Vivek speaking at an event celebrating the opening of Roivant’s global headquarters, in Basel, Switzerland, in the summer of 2017.

Pavan, who was working as a fellow in cardiovascular medicine at the time, went on to suggest that he fill a position that did not exist at Roivant—chief of staff. After he sent the e-mail, he told his wife he didn’t expect to hear back. But he did. The same day. Recalling their introduction, both men laughed during a recent interview in the Roivant offices, in Midtown Manhattan, where Pavan now holds the position he created for himself. After Pavan’s e-mail, the pair connected over the phone on a Saturday at 6:30 a.m. Eastern time, the slot Vivek offered not realizing Pavan lived in San Francisco, where it was only 3:30. “He sounded fresh as top of the morning,” Vivek said. Founded in 2014, Roivant—the Roi stands for “return on investment”—is parent to a family of subsidiaries that staff members lovingly call “vants.” The companies are focused on rescuing drugs from what Vivek and Pavan describe as the “traffic jam” of the pharmaceutical industry. Roivant invests in drugs that show promise but have, for whatever reason, been abandoned by others, partnering

The New American

with pharmaceutical companies or universities to complete the development or clinical trial process. Each vant centers on a different therapeutic area. In addition to Axovant, there are Myovant (women’s health and prostate cancer), Enzyvant (rare diseases), and Dermavant (dermatologic conditions). Although none of the companies has a commercial product yet, they are getting close. Enzyvant anticipates a biologic license application in 2018 for a therapy for complete DiGeorge syndrome, a genetic disease; Axovant is completing a Phase 3 clinical study this year on the efficacy of intepirdine (also known as RVT–101) on patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. Vivek’s focus on Alzheimer’s was part of what attracted Pavan to his orbit. Therapies for the disease have eluded researchers for years. Lawrence T. Friedhoff, Roivant’s chief of research and development, helped create one of the leading Alzheimer’s drugs, Aricept, when he was at the pharmaceutical company Eisai. It was approved by the FDA in 1996. “Many pharmaceutical companies have said, ‘We’re not getting near that with a ten-foot pole,’” Pavan said. “Vivek was able to attract some of the top talent. I believed that he had a really good shot at making a major difference in a field that desperately needed it.”

Left to right Pavan and his four-year-old daughter, Sophia. Pavan’s wife, Deepu Madduri, is an oncologist at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. Pavan, the son of immigrants from India, grew up in Tampa, Florida. After receiving a master’s degree in computer science as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, Pavan enrolled in the HarvardMIT Health Sciences and Technology program. He g raduated i n 20 09.

In December 2015, after several weeks of conversations and discussions with other Roivant executives, Pavan signed on officially as Vivek’s chief of staff and moved from California to New York. In fact, he moved in across the street from the Roivant headquarters. “The joke is that he can actually access the office Wi-Fi from his apartment,” said Vivek, a 2011 Fellow. “Sometimes,” Pavan admitted. By all accounts, the proximity between Vivek and Pavan is part of what makes Roivant successful today. Matthew Gline, Roivant’s senior vice president of finance and business operations, said Vivek is a “visionary founder” who inspires his employees. That vision extends to every detail of his companies, whether those details are about finance, human resources, or the mechanisms of a specific drug compound. “He has incredible depth in everything he touches,” Matthew said. “There are very few people who can go toe to toe with those characteristics. Pavan is one.” Matthew said Pavan and Vivek have a “synergistic working relationship.” If the founder can’t be at a meeting, his chief of staff represents him, and colleagues and staff are able to trust that his decisions and theirs will be appropriately relayed. “Pavan predates me, so I don’t know what Roivant was

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like without Pavan, but I don’t think Roivant would work today without Pavan,” Matthew said. Vivek echoed those sentiments, saying Pavan is like a translator, helping convert ideas into action. “You’ve heard the expression that there’s a difference in doing the right thing and doing things right,” he said. “My vision for the company is doing the right thing. It’s a separate question about how do you actually make that happen. Pavan’s expertise is making sure we do things right.” Vivek, 31, and Pavan, 35, agree that one reason things have worked out so well between them is that they have eerily similar backgrounds. Both have parents who met through arranged marriages and emigrated initially to the Midwestern part of the United States from South India. Both have doctor moms and engineer dads. Both are married to doctors. And both feel at least in part defined by their immigrant values, especially the importance of family and personal relationships. Each also draws professional inspiration from early exposure to patient care. For Vivek, that exposure came very early. His mother was a geriatric psychiatrist who treated Alzheimer’s patients in Cincinnati, and, growing up, Vivek often played the piano in local nursing homes for


Below Vivek at the opening of Roivant’s new office in Durham, North Carolina. Opposite Pavan’s mother holds him as a baby on a trip to see relatives in India. Vivek and his brother, Shankar Ramaswamy, and their parents at the Taj Mahal. Shankar is the vice president of global medical affairs at Axovant Sciences.

residents with dementia (Vivek’s mother came out of retirement to help lead Axovant’s outreach to physicians and caregivers of individuals with dementia; his younger brother, also a doctor, works at Axovant on medical and scientific communications). Alzheimer’s “is different than other diseases,” Vivek said. “It really goes to the core of your humanity. The biggest victims, from my mother’s experience, more than the patients, were their families. That struck a particular chord with me, having grown up in such a tightly knit extended family.”

The original version of this story was published on The Paul

Vivek’s decision to focus Axovant on Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is no coincidence: “I would not have had the same personal commitment to Alzheimer’s disease if it had not been for my mother and my upbringing,” he said.

& Daisy Soros Fellowships website in April 2017.

For Pavan, the realization that he wanted to find a way to have a larger impact on patients came when he was working as a cardiovascular fellow at the University of California, San Francisco: “I would see patients who had been treated with drugs that showed a lot of promise but were no longer available because the company developing that drug abandoned it midway through the process,” he said. That is precisely the problem Roivant was created to address. By focusing its attention—and, because of successful capital campaigns, considerable resources—on drugs that otherwise might not have been developed, Roivant hopes to bring medicine to patients in a quicker, more cost-effective way. It’s the humanitarian mission behind an assuredly profit-seeking enterprise, Vivek and Pavan say. “It is staggering the amount of private and societal investment that has gone into those drugs, and to see them go by the wayside is wasteful—it’s just wrong,” Vivek said. “Our goal is to realize the value of those

The New American

“I would not have had the same personal commitment to Alzheimer’s disease if it had not been for my mother and my upbringing.”

drugs that never would have seen the light of day if we had not gotten involved.” The other major problem in the industry that Roivant hopes to tackle is the high price of drugs, in part through the application of new technologies. One innovation? For the intepirdine trial, called  MINDSET, which has approximately 1,150 Alzheimer’s patients enrolled at 175 sites around the world, a Roivant lawyer who doesn’t have a pharmaceutical background suggested using the ride-share app Lyft to make sure participants show up for their site visits. It was an incredibly simple solution for a major obstacle in clinical trials involving dementia. Both Vivek and Pavan emphasize that they hope to disrupt the pharmaceutical industry by stacking their company with the people who know it best and the people who don’t know it at all. To round out their pharmaceutical chops, they look for “high performers” in other areas, like technology and finance. Pavan himself considered opportunities at Google and McKinsey & Company—where he had worked before his residency—prior to joining up with Roivant. “I often tell candidates, if your decision is between coding the next app that puts a mustache on

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someone’s face or being involved in an industry where you can have an impact on millions of people’s lives, to me the choice is pretty clear,” he said. “And we hope to create the kind of environment that attracts precisely those people.” For now, the impact of Roivant and the rest of the vant family—on drug pricing, the healthcare system, and patients—remains to be seen. They still don’t have any drugs to sell. That was an early criticism of Vivek and Axovant when that company exploded onto the market without an FDA-approved drug to its name—that both were indicative of a biotech bubble, shiny and pretty but not here to stay. Vivek rejects those claims, saying, “The need for a more innovative and efficient drug development process is something that withstands the test of time.” Pavan agrees. It’s why he moved his wife and young daughter across the country and, ultimately, across the street from Roivant. “I told my wife, ‘I think if we do this right, this will be the way pharmaceutical companies are conceived of in the future,’” he said. “We’re not doing this as a sort of flip-to-sell approach. We’re really here for the long haul.” 


“I can honestly say that my fellow Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows have inspired me to move closer to the person that I want to be.” VIVEK MURTH Y (1998)

Paul and Daisy Soros.

The New American

APPLICATIONS FOR THE CLASSES OF 2018 & 2019 The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships are open to New Americans of outstanding achievement. Fellows receive up to $90,000 over one to two years for full-time graduate study in any discipline or profession at a US graduate institution. For more information and to apply online, go to APPLICATIONS DUE


November 1

A New American (a naturalized citizen, a green card holder, or approved for DACA if born abroad; a child of immigrants if born in this country).


Early January

Not yet 31 years old, as of the application deadline.


Not beyond your second year — if already enrolled — in the graduate program for which you request support.

Last week of January and the first week of February PAUL & DAISY SOROS FELLOWS A N NOUNCED


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The program values a commitment to the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. The program promotes a strong sense of community among Fellows and alumni through Fall Conferences and numerous events held throughout the country.



The recipients of the 2017 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans were selected from more than 1,775 applicants. They reflect the diversity of recent immigrants, with parents from 17 countries. The Fellows earned their bachelor’s degrees at 22 different institutions.

Class of

Photos by Christopher Smith

Amin Aalipour

Award to support work toward an MD/PhD in bioengineering at Stanford University Raised in Southern California, Amin Aalipour is the son of Iranian Muslim immigrants who came to the United States in pursuit of higher education. Inspired by his parents’ struggles with financial hardship and his Muslim faith, Amin learned early on bout the values of simplicity, fearlessness, and sacrifice.

nanomaterials interact with living cells. His work in a lymphoma clinic and as an HIV counselor inspired him to think about the medical applications of his research, and he became committed to a career as a physicianscientist. Amin earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a combined four years, graduating first in his major and with highest honors from the School of Engineering. He also coauthored six publications, including three first-author papers, and earned the Barry Goldwater Scholarship for his work in the lab. Amin is working to develop early-cancerdetection technologies and immunotherapies in the lab of Dr. Sanjiv Gambhir. He also works as a fellow at Life Science Angels.

As an undergraduate at Stanford, Amin studied how engineered

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David Adewumi

Award to support work toward an MM in jazz trumpet at The Juilliard School David Adewumi’s immigration story begins with his grandparents, both educational reformers from Nigeria, who immigrated to the United States in the late 1970s to complete doctoral programs at Columbia University. After graduating, they returned to Nigeria, where they raised David’s mother and her siblings with a focus on education and hard work, as well as with a deep admiration for

the US. Following in their footsteps, David’s mother and father eventually immigrated to the US and settled in New Hampshire, where David was born. While working on his undergraduate degree at the New England Conservatory, David began crafting his artistic vision with guidance from the school’s jazz faculty. In 2015 David was accepted to Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, as well as the Banff International Workshop in Jazz & Creative Music in Alberta, Canada. In 2016 David was one of five musicians accepted to The Juilliard School’s Jazz Department and is continuing to develop his voice in New York City’s renowned jazz scene.

Mayesha Alam

Award to support work toward a PhD in comparative politics at Yale University Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Mayesha Alam always looked up to her father, an engineer, and her mother, who was among the first generation of women in the Bangladesh civil service. When Mayesha was a child, her family moved to Jakarta, where they lived under the Suharto regime. Witnessing Indonesia’s volatile transition to democracy shaped Mayesha’s worldview and solidified an interest in peace

building and diplomacy, which led her to Mount Holyoke College for a bachelor’s degree and Georgetown University for a master’s. Mayesha cofounded the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, which she dedicated herself to for five years. She has also worked with the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Her 2014 book, Women and Transitional Justice: Progress and Persistent Challenges in Retributive and Restorative Processes, was inspired by her work at the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission of Kenya and by her parents’ experiences surviving the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. She intends to be a public intellectual and stateswoman who shapes civic discourse on human rights and leads principled and effective national security and foreign policy engagement.

Laura Jan Chang

Award to support work toward a PhD in theoretical particle physics at Princeton University By the age of twelve, Laura Chang had attended public school in McLean, Virginia; a strict private school in Annandale, Virginia; a modest school in rural Pingtung, Taiwan; and an innovative school in Tainan, Taiwan. Two things stayed constant from school to school: her affinity for science and her urge to find her identity between two countries as an American-born daughter of Taiwanese parents. After graduating from high school, Laura decided to return to the United States to attend Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where

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she had been born. She majored in physics and pursued research in experimental atomic, molecular, and optical physics (AMO). She carried that focus to Princeton University, where she received the Centennial Fellowship, the Joseph Henry Merit Prize, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. She spent the first year of her PhD program continuing research in AMO. Interested in the cross section between AMO and theoretical high-energy physics, Laura shifted her concentration to dark matter phenomenology. At Princeton, Laura is coleader of the Women in Physics Group and a member of the Women in STEM Leadership Council. Laura hopes to search for and understand the nature of dark matter, and how it fits into established frameworks within physics.

Kaveh Danesh

Award to support work toward a PhD in economics at UC Berkeley Born in Bellevue, Washington, Kaveh Danesh is the son of Iranian immigrants. His parents had a rough start in the United States: his father ran out of tuition money for community college, and his mother had severe complications while giving birth. They persevered in hopes that the American Dream would come true for their children.         Torn between the arts and sciences, Kaveh attended Duke University and wrote undergraduate theses in English and math. After a postgraduate year in China on a Fulbright Scholarship, he attended Harvard

University, where he studied narrative nonfiction and poetry while earning a master’s in statistics. His work— on mathematical models of cancer, the lived experience of cancer patients, the role of college in mediating social mobility, and migrant farmworkers’ rights—has been featured in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, Harvard Advocate, New York Times,  and  Sacramento Bee. He has also served on Duke’s Board of Trustees and interned as a writer at the White House, where he helped President Obama respond to the ten letters put in his briefing book each night. Now at the University of California, Berkeley, Kaveh is working on a PhD in economics while taking journalism courses. Indebted to his parents’ perseverance, he plans to document the obstacles facing society’s most vulnerable people through applied economics and narrative writing.



Ivan Forde

Award to support work toward an MFA in visual arts at Columbia University Born in Guyana, Ivan Forde was two when his mother immigrated alone to the United States so that she could better support her family. Eight years of weekly phone calls and a five-hour plane ride later, Ivan and his four older siblings finally met the cold winter air of New York, their new home. Ivan will never forget the feeling of arriving and the moment of reuniting with his mother. Growing up in Harlem, he made collages as gifts for his mother, who struggled to support her children and help them adjust while working two jobs. 

At Purchase College, State University of New York, Ivan immersed himself in classic poetry to become a stronger reader, earning a bachelor’s degree in literature with an award-winning thesis of self-portraits representing the reader of Paradise Lost. After graduation, he returned to the Studio Museum, among other nonprofit spaces, where he worked with immigrant and first-generation students. Ivan’s work has been recognized by the  New York Times, the Whitney Museum, Pioneer Works, Vermont Studio Center, and the Lower East Side Printshop. Now pursuing an MFA in visual art at the Columbia University School of the Arts, Ivan is using printmaking, electronic media, and sound installation on a range of projects, such as illuminating the exciting new chapter of the Epic of Gilgamesh uncovered in December 2015.

The New American

Javier Galvan

Award to support work toward an MD at UCSF Born in Orange, California, to Mexican immigrants, Javier Galvan moved with his family to Michoacán, Mexico, and returned to the San Francisco Bay Area when he was eight. One class made a particular impression on Javier: civics. The class inspired him to enlist in the US Marine Corps, which in turn provided him with financial stability and a career plan. As a Marine, he deployed to Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2009. Before his deployment to Afghanistan, Javier trained as a combat lifesaver, an experience that motivated him to leave the military for a college degree.

With the goal of becoming a physician, Javier enrolled in a local community college before transferring to San Francisco State University. As a college student, he worked at Arbor Free Clinic as a Spanish interpreter and helped start a student-run diabetes self-management program. In 2015 he graduated magna cum laude from San Francisco State with a degree in biology. Now in the dual-degree program in medical education for the urban underserved at the University of California, San Francisco, Javier is pursuing an MD, with the plan of also receiving a master of public health degree. He uses his position as a firstgeneration medical student to motivate low-income students in the Bay Area to pursue a career in medicine through his work in various pipeline programs.

Caleb J. Gayle

Award to support work toward an MBA/MPA at Harvard University Born in New York to Jamaican immigrants, Caleb Gayle remembers a childhood that was defined by his grandfather, a strict but loving reverend who cherished the pursuit of the American Dream and believed there was no excuse for anyone who fell short. It wasn’t until Caleb’s family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, that he began to grapple with systemic racial and economic injustice, an experience that led to his interest in nonprofits and government. While at the University of Oklahoma, Caleb began replicating the community development work he had done in Oklahoma, this time with

burgeoning, low-income female entrepreneurs in Mexico. After graduating, Caleb, a Harry S. Truman Scholar, worked for Crea Comunidades de Emprendedores Sociales, a social enterprise that creates customized programs to empower women entrepreneurs from marginalized areas in Mexico. After completing his graduate work at the University of Oxford as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, Caleb returned to Mexico to support scaling the work of Crea as a federal government program, Mujeres Moviendo México. In 2013 Caleb joined the George Kaiser Family Foundation to increase the scope of programs focused on improving the livelihood outcomes of low-income families and children. Caleb’s essays have been featured in the Huffington Post, New York Times, Guardian, Chronicle of Philanthropy, and Threepenny Review. He is a Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.

Bernardo Gouveia

Award to support work toward a PhD in chemical engineering at Princeton University Born in Colorado, Bernardo Gouveia is the first person in his extended family to be born outside Brazil. His parents immigrated to the United States in 1992 to attend graduate school and build a new life. Bernardo’s grandmothers would stagger their visits to Colorado to take care of him and teach him about Brazilian culture and life. After bouncing between Colorado, Texas, and Rio de Janeiro, Bernardo ended up at the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied chemical engineering and physics. He worked with Professor Susan

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Muller and studied hydrodynamics and thermal fluctuations of phospholipid vesicles, which are crucial in designing medical devices that analyze red blood cells. Later Bernardo worked for Bolt Threads, a company that is introducing spider silk to the textile industry. He studied the rheology of solubilized spider silk to help the company understand spin line operations. He then applied his skills at the Pitzer Center for Theoretical Chemistry, under Professor Kranthi Mandadapu, where he worked on understanding the elastic behavior of biological membranes embedded with transmembrane proteins. In college, he was the president of Berkeley Engineers and Mentors, an organization that teaches weekly hands-on science and engineering lessons to sixteen elementary and middle schools across the East Bay.

Joseph A. Guimaraes

Award to support work toward an MM in tuba performance at Yale University Joseph A. Guimaraes was born in Recife, Brazil, and immigrated to the United States in 1998, when he was in fifth grade. His early experiences in the US made a big impression on him. On landing in Florida, his parents were each able to find two jobs almost immediately. The concept of hard work was never foreign to Joseph, but seeing all that his parents were able to accomplish made him realize firsthand the true meaning of the American Dream.

his bachelor’s degree in tuba performance from Lynn University’s Conservatory of Music in Boca Raton, Florida. Joseph was the principal tubist of such festivals as the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan, the Chautauqua Institution Music Festival in New York, and the AIMS Festival Orchestra in Graz, Austria. Joseph was awarded first prize in the solo artist division competition of the 2017 North East Regional Tuba and Euphonium Conference held at Ithaca College in New York. In 2015 Joseph launched his company, The Valve Beanie. He also founded the Mouthpieces For All Initiative, whose mission is to donate musical tools to underserved children to empower and engage them through the performing arts. The initiative has donated over $10,000 in equipment to children in the US and Brazil.

Joseph is currently a master’s student at the Yale School of Music. He received



Peter Hong

Award to support work toward an MBA at Harvard University A child of South Korean immigrants, Peter Hong was born in Colorado and raised in Michigan. Growing up, Peter attended school during the day, and then came home to a rigorous curriculum in Korean culture and language, which was developed and taught by his parents. While it was difficult for Peter to always appreciate his education in his Korean identity, that all changed when he was able to intern for the US Embassy in Seoul at the age of seventeen. Witnessing the power of public service, Peter resolved to contribute to the United States in any future endeavor. As an undergraduate

at Stanford, he took extended absences to intern at Google, the State Department, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Each provided views into how interests in software and policy could manifest in public service. These experiences culminated in Peter’s joining Palantir Technologies as a software engineer, building products that serve organizations and their needs in data for decision making. Peter is currently pursuing an MBA at Harvard Business School, not to fundamentally shift, but to supplement, his motivation to build software contributing to society and public policy. He intends to continue experimenting with and developing software products for use in healthcare, citizen services, and academic research.

The New American

Ellora T. Israni

Award to support work toward a JD at Harvard University Though Ellora Thadaney Israni was born and raised in the Bay Area, she often returned to Poona, India, where her grandparents lived. Her parents, both Indian immigrants, were themselves the children of immigrants—Hindu refugees to India. They instilled in Ellora a commitment to help build a world that offers more equal opportunities. While studying computer science at Stanford University, Ellora became disheartened by the gender disparities in her classes and cofounded the university’s first conference for women in technology, she++. The conference has

since grown into a nonprofit, supporting chapters of young women in engineering around the world. The award-winning she++ documentary is currently touring with the United States Department of State’s American Film Showcase. After graduation, Ellora moved to New York City as a software engineer for Facebook. She helped start the company’s civic engagement efforts, which use the platform to give people a voice in public affairs. Her team helped two million additional Americans register to vote in 2016. Ellora also led Facebook NYC’s efforts to build, grow, and support diversity in engineering. Now a JD candidate at Harvard, Ellora hopes to leverage the intersection of technology and law to change the way we define and deliver justice in the US.

Pratyusha Kalluri

Award to support work toward a PhD in computer science at Stanford University Born on the East Coast and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, Pratyusha Kalluri is the daughter of Indian immigrants. Her parents left India in the 1980s, seeking better job opportunities in America. Pratyusha remembers growing up with American and Indian children’s books and a name from a Telugu poem, as her parents relayed the importance of education and expression. The emphasis on education empowered Pratyusha to pursue her undergraduate degree at MIT, where she became deeply interested in artificial intelligence. At first, she built AI systems

to reveal the goingson inside the human body. At Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, she developed an algorithm to identify the gene pathway changes that underlie breast cancer, and at the MIT Media Lab, she developed a device to automate stethoscope auscultation. In time, her research converged on that most complex and least understood of organs—the human brain. As an undergraduate at MIT and, subsequently, a visiting researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid, Pratyusha built AI systems modeling facets of human intelligence and human language processing. Simultaneously, she has continued to explore the intricacies of expression, studying literature and other media, and penning stories and poetry that tap into her intersectional identity. Pratyusha aims to build artificial intelligence that is more humanlike and understandable by synthesizing symbolic and statistical approaches.

Sanjay Kishore

own major around the social determinants of health. After hearing a Congolese physician call on undergraduates to address civil war in the DRC, he helped lead a movement to change investment policy in companies sourcing conflict minerals from the region.

Ivan Kuznetsov

Award to support work toward an MD at Harvard University

After college, Sanjay sharpened his policy skills as the Villers Fellow at Families USA, a progressive health advocacy organization, and started Commonwealth Covered, Virginia’s first student-run campaign to enroll individuals in health insurance coverage.

Award to support work toward an MD/PhD in biomedical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania

Born and raised in rural Virginia, Sanjay Kishore is the youngest child of parents who emigrated from Hyderabad, India. Both of his grandfathers were Gandhian-era civil servants in the state of Andhra Pradesh who supported socialist land reform and helped operate medical clinics for the most vulnerable. Sanjay’s mother instilled the mantra “Service to mankind is service to God.” In high school Sanjay pursued his interest in government and service, becoming the Youth Governor of the Virginia YMCA Model General Assembly. He went on to Duke University, where he designed his

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At Harvard Medical School, Sanjay worked with fellow members of the Racial Justice Coalition to advocate for affordable health benefits for a union of over 700 Harvard dining workers. Sanjay aspires to use his clinical training to serve not just as an advocate for individual patients, but as the foundation for a career organizing for a more just society.

The son of Russian immigrants, Ivan Kuznetsov was born in Columbus, Ohio, where his father held a one-year postdoctoral research position. Due to visa restrictions, the family had to leave the United States when Ivan was only two months old. He spent his early years living in Russia and Austria. He was four when the family returned to the US after his parents were offered academic jobs in Raleigh, North Carolina. Ivan received his bachelor’s degrees in biomedical engineering and applied math and

statistics from Johns Hopkins University. At Hopkins, Ivan conducted neuroscience research, investigating new ways of delivering drugs into the brain, creating algorithms for the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders from brain images, and exploring new computational models of how neuronal synapses in the brain are maintained. As an undergraduate, he published eighteen papers, most as the first author, in peerreviewed journals. For his research, he was awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and named an Amgen Scholar. Ivan is currently enrolled in the MD/PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania, where his work is supported by the National Institutes of Health through the Medical Scientist Training Program. His research focuses on the computationally driven design of new proteins with functions not found in nature, which could potentially be applied to a variety of medical tasks.



Roxana Moussavian

Award to support work toward a JD at Yale University Born in Upstate New York and raised in California, Roxana Moussavian is the daughter of Iranian immigrants. Inspired by her family, she is passionate about increasing access to economic opportunity and social empowerment, both domestically and abroad. While studying the modern Middle East and math at the University of Pennsylvania, she cofounded a nonprofit that helps high-potential students from around the world obtain a quality education by connecting them directly with donors through an online crowdfunding platform. After

graduating magna cum laude from Penn, Roxana joined the Obama administration, where she worked for four years. Most recently, she served on the National Economic Council. Roxana also co-organized the Obama administration’s first White House Iranian New Year’s celebration, in 2012, which became an annual tradition. In 2015 Roxana left the White House to pursue her own storytelling project. With support from New America, Amtrak, and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, she traveled across the United States to interview people who successfully overcame significant socioeconomic challenges. Working together with a team of filmmakers and interactive designers, she turned these interviews into short documentaries demonstrating how business, labor, nonprofits, and government can create new pathways for workers to advance in their careers.

The New American

Matthew Nguyen

Award to support work toward a JD at Yale University Matthew Nguyen’s parents fled Vietnam as child refugees at the height of the Vietnam War. Arriving in the United States with minimal English and only pennies to their name, they bounced between resettlement camps before making California their home. During college at the University of California, Berkeley, Matt championed minority voting rights in North Carolina with President Obama’s reelection campaign and rallied global support for Syrian refugees and Ebola victims through the US Mission to the European Union. He also analyzed climate and urban

policies at the University of Oxford, founded an education seminar at the Goldman School of Public Policy, and researched workforce development under Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Mariana Olaizola

The proud product of eighteen years of California public education, Matt graduated summa cum laude from Berkeley as a salutatorian. Serving then as an aide to California Governor Jerry Brown, he fought to raise the minimum wage, advance education funding equity, expand healthcare access for undocumented families, and promote environmental justice in vulnerable communities.

Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, Mariana Olaizola was surrounded by a culturally homogenous world. It was largely Hispanic, Catholic, and conservative. That all changed when she enrolled in public school in the suburbs of Washington, DC.

Matt currently attends Yale Law School, the only Vietnamese American student in his graduating class. There, he manages the Yale Law & Policy Review, facilitates an education law course, conducts research for Professor Amy Chua’s forthcoming book, and advocates for underserved youth through the Education Adequacy Project.

Witnessing the unraveling of Venezuela’s sociopolitical fabric, Mariana’s parents had decided to leave their jobs and support network behind in search of a safer environment and a better education for Mariana and her brother. Mariana studied political theory and piano performance at Princeton University, graduating summa cum laude in 2013.

Award to support work toward a JD at Yale University

Mariana spent two years in Myanmar, performing research among stateless populations. One issue repeatedly surfaced: the absence of a robust international guarantee of legal status, resulting in the systematic neglect of some populations’ human rights. She left with a plan to master the law and build a career addressing this injustice. As a legal director of the International Refugee Assistance Project chapter at Yale Law School, Mariana coordinates outreach and manages students’ legal work in support of refugees. She also volunteers with the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project and conducts research on potential legal reforms to ensure a human right to citizenship in the context of mass cross-border migrations.

Uzoma Orchingwa

Award to support work toward a JD at Yale University Born in Chicago, Uzoma Kenneth Orchingwa is the son of Nigerian immigrants. He spent his childhood in Aba, Nigeria, returning to the United States at the age of eight with his family, in search of a brighter future. Uzoma’s parents survived the NigerianBiafran War, and their courage and values fundamentally shaped his character and values. His upbringing in Aba, a city defined by economic insecurity and weak institutions, was an example of structural forces that can determine the lives of the disadvantaged and underwrites his ambition to be a leading legal

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reformer and public servant. Despite the limitless future his new home assured, Uzoma realized that difficult legacies of America’s past still defer the dreams of many. After completing his undergraduate studies at Colby College, Uzoma pursued a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge as a Gates Scholar, focusing on reexamining the history of US penal policy in pursuit of novel solutions. In England he connected with innovators and aspiring political actors, which affirmed his commitment to a pragmatic and intellectual approach to social progress. Uzoma is committed to producing scholarship that focuses on widening constitutional protections to vulnerable classes, broadening public concern for and understanding of injustice, and representing forgotten communities through appellate litigation.

Võ Tiên Phong

Award to support work toward a PhD in physics at the University of Pennsylvania Born in Ho Chi Minh City, Võ Tiên Phong learned his earliest lessons of dana (generosity), prajña (insight), and metta (compassion) when visiting Buddhist temples with his grandmother and parents. In addition to these Buddhist virtues, Phong’s parents were committed to giving their children the educational opportunities they never had because of the Vietnam War. This commitment to education led them to the United States when Phong was ten.

graduating from MIT in mathematics and physics, he continued working toward a master’s degree at the University of Manchester, with the help of a Marshall Scholarship, where he is currently studying theoretical condensed matter physics, a subfield that explores exotic material properties. Through his research, Phong hopes to elucidate fundamental laws of nature and to propose beneficial new technologies. When not working with equations, Phong loves sharing what he knows through teaching. He has cofounded a science outreach program for underserved students. Continuing educational development work, he hopes to expand access to and improve the quality of science education in Vietnam and the US. Phong hopes to become a professor in condensed matter physics who also works to reform science education.

Phong has long been fascinated by numbers and equations. After



Estefania Puerta

Award to support work toward an MFA in printmaking and painting at Yale University Estefania Puerta was born in Colombia and immigrated with her mother to Boston at the age of two. Estefania’s father had come to the US the year before. Finally reunited, Estefania’s parents set out to work hard and pursue a future in which she could be the first in the family to graduate from college and have a better life. It was during high school that Estefania discovered her love of art and literature. Art gave her a new world to discover. She went to the art museums in Boston and learned about art history, including the

lack of inclusion and representation of women artists from different cultural backgrounds. After high school, Estefania pursued a degree in community and international development at the University of Vermont. Not only did she get hands-on experience working with vulnerable populations, but she was also able to take art classes and cultivate her love of creative expression. She is grateful for the professors who pushed her to improve on her work and pursue her dream. Since graduating from college, Estefania has become a US citizen. With the newly found privilege of citizenship, she is committed to ensuring others are given the same encouragement and support she was given while living in the shadows. Estefania has finally been able to follow her dream of being an artist.

The New American

Shivani Radhakrishnan

Award to support work toward a PhD in philosophy at Columbia University Shivani Radhakrishnan was born in Middletown, New York, to Indian parents from Bangalore and Baroda who met while working together in the Catskills. Growing up around Gujarati and Tamil, and studying Russian and Latin, Shivani became interested in linguistic and social identity. After finishing her AB at Princeton University and her BPhil at the University of Oxford, Shivani lived and taught in Vladivostok, Russia, as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, where she spent time thinking about avantgarde Russian film and contemporary Russian

literature. Following her time in Vladivostok, Shivani began researching Indo-Soviet connections and is writing an experimental novel about a left-wing political theater troupe that moves from West Bengal to Soviet Russia in the mid-1950s. Shivani is now a PhD candidate at Columbia University, where she is studying philosophy’s role in social transformation. Some see philosophers like Marx and Plato as utopian, since they focus on perfectly just societies very different from our own. Responding to this criticism, Shivani’s research is about how theories of ideal justice can help us improve our nonideal world. Shivani has published critical essays and reviews in the Washington Post, n+1, the Paris Review Daily, and Boston Review. As an aspiring writer, critic at large, and philosopher, Shivani wants to prompt reflective inquiry about the various aspects of our social and political lives that go unexamined.

Sanjena Sathian

Award to support work toward an MFA in creative writing at the University of Iowa The daughter of Indian immigrants who raised her in Bible Belt Georgia, Sanjena Anshu Sathian connected with her twin cultures through the page. She grew up reading Hindu mythological comic books and Arundhati Roy, the New Testament and Flannery O’Connor. The granddaughter and greatgranddaughter of respected South Indian translators, she always hoped to become a writer. Sanjena earned a BA in English from Yale University, where she served as editor-in-chief of the Globalist magazine. She received multiple grants to report from

three continents, writing about striking Chilean miners, Nepali Gurkha soldiers in training, and the conflict zone in Cyprus. She was awarded the English Department’s highest honors for each of her two senior theses: one on the novels of Zadie Smith, the other a series of linked short stories. After school, Sanjena worked as a health reporter for the Boston Globe before joining the media start-up OZY as an early employee. At OZY, she wrote widely, covering the unseen mobile home economy, the ethical implications of artificial intelligence, and the boom in Asian American retirement communities. In 2015 she moved to India, where she investigated the rise of Hindu nationalism, cattle-smuggling rings on the Indo-Bangladesh border, the impact of automation on handloom industries, and the rise of a new street drug in Mumbai.

Lorenzo Sewanan

Award to support work toward an MD/PhD in biomedical engineering at Yale University Lorenzo Sewanan was born in Paramaribo, Suriname, to IndoCaribbean parents who migrated there in the 1970s from Guyana to escape the economic and political unrest of the Socialist regime. Lorenzo spent his first sixteen years in the former Dutch colony, exploring his neighborhood, reading books of places real and fantastic, and working at his family’s store. In 2008 the family left Suriname and moved to the United States. Lorenzo attended Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens, for two years and then Trinity College as a

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QuestBridge College Match Scholar. He majored in physics and mechanical engineering with a minor in writing and rhetoric. He was awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship for his research on intervertebral disk biomechanics in the lab of Nadeen Chahine at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. Lorenzo’s current research combines approaches from tissue engineering, molecular mechanics, and computational modeling to understand the biomechanics and mechanobiology of inherited cardiomyopathies. Working with the community on issues of healthcare access, Lorenzo was a cofounder of the Students for a Better Healthcare System campaign and the Primary Care Patient Navigation Program. Lorenzo is also a published poet and has looked for ways to be involved in humanitiesin-medicine projects.

Andrey Sushko

Award to support work toward a PhD in experimental physics at Harvard University Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Andrey Sushko moved to the United Kingdom with his parents when he was six, but would return to Russia every summer to spend time with his extended family. He quickly adapted to British culture and spent much time in a group of friends united by passion and self-taught skill in a broad range of STEM fields. After moving to Richland, Washington, in 2009, at the age of fifteen, Andrey began to take his interest in STEM to the next level by entering science fairs and competitions. He developed a new type of electric motor, which gained national

recognition at the Intel Science Talent Search in his senior year of high school. As an undergraduate at Stanford University, Andrey pursued his longtime research interest in experimental physics while dabbling with industry over the summer by developing navigational sensors for spacecraft at SpaceX. In his spare time, he led the development of a novel high-altitude balloon flight control system that went on to twice break the world record for flight duration for that class of balloon. In his PhD at Harvard, Andrey is working to advance the frontier of controllable, engineered quantum systems by leveraging techniques from both condensed matter and atomic, molecular, and optical physics.



Ashvin Swaminathan

Award to support work toward a PhD in mathematics at Princeton University Born in New Providence, New Jersey, Ashvin A. Swaminathan is the son of Indian immigrants who embody the American Dream. From his parents, both of whom earned graduate degrees in the United States after spending the first twenty years of their lives in economic hardship, Ashvin has learned to be grateful for the freedoms and opportunities that the US has afforded him.

a math professor. As an undergraduate at Harvard University, he not only authored ten research papers on a diverse collection of mathematical topics, receiving the Barry Goldwater Scholarship for his work, but also served as a teaching fellow for six advanced math courses and won prizes for excellence in teaching. In his future career as a professor, Ashvin would like to work together with his students to develop a successful research program in number theory, his favorite subfield of math. Through his teaching, he hopes to realize his conviction that mathematics has the power to unify people of diverse backgrounds and interests under the common banner of seeking truth, depth, and wisdom in all their pursuits.

While Ashvin has demonstrated a strong commitment to excellence in a broad range of academic subjects, mathematics is the love of his life, and he aspires to become

The New American

Xuan Hong Thi Tran

Award to support work toward a JD at Yale University Born and raised in Ho Chi Minh City, Xuan Hong Thi Tran grew up with a deep sense of justice, having learned about Vietnam’s history through her family’s harrowing past. In 2010, after a life-changing scholarship in Singapore, Hong came to the United States to attend Yale University, excited to learn how to enact social change. She graduated from college with distinction in religious studies and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. After graduation, Hong helped immigrants appeal their deportation rulings at the Federal Immigration Appeals Project. She proceeded to serve as an inaugural

Community Fellow with Immigrant Justice Corps, the first immigration law fellowship in the nation. As a Board of Immigration Appeals accredited representative, she represented hundreds of low-income immigrant New Yorkers in various stages of their pathways toward citizenship. In New York, she also volunteered in a civic engagement and voter protection campaign organized by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and worked in the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs ActionNYC legal clinics. In the fall of 2016 she moved to Detroit to advocate for educational justice for students of color and immigrant students in Metro Detroit with the ACLU’s local units and the Syrian American Rescue Network. Hong speaks Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese, and French, and is conversational in Tibetan, Indonesian, and Arabic.

Maria Vertkin

Award to support work toward an MPH at Boston University Maria Vertkin was born in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, and lived in Israel for five years before immigrating to the United States, at age eleven. Through the economic and social hardships of two immigrations, Maria gained firsthand experience with poverty and marginalization, and their effects in every facet of life, from housing to workforce to health. Maria’s career began at the nonprofit Rediscovery, where she worked with young men aging out of the state foster care system. That work led her to the innovative pilot program YouthHarbors, which nearly eliminated

instances of dropout in homeless unaccompanied youth, a population with an expected dropout rate of over seventy-five percent. After graduating from Regis College, Maria founded the nonprofit Found in Translation, which provides medical interpreter training and job placement to lowincome and homeless bilingual women. The organization enables women to turn their most stigmatized characteristic—their linguistic and cultural backgrounds—into their biggest asset in the workforce. This work has attracted recognition and awards, including the Echoing Green Global Fellowship and the Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs list. Through her work with medical interpreters, Maria’s interest in health disparities as a result of language barriers deepened. Although access to a professional medical interpreter is a legally protected civil right, the violation of this right is commonplace and its consequences dire.

Jinyan Zang

Award to support work toward a PhD in government at Harvard University Jinyan Zang is working to ensure that digital technologies and innovations reflect American values. He identifies conflicts between technology and the nation’s laws and traditions in areas such as privacy, equality, and fair elections, and looks for solutions in policy and design that ensure technological progress supports all Americans. At the age of seven, Jinyan immigrated to the United States from China with his parents, who came for better work opportunities in Rochester, Minnesota, and, later, Boston. Growing up in a

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household of medical researchers, he gained an early appreciation for the power of science to establish new facts through experiments. As an undergraduate at Harvard University, Jinyan took a computer science course on privacy and technology that inspired him to focus his career on issues of technology policy. After college, he worked on issues of privacy and consumer protection as a research fellow in technology and data governance at the Federal Trade Commission and as the managing editor of Technology Science, an academic journal publishing research on technology’s impact on society. As a PhD candidate in government at Harvard, Jinyan is excited to continue working on integrating American values into new technologies.

Maryam Zekavat

Award to support work toward an MD/PhD at Yale University Seyedeh Maryam Zekavat was born in Shiraz, Iran, and immigrated to the United States with her family when she was five years old. As a child, Maryam watched her mother pursue a degree in mathematics and her father a degree in electrical engineering, all while learning English and integrating into a new way of life. While working on her undergraduate degree in biological engineering at MIT, Maryam became interested in applying computational methods to improve mechanistic understanding of disease and motivate new paths for prevention, diagnostics, and treatments. She

has since applied computational and experimental methods toward numerous projects, including a pharmacokinetic model of engineered biomarkers for early cancer detection at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, a 3-D in vitro model of the blood-brain barrier through MIT’s Amgen-UROP Scholars Program, and a simulation pipeline for brain MR-PET scans at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Martinos Center. After graduation, Maryam joined the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard as a computational biologist, seeking to better grasp how computational sciences can be directly applied to big-data analytics to inform the medical care of individual patients.


Fei-Fei Li (1999) is a cofounder of the nonprofit AI4ALL, a scientist at Google Cloud, and an associate professor of computer

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science at Stanford University.

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By Nikka Landau

It might come as a surprise that Fei-Fei Li’s favorite class in high school was not math or physics, but instead United States history. She is, after all, one of the world’s leading artificial intelligence scientists, and she loved science from an early age. But when Fei-Fei first arrived in the US with her parents as a sixteen-year-old Chinese immigrant, she was fascinated by the American colonies, the Founding Fathers, and the Constitution.

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These days, in the world of computer science and machine learning, Fei-Fei is doing something not all that dissimilar from what her favorite Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, did. Along with her peers in Silicon Valley, Fei-Fei is building technology that reshapes the ways humans live on this planet. She calls it the fourth Industrial Revolution.

Previous spread Fei-Fei at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, 2017. Photo: Saul Bromberger & Sandra Hoover Photography. Left Fei-Fei and her parents in Chengdu, China. The family immigrated to the US when Fei-Fei was a teenager. Above With colleagues at the Google headquarters. Photo: Saul Bromberger & Sandra Hoover Photography.

Fei-Fei, an associate professor of computer science at Stanford University, has been at the forefront of artificial intelligence since the early 2000s, when she was a computer science PhD student at the California Institute of Technology and a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow. At the time, she was beginning her groundbreaking work teaching computers how to see and understand images. Fei-Fei’s team developed algorithms that allowed computers to identify objects in images. But instead of focusing on strengthening the algorithms to improve computer capabilities, she turned to big data to provide the computers with the high-quality information they needed to learn to see. This initiative became ImageNet, a project that Fei-Fei launched with Princeton University Professor Kai Li in 2007. The ImageNet team downloaded nearly one billion images from the internet and, working with crowdsourcing technology, utilized the help of 48,940 people to label each image with the correct language necessary for a computer to be able to understand what’s in it. Thanks to this work, computers can not only identify objects in an image, but they can then look for patterns across the images. For example, computers scanned Google Street View images from hundreds of US cities and identified every single car by make and year. They were then able to crossreference that data with geographic information to understand how the price of cars correlated with societal information like voting behavior and crime rates.

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In her newest professional role as the chief scientist of artificial intelligence and machine learning at Google Cloud, Fei-Fei is focused on delivering strong cloud computing systems to every industry across the globe in an effort to democratize the technology and improve it. “They might not realize it, but as far as I’m concerned, almost every field is going through a transformation because of data, machine learning, and the interconnected world we live in,” Fei-Fei explained over a Google Hangout in June. “It’s incredibly inspiring, and it really does inspire me to think a lot about how to deliver that technology to people in the way that they need it.” Fei-Fei’s machine learning and research team at Google Cloud has doubled in size since her arrival. They are working with companies like eBay and Lush to improve data security, decrease wait times, and improve the consumer experience. Recently, they helped HSBC reduce the time it took to generate a finance liquidity report from six hours to six minutes. “The impact of technology has many facades. It can help to increase productivity, and reduce inefficiency and error, and improve quality of life, but it also changes the landscape of the economy, the labor market, and the environment,” she continued. “We need to be very thoughtful and invest in these fundamental technologies and opportunities, so that’s what brought me to Google Cloud.” One way that Fei-Fei is investing in the field outside her work at Stanford and Google Cloud is through her nonprofit, AI4ALL, which exposes underrepresented high school students to the field of artificial intelligence. “Diversity and inclusion is a huge problem in tech, it’s a huge problem in Silicon Valley, it’s a huge problem in computer science, and it’s a huge problem in AI,” she noted. “The technology we create for society needs to reflect the values of the society as a whole. In order to do that, we need technologists that can represent who we are as humans. I think that the education of a diverse next generation of technologists and thought leaders is critical to ensure the benevolence of AI as a technology.” Fei-Fei’s commitment to all sides of the field of artificial intelligence makes her the remarkable leader that she is. Her decisions will shape the way we interact with technology and the way it improves our lives.


“I’m very thankful that I can see the world from different angles. It gives me a lot of empathetic understanding of our commonalities and how to appreciate our differences.”

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Below Fei-Fei presenting her TED Talk, “How We Teach Computers to Understand Pictures,” in 2015. The video has been watched nearly two million times.


I think I was a bit of an outlier. I liked different things. I read a lot of books. I was very interested in reading all kinds of science fiction and science, all the way through to lots and lots of European literature. Much of my childhood was defined by massive amounts of book reading. That really helped me to have an independent mind. That’s why in school I wasn’t a model student. Teachers would not say, “Let’s all have Fei-Fei as a role model.” Definitely not. ON HER FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE US

It was very different. First of all, China is very populated. I grew up in a city, so there were a lot of people, and I landed in a suburb of New Jersey, and I remember it felt very empty. There was hot water coming out of faucets—that was pretty amazing. It was completely different. I didn’t speak much of the language. ON HOW SHE LEARNED ENGLISH

Dictionaries. American high schools have these enormous books; they are like huge bricks. For me, it was like having all of these enormous books, plus an enormous dictionary, and that’s how we learned. ON HER FAVORITE FOUNDING FATHER

I’m a scientist, so of course Benjamin Franklin would be very high on the list. I love Franklin. But I saw the musical Hamilton, and it was amazing.


As a kid, I did a lot of reading in science, the universe, space, and the origin of life, so I was a scientist at heart, even in China. I think there is something beautiful about the pursuit of truth. The fundamental philosophy of being a scientist is that you’re going

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“Whether it’s a dry-cleaning shop, or Chinese restaurants, or walking dogs, or whatever— that kind of humble start and grounding is super important for the soul.”

Above Fei-Fei graduated from Princeton in 1999 and went on to pursue her PhD at Caltech. Right As a mother of two, a professor, a nonprofit leader, and a chief scientist at Google, Fei-Fei never has a dull moment. Photo: Saul Bromberger & Sandra Hoover Photography.

after the pursuit of truth: What are the fundamental laws of the universe? What are the fundamental laws of life? What are the fundamental laws of intelligence? So I was pretty consistent. My life trajectory was gearing toward science very early on. ON HER FAVORITE HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER

Parsippany High School, in New Jersey, was very down-to-earth, but I had especially one teacher who really helped me. My math teacher, Bob Sabella, created an AP class, a single-person AP math class, during lunch hour in order to support me because the school didn’t have that offering. When I didn’t have a place to go in the summer, he would take me in. He would help me move in and out of my dorms in college. We just stayed friends. He attended my wedding. He passed away a few years ago, but I stay very close to his family. They are like my American family.


It started in my first year in college as a Princeton undergraduate. We had to survive as a family; operating a dry-cleaning shop in New Jersey was apparently a good option [laughs]. I ran that for seven years. It really defined my college and first years of graduate school. Every weekend, from Friday to Sunday, I would be dry-cleaning. I would run the business because I speak English. It was actually a really good experience in hindsight, but it was definitely challenging. ON THE LESSONS OF RUNNING A DRYCLEANING BUSINESS

First of all, I believe that one should always pursue one’s dream and passion but fulfill one’s responsibilities. That’s really the duality of life.

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Sometimes it’s paradoxical, but I always think that one needs to find the path that threads these two important goals. You cannot just pursue the dream without fulfilling the responsibility, but in the name of responsibility, one should still pursue the dream. I think being able to do both the dry-cleaning and pursue my physics major at Princeton and go for neuroscience and artificial intelligence and be where I am—I feel good about having done both. Whether it’s a dry-cleaning shop, or Chinese restaurants, or walking dogs, or whatever—that kind of humble start and grounding is super important for the soul. The humbler it is, the more it lifts you higher in times of difficulty. I don’t know how to describe that, but I think it’s really important. It’s not just about me. It makes me appreciate everyone else’s life. No matter where I am today, it gives me empathy for everyone else. Just because now I don’t have to run a dry-cleaning shop doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be aware of the struggles of others and the challenges they face. You asked, “What are we making these technologies for?” It can’t just be for the pursuit of more wealth or for the pursuit of making the biggest company in the world. It has to be for the good of people. ON BEING AN IMMIGR ANT

I will always have two homes. China is my home, and the US is my home, and my husband is Italian so now I have a half home in Italy. I’m very thankful that I can see the world from different angles. It gives me a lot of empathetic understanding of our commonalities and how to appreciate our differences. I do think that America is built on immigrants and the fundamental values of immigrants—hard work, respect, freedom. I am happy to be an immigrant.


“I think that the education of a diverse next generation of technologists and thought leaders is critical to ensure the benevolence of AI as a technology.”

I could tell you my typical day starts with getting kids out of bed, dressing my five-year-old, and feeding my one-year-old breakfast. Meanwhile, I’m scrambling around my calendars and getting to work, which is busy, busy, busy, and then I’m going home and making sure I have dinner with my kids. I read a bedtime story and then get back to work. ON SCREEN TIME AND TECHNOLOGY RULES FOR HER CHILDREN

Our one-year-old doesn’t have any screen time. Our five-year-old has a Saturday night movie, and occasionally we show photos and videos on our cell phones, but we don’t like to encourage it. Eventually, they will be like us, which is basically 24/7 screen time.

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Hello, My Name Is A story by Jason Kim (2011)

How I learned to stop whitewashing myself The New American

Jason Kim is a screenwriter, playwright, and librettist. He is currently a resident writer at Lincoln Center Theater.

I will never forget the day I picked a new name. I was standing in front of my class on my first day of school at Craig Elementary in St. Louis, Missouri. I had, only a day before,

Left Illustration by Melissa Ling.

landed at Lambert airport after a sixteen-hour flight from Seoul,

Above Jason grew up in Seoul.

South Korea. I was ten years old. I was nervous, terrified, and jet-lagged, and I was wearing a vest because I thought it was chic.

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Outside on the playground, sitting alone at recess, I learned to hate being Asian. I wanted desperately, more than anything, to be white.

Above Jason as a baby at home in Seoul. Right Jason with his father and grandmother at a beach in South Korea. The family later moved to Saint Louis.

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Right Jason and his father. Before retiring, Jason’s father was an architect, who ran a construction company in Seoul.

For my entire life, everyone, including me, had known me by my Korean name: Jun Hyuk. But here, in this new country, in a brand-new classroom full of foreign faces, I had to pick a new, easy-to-pronounce, American name. Jason. Jason Kim. How did I settle on Jason? Because I didn’t speak any English. Because my teacher didn’t speak any Korean. And because it was either going to be Aladdin, from my favorite childhood Disney tale, or Jason, from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

A month had passed when a teacher finally tapped me on the shoulder. “Are you OK, sweetie?”

I spent the next decade wanting nothing more than to look like a Larry Lorberbaum or a Garrett Kennedy. I still vividly remember my first time at recess, a confusing experience for several reasons, in large part because hanging off monkey bars and making each other cry during dodgeball were not educationally sanctioned activities in Asia. What was so fun about waiting in line, running up the steps, and going down a tiny slide over and over again? What was the value in sprinting after your classmate like a person with rabies, screaming, “TAG!” Why didn’t anyone look, sound, or act like me? I spent most days at recess sitting alone on the sidelines, eating the special snack that my mother had packed. The snack, a rice cake or a piece of candy from Korea, was always accompanied by a note, usually a joke, and sometimes embellished with a drawing, which often looked like an abstract painting when it was meant to be a sketch of our beloved deceased poodle.

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Before I could answer, another teacher rang out, “Maybe he likes sitting alone. Maybe that’s the Asian way.” But in truth, I wanted to participate. I wanted to run up to Timmy like a crazy person and yell, “YOU’RE IT!” I just didn’t know how. Outside on the playground, sitting alone at recess, I learned to hate being Asian. I wanted desperately, more than anything, to be white. I immediately forced my parents to stop calling me Jun Hyuk at home. I named myself after some guy in a live-action children’s television series, and by God, they were going to call me by that name. I got rid of my fitted vests for loose-fitting basketball jerseys. I bought tickets to an Incubus concert and threw away my K-pop CDs. I stopped reading Korean children’s books in order to figure out what the hell was going on with James and his giant peaches.


At the dinner table, I committed the two worst sins that a Korean son could possibly commit: I stopped speaking Korean, and I stopped eating Korean food.

My parents would try to talk to me over a bowl of kimchi stew, and I would pout and ask, in English, if we could order the Meat Lover’s pie from Pizza Hut. For my eleventh birthday, my mom made me my favorite Korean dish, oh jing uh bokkeum (spicy stir-fried squid), and I looked at her with disdain as I declared, “This is disgusting.” The next day for dinner, she made me a cheeseburger. I promptly told her it tasted inauthentic and made her drive me to McDonald’s. Oh, and no more special snacks either. Unless they were artificially flavored and made by Kraft. (I was a heinous child. Sorry, Mom.) I graduated from high school and moved to New York City for college, where my primary goal was to blend in. But more and more, my new friends wanted to know about all the things that made me uncomfortable in the Midwest. To them, being an immigrant made me interesting. At dinner parties, people would fawn over the Korean food and ask for my mom’s recipes. They even wanted to know about my childhood in Seoul. And at karaoke, people were genuinely excited that I could sing both Girls Generation and Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn.” All of a sudden, being different was an asset, not a risk. In New York, I didn’t have to be ashamed about being an Asian immigrant. I could just be ashamed about everything else in my life. A year after I finished graduate school in playwriting, almost two decades after I’d landed at Lambert airport, Lena and Jenni cast me as an Asian American graduate student on the fourth season of Girls. Almost immediately after the episodes aired, I began receiving emails, tweets, and Facebook messages from young Asian American writers, actors, and performers, who were excited to see a fellow Asian

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face on TV. I was shocked. How could this be? I appeared on the show for, like, a millisecond, and my Beyoncé sweatshirt was definitely doing more work than I did onscreen. It was genuinely baffling to think that anyone could look at my very Korean face and feel a sense of connection, much less react in a positive way to the very features I hated about myself for so long. We are at the point in our culture where people are finally beginning to talk about Asian identities in the media. I have not been at the forefront of those issues. I have been crouching in the back, hiding in the corner, watching people like Margaret Cho, Daniel Dae Kim, Ali Wong, George Takei, Constance Wu, and Aziz Ansari courageously speak up about the various issues that Asian Americans face in Hollywood. The issues exist both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. There are barely any roles written for Asian actors. And in general, the roles that can be played by a person of any race do not tend to go to Asian actors. Worst of all, the few roles that should go to Asian actors — some very high-profile — are being portrayed by white actors. Behind the camera, there are equally few Asian American writers, producers, studio executives, authors, and editors, and while there are certainly a significant number of

Left to right Jason with his grandmother, who lives in Saint Louis and turned 101 this year. Childhood photos of Jason before his family immigrated to the United States.

We are at the point in our culture where people are finally beginning to talk about Asian identities in the media.

people struggling to make it, their efforts seem to go largely unrecognized. I have always been terrified of speaking up on behalf of diversity, which to me means a state of inclusion — a choice to be aware of the vast and profound range of identities in this world, including your own. I have been terrified because I grew up in a country without many visible Asian Americans in the culture, and I learned to hate every part of myself that felt foreign and strange. Unfortunately, years later, this is a problem that many young Asian Americans continue to face. How do you understand yourself in a diverse country that actively chooses to ignore your particular kind of diversity?

The original version of this story was

At one point during my twenties, I took a long, dramatic look in the mirror and realized, You will be Korean for the rest of your life. As a teenager growing up in the Midwest, that thought made me cringe. Now, it makes me happy and deeply proud.

published by Lenny Letter in 2017.

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My dream now as a 30-year-old is for our country to become a place where a cameo like mine would go completely unnoticed. And to see every third-grade teacher tell his or her students, “Keep your name. You don’t have to change a thing.”


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Above Comela by Estefania Puerta (2017). Estefania is an MFA candidate in printmaking and painting at Yale University.

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Fellows Association


Every Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow attends two major conferences—big, heady events that introduce them to the greater Fellowship community. But everyone knows the real magic comes after those official gatherings, when Fellows around the world hang out, celebrate, commiserate, and form lifelong friendships. Here’s a glimpse at some of the relationships that make the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows Association the family that it is.

A decade ago, when Ankur Shah (2005) and I lived 800 feet from each other in Cambridge, Massachusetts, our shared love of interesting company, wine, cheese, and PD Soros Fellow gatherings (a frequent combination) made for a fast friendship. Now, living 44 million feet apart, in Dubai and LA, we find it a little bit harder to drop by. But when we do, it’s clear that some things never change. —Mikhail G. Shapiro (2004)

Above Mik hail in a desert just outside A bu Dhabi, UA E, during his visit to Dubai to see A nkur in 2016. Mikhail works as an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Caltech, the head of the Shapiro Lab, and as a Pew Scholar. Right A nkur in Los A ngeles when he visited Mik hail in 2016. In Dubai, Ankur works as the chief finance and development officer at Careem, an e-hailing car service in the Middle East.

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I first read about Pardis Sabeti (2001) and her work when I was an undergrad at MIT. She had completed an MD/PhD at Harvard and inspired me to follow a similar path. Now, many years later, I’m fortunate enough to call Pardis a mentor and work with her and members of her lab. She’s very supportive of trainees and an incredible human being. She’s taught me a lot about how to have fun while also doing rigorous, exciting science. She’s also Iranian American and a big supporter of immigrants in science. Thank you, Pardis, for inspiring scientific conversations and for all the fun times hanging out! — Omar A budayyeh (2013)

A group of researchers from the Sabeti Lab at the Broad Institute. Omar (third in from the right) works daily with his colleagues and mentors, Feng Zhang (second from left) and Pardis (far right).

In 2016 the group visited West Virginia. Julia (back row, second from right) helped Jenna plan the trip.

Julia Jezmir (2014) and I could often be found walking around the Stanford campus, talking about everything from happiness to death to the meaning of life. These conversations turned into a collaboration in my last year at Stanford business school. She and I went to Williamson, West Virginia—one of the poorest communities in the country—where my organization, Impact Experience, was gathering experts from a range of fields to brainstorm solutions for the health, education, and environmental challenges of this community. Since Julia is studying medicine and business, she was the perfect person to work with on this. Plus, she’s brought in other students from Stanford School of Medicine to take part in Impact Experience’s work. — Jenna Nicholas (2016)

Sandra Portocarrero (2015) and I graduated from Berkeley in 2012 and did not know that life would take us both to the Big Apple just a few years later. We’re now living our dreams and have finished two years of graduate school. I’m pursuing my MD, and Sandra is pursuing a PhD in sociology. In this photo, we are celebrating Sandra’s receiving her master’s degree. Given that we’re both not from New York City, we try to get together a lot so that we can support each other and have that feeling of family. I love going to her house and sharing in a meal, playing with her dog, and just relaxing. It feels like home. —Denisse Rojas (2016)

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Corinne Ulmann (2000) and I first met in 2007, when the first ten classes of Fellows spent a weekend together in the hills of Pennsylvania. On the bus back to New York, we talked for hours about our families, favorite restaurants, art, civil rights, love, and Brooklyn. A few years ago, our mothers were both in town, and we had a special brunch together—two generations of women: mothers from China and Bangladesh, daughters a special blend of American—one week before the third generation arrived, with the birth of Corinne’s baby girl. —Nus Choudhury (2004)

When Fellows get together, you know it’s going to be a party. A couple of months ago, while Dena Simmons (2010) was visiting Seattle for her work with the city’s public schools, we had a late night in Cyrus Habib’s (2007) brand-new apartment, happily rambling on about ethical living, emotional intelligence, and plenty of less eggheady topics. When the Lyft came to pick us up from Cyrus’s, it was a karaoke cab. If you hunt around on YouTube, you can find me and Dena doing a very soulful backseat rendition of a Tracy Chapman jam (including dance moves). —Nina Shen Rastogi (2007)

I was in Muscat, Oman, to give a talk on Zero TB Cities. Oman wants to bring down tuberculosis rates among its migrant workers. I checked in on Facebook, and it turned out Jason Bae (2012) was there on vacation! We managed to meet up, and it was a great opportunity to hear about the medical technology he’s working on and the great work he’s hoping to do with our friend Sachin Jain (2004) and his California health organization, CareMore. The benefits of social media! — Salmaan Keshavjee (1999)

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Boston-based 2013 Fellows Kuong Ly, Dana DaEun Im, Jack Li, and Val Bolotnyy drove out to visit me in Amherst, Massachusetts, before I graduated from UMass Amherst. We spent the weekend hiking, grilling, and telling stories around the campfire. We took this photo at Bess Hanish’s (2013) alma mater, Amherst College. — Steven Tagle (2013)

Back row: Val Bolotnyy and Kuong Ly. Front row: Jack Li, Da Eun Dana Im, and Steven Tagle.

Polina Nazaykinskaya’s and my friendship predates her becoming a Fellow in 2015. In 2012 I premiered her extraordinary opus, Haim, dedicated to the Holocaust experience of the late David Arben, a great violinist and a mentor of a mutual friend of ours. Haim was so successful that we have performed it around the country a few times. Later, I assistantmusic-directed her first opera, The Magic Mirror, for Juventas New Music Ensemble in Boston. Now we have a project in the works to record Polina’s new song cycle, which is sublime! We share passion for music, wine, fashion, and, of course, our Fellowship. I was elated to know that Polina had become part of our family—an experience that has certainly enriched my life beyond measure. —Konstantin Soukhovetski (2004)

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“To a large degree, I’m Exhibit 1,


because I moved to the States


without a word of English, I had no education for about four years, and yet, as an immigrant,

Peter Georgescu

I was given a chance.”

By Valentin Bolotnyy (2013)

excellence, proficiency, entrepreneurship, and so forth. That’s the America I would like to help leave behind for our children.”

Valentin Bolotnyy is an immigrant from Ukraine. He is currently a PhD candidate in economics at Harvard where he uses microeconomic tools to ma ke gover n ment policies more effective and efficient.

peter georgescu’s american journey started in inhumane fashion in Communist Romania. When the Iron Curtain fell in 1947, he and the rest of his family became separated from his parents, who had been on a business trip to the US and found themselves unable to return to Romania. In 1953, with Peter and his brother toiling in a labor camp, Peter’s father was approached by Romanian Communist diplomats and asked to spy for them in exchange for keeping his children alive. Refusing, Peter’s parents turned to the press, Congressmen, and eventually President Eisenhower to put international pressure on the Romanian government and allow Peter and his brother Costa to come to the US. In April of 1954, they succeeded. Today, hearing Peter reflect on his journey, one is struck by his deep gratitude for the generous American spirit and its willingness to share the American Dream. “To a large degree, I’m Exhibit 1, because I moved to the States without a word of English, I had no education for about four years, and yet, as an immigrant, I was given a chance.” In the leaders who helped bring him to America; in the headmaster at Phillips Exeter, who gave him a chance to prove his ability to study there; and in the countless others he encountered on his way to Princeton, Stanford Business School, and the very top of Young and Rubicam, Peter sees values that can and should define America. “That, to me, is the kind of culture we must regain, a culture of compassion, a culture of caring, to go along with a culture of

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Peter’s latest book, Capitalists Arise!, aims to do just that. Pointing to growing economic inequality and a plutocracy that is trying to bend institutions to help protect and perpetuate itself, Peter calls on the business leaders of the country to become thoughtful activists. “We’re not talking here about a moralistic argument or an ethical argument,” he insists. Companies that take care of their customers, share the value produced by employees with those same employees, invest in the prosperity of their communities as well as in their own productivity, and act in the best interests of the nation will, he argues, also see shareholders do best. “Go back to the simple reality that Mr. Ford recognized 100 years ago: Let me pay my people enough money so they can afford to buy my cars.” Capitalists Arise! follows Peter’s The Source of Success, a book that emphasizes the critical importance of creativity and innovation in today’s economy, and The Constant Choice, which argues that we can only be our best selves if we make a conscious effort to do good every single day. The books are all part of one package, articulating the role we can and should all play in making a more perfect Union. In addition to his advocacy through writing, Peter serves on the Board of Trustees for the New York Presbyterian Hospital and the PD Soros Fellowship. “Everything that I believe in—the notion of inclusiveness, the notion of excellence, the notion of supporting institutions and caring for the country and the Bill of Rights, the notion of being good people and doing good things, is what the Fellowships are all about. Paul and Daisy Soros are truly great American patriots.”



grappling with Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, and what privilege and inequality truly mean. Michelle is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants and now teaches at the American University of Paris. WHAT DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL COME AWAY WITH AFTER READING THE BOOK?

I hope readers think about the kinds of connections and relationships that we try to make in our lives. Who are the people we try to connect to? How different are they from us? As liberals we attack, as a matter of principle and habit, social conditions of inequality. We know inequality alienates us from one another. We know it fragments us into insular communities. We know, as Marx teaches us, that it divides a person from himself, enabling him to prize his self-interest above all other concerns.

Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship Michelle Kuo (2007) Penguin Random House · July 2017

Long before Michelle Kuo was a student at Harvard Law School, a law clerk for the Ninth Circuit, or a Skadden Fellow for Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland, she was a member of Teach For America in Helena, Arkansas. There, on the border of Mississippi, in one of the poorest counties in the United States, Michelle got to know Patrick Browning, a student who took to her rigorous teaching methods and excelled against the odds of his circumstances. While she was eager to stay in the Delta and commit herself to teaching, her future called—she decided to attend Harvard Law School as a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow and said goodbye to Patrick and the Delta. But three years later, as she was about to graduate, she found out that Patrick had been accused of murder. Devastated, Michelle returned to Helena and spent the next seven months visiting, reading, and writing with Patrick as he awaited trial in jail. Michelle’s new memoir chronicles their time together

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But I hope readers feel viscerally one human consequence of that inequality—that for two people to attempt to forge a truly equal relationship in an unequal society is painful, difficult, and likely impossible. Patrick and I come together in the classroom in the Mississippi Delta, a rural area starved for resources. He’s fifteen at the time and I’ve just graduated from college. He flourishes at reading, and I get him to come regularly to school. But then I leave the Delta—this is a place where people with means leave. I move on and progress; he gets arrested, goes to jail. And as we grow older, the inequality grows. Still—and here’s the hope in the book—it’s through reading that Patrick and I experience, if temporarily, that equality. We read James Baldwin. We learn new stories. We talk about our favorite lines. If you think about the feeling of hearing music with others, it seems intuitively true that your joy is no more valid than any other listener's—there’s equality in joy, in astonishment. I hope my book shows that the written word is music, too. I hope readers sense the mystery in which Patrick and I share: I am moved by these lines, why am I so moved? THE MEMOIR SPEAKS TO THE POWER OF LITER ATURE AND ITS ABILITY TO CHANGE LIVES.



that speaks courageously to the fears and broken hopes of our time. —Ruth BehaR, authoR of TraveLing Heavy: a MeMoir in BeTWeen Journeys

goddess of democracy

an occupy lyric

WAS THERE ONE BOOK OR PIECE OF —KimiKo hahn, authoR of Brain Fever

if you want to hear faint whispers of a future WRITING THAT WAS PARTICULARLY poetics, give a listen to Henry Wei Leung’s Goddess of Democracy. Here, a

deft lyric poetry interfuses with IMPORTA NT TO PATRICK radical democracy to compellingDURING ends. This is a book as beautiful as it is bold, as artful in its politics as it is political in its aesthetics. read it now!


—maRK nowaK, authoR of CoaL MounTain eLeMenTary

Yes—Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. When I introduced it to Patrick, I didn’t think too hard about the choice —I thought of Frederick Douglass as a hero, not a man. I thought it was a way to learn about American history. And I assumed that the book would bring us together, in shared contempt for slavery. But the book moved Patrick in a way that I cannot understand—in a way that at once deepened him and further divided him from everyone else. There is a devastating scene in which Douglass talks about how, during the holidays, the masters gave slaves gin, knowing the slaves would get very drunk. This was a tactic of the masters—to disgust them with their freedom and to show them they weren’t suited for freedom. Patrick was so disturbed by this scene that he wanted to stop reading. But then he kept going. The fact that Douglass taught himself to read and write was also moving. Douglass forged his master’s hand to escape; he literally wrote his pass to freedom. That is a powerful idea that speaks to the hopes that we invest in literacy.

goddess of democracy

in a bright lexicon of social resistance, Henry Leung has created a poignant, spirited, and ethically-considered collection of poems. The innovative debut is especially welcome in our times of tumult.

henry Wei Leung

Goddess of Democracy: an Occupy lyric Henry Wei Leung (2012) Omnidawn Publishing · October 2017

When Henry Wei Leung went to Hong Kong as a Fulbright Scholar, in 2014, he didn’t know that he would be camping on the side of the road or taking part in a historical protest. But that is exactly what he did when he joined the Umbrella Movement. While he was in the encampment, he wrote a series of poems and essays about the movement, its history, and his own experience taking part in it, which became Goddess of Democracy. This book comes on the heels of Henry’s translation of Pei Pei the Monkey King (Tinfish Press, 2016), a collection of poems by Hong Kong poet Wawa, whom Henry met during the Umbrella Movement protests. Born on the border of China and Hong Kong, in a village in Guangdong, Henry was an illegal second child under China’s one-child policy. His family immigrated to the United States when he was a baby.

Election Law Stories Coedited by Eugene D. Mazo (2003) Foundation Press · April 2016

Voting rights, gerrymandering, redistricting, campaign finance. Some of the most controversial cases to come before the Supreme Court in recent years have dealt with election law. In 2017 alone, the justices struck down two legislative districts in North Carolina for disenfranchising black voters and agreed to hear a case from Wisconsin that deals with partisan gerrymandering. Election Law Stories, a new book coedited by Eugene Mazo, offers a detailed account of the most significant cases in this field, including Bush v. Gore and Citizens United. The book aims to define some of the field’s canonical cases by giving readers the stories behind them. Eugene is an immigrant from Russia. His newest book. Democracy by the People: Reforming Campaign Finance in America, will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2018.


Hotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Partied and Plotted to Control Miami


Oh! So hard to answer! I loved so much. Invisible Man. Anna Karenina. Middlemarch. Malcolm X. It’s hard to pin down one thing, but I will say that, in the scarcity of Asian American texts, I think I was starved for books that showed an authentic search for identity, and how to forge one’s personality through political and spiritual struggle. The black literature I’d read, in particular Ralph Ellison and Malcolm X (I know, totally different voices), especially galvanized me. I was a shy kid who was terrified of raising my hand, and reading this literature urged me to speak up.

The New American

Roben Farzad (2003) Penguin Random House October 2017

Roben Farzad, an Iranian American writer and public radio host who once said he judges his journalism skills by “how well I can explain things to Mom and Dad,” has covered business, including Wall Street and emerging markets, for more than a decade. Now the former Bloomberg Businessweek senior writer has turned his attention to illicit trade. His new book, Hotel Scarface, checks in at the Mutiny, a Miami hotel and club that became a hub for cocaine kingpins in that city and inspired the 1983 movie Scarface starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer (“Say hello to my little friend!”). Roben, who grew up in Miami after immigrating to the United States with his family from Iran in 1978, offers readers a new take on the storied tale with exclusive interviews and previously undisclosed documents. The host of NPR One’s Full Disclosure and a special correspondent for PBS NewsHour, Roben was an investment manager at Goldman Sachs before becoming a journalist. He earned his MBA from Harvard Business School in 2005.

2017–2018 edition volume 22


The New American 2017–2018 edition volume xxii the paul & daisy soros fellowships for new americans

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The New American 2017-2018  

The 2017-2018 edition of The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans annual alumni magazine.

The New American 2017-2018  

The 2017-2018 edition of The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans annual alumni magazine.

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