Page 1

The New American 2015–2016 edition volume x x

board of trustees


Daisy M. Soros Chairman

From the Director


Our New Look


Fellows in Brief


Applications for the Class of 2016 & 2017


Class of 2015 Biographies


She’s in the Fight, Always By Peter Georgescu (Trustee)


Landscape with American Dream by Janine Joseph (2009)


Craig Harwood Director Yulian Ramos Deputy Director

A Century of Jinetes by Deisy Del Real (2011)


Relentless Pursuit: Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows and the Entrepreneurial Spirit


A Circle of Friends Introduction by Jeffrey Soros (Trustee)


The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows Association Updates


Jeffrey Soros President Kenneth Buckfire Peter Georgescu Paul Holdengräber Ann Kirschner David McKinney N.J. Nicholas Jr. Dena Simmons (2010) Peter Soros administration

From the Director it has been a remarkable year for the Fellowship community.

the accomplishments of each and every Fellow, they’ve made their case.

In late 2014, Vivek Murthy (1998) was confirmed as the US Surgeon General. Fellows were at Vivek’s side at his swearing-in ceremony when he said, “I am struck by a simple truth: by any reasonable measure, I shouldn’t be standing here. My family was never supposed to have left our ancestral village. My father is the son of a farmer in rural India. He was supposed to have been a farmer, as was I.”

In this issue of The New American, we are honoring two founding board members who helped Paul and Daisy create the program and who have supported the Fellowships ever since: Lawrence McQuade and Catharine Stimpson. I am personally grateful to both of them for staying on the board for the duration of my transition. I am equally excited to introduce the Fellowship community to new board members Kenneth Buckfire and Paul Holdengräber. Fellows interviewed all four Trustees for the website, and highlights of the interviews are included in this issue.

Those words capture the miraculous hope, ambition, and perseverance on which Paul and Daisy Soros founded this Fellowship in 1997, just before selecting Vivek for the inaugural class of Fellows in 1998. I mention this because it speaks to the strong foundation that our Fellowship stands on today.

Of course, the emphasis for this program is always on the Fellows, and this issue of The New American stays true to that principle.

In that very first year, Paul and Daisy brought together an all-star team to make their powerful idea a reality. They began an experiment to discover what happens when you invest in the nation’s most promising New Americans at the graduate school level. They created a program that is designed to accelerate careers and potential impact. In the case of the youngest US Surgeon General ever, and in

We’ve set out to explore some of the diverse accomplishments made by Fellows this year with a new Fellows in Brief series. We also wanted to examine the entrepreneurial spirit of Fellows, so you’ll find a feature on Fellows at the helm of startups. Peter Georgescu, a Trustee, wrote the cover piece about a different type of entrepreneurial effort—the tireless scientist Pardis Sabeti.

2015–2016 edition volume x x


Previous Craig Harwood, director, with Dave Chokshi (2005) and his fiancée, Melissa Aguirre, 2014. Photo: Christopher Smith. Above Yifan Xu (2010) and Van Tran (2004) provided their ideas and feedback about the direction of the Fellowship’s new website at a workshop for Fellows held in January of 2015. Photo: Julie Brown.

But the newsletter is not all we have been up to—it has been an exciting year for The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships program. For the first time, we have brought on a communications coordinator, who has launched our presence on social media and is working to spread the word of the Fellowship to an even wider audience. In addition to reaching out, her work reaches in, by helping the Fellows stay connected with one another. We are especially delighted to introduce our new website, which has benefited greatly from the input of many Fellows, and promises to tell the Fellowship’s story and enable more robust communication among the Fellows. There are also some exciting changes regarding the Fellowships themselves. In the 2015 selection process, we opened the application process to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. For the 2016 selection process, we opened the application to another group: individuals who were born in the United States as the child of immigrants, but whose parents were not US citizens. In the past, at least one parent had to be a citizen. In order to attract the most-qualified applicants and give them more time to apply, we opened the application in April, several months earlier

The New American

than in years past. In addition, we have begun hosting informational webinars, which help make information about the Fellowship accessible to everyone. Please encourage potential applicants to visit our website ( to learn more and register for a webinar. We are also excited to be working with the new Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows Association steering committee, whose members began their term in January 2015. Following an energizing retreat in May 2015, we are looking forward to supporting each other’s work and continuing to build the lifelong community of Fellows. Vivek Murthy commented that Fellows “inspired me to move closer to the person that I want to be.” My hope is that The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans inspires each and every one of you to move closer to the person you want to be. Sincerely,

Craig Harwood, director

Check out our new website at

A few notes about

Our New Look you might have noticed some changes to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships’ visual design over the past year. Working closely with the Board of Trustees and Isometric Studio, led by Andy Chen (2010), we began to refresh the look and feel of the Fellowship’s visual identity. The goals were clear: to honor the rich history and tradition that the Fellowship has established and to simultaneously look toward the bright future and promise that immigrants bring to America. Our new logos underscore these dual aims. The Fellowship’s name forms an elegant rectangle, using a modern font that is based on a 16th-century punch cutter’s typeface. The Trustees were particularly fond of the “boat of books” image that had been associated with the Fellowship, an image that invokes the idea of a journey involving education. Our new compass evokes a similar message, keeping the Fellows on course during their journey. It is filled with a book, much like the icons used by Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and countless other institutions of higher education. In our case, the book is empty, allowing the Fellows to write their own narratives along their voyage through life.

We used last year’s newsletter as an opportunity to introduce the Fellowship’s visual identity as a complete system, demonstrating how the new identity can extend beyond the new logo. This year, we are excited about unveiling our new website. More than expressing the Fellowship’s new look, the website promises to tell the stories of the Fellows and the Fellowship, and to enable Fellows to connect with one another with greater ease and flexibility than ever. Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows, Trustees, and staff all worked with web design team P’unk Ave to create a website that accomplishes the same goals as the visual design’s: to acknowledge the prestigious history of The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans while looking toward the Fellowship’s bright future. We hope you enjoy it!

2015–2016 edition volume x x


FELLOWS IN BRIEF Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows Making an Impact

Right Amar Bakshi, A Portal Between Tehran & NYC: Open for Conversation, 2014. Photo courtesy of Shared_ Studios.

Amar Bakshi amar bakshi staged his project A Portal Between Tehran & NYC: Open for Conversation in New York City’s Lu Magnus gallery on the Lower East Side. The Portal, a standard freight container spray-painted gold by Amar, sat peculiarly in an art gallery with bare walls and raised ceilings. I arrived at the exhibit both eager and nervous about the impending conversation with a stranger in Tehran. I had a basic understanding of Iran-US relations, enough to know that there was so much I didn’t know. I entered the dark Portal and stood in front of a screen, waiting for an Internet connection with Tehran’s next Portal visitor. Arash, a 24-year-old up-andcoming creative director in advertising, entered.

The New American

INSTALLATION ARTIST 2013 FELLOW We spoke, with the help of a translator, of our dreams, the ups and downs of our careers, and the basic things that make our days worth living: for him, fashion; for me, music; for both of us, making a difference, love, and most important, Ping-Pong. It was a simple, poignant exchange, 15 minutes of closeness and understanding. In the heart of a city that thrives on grit and strength, Amar’s experiment in human connection and vulnerability was a warm welcome. The exhibit will be moving to new cities across the globe over the coming months. Article by Christine Lamprea (2012), solo cellist based in New York City

Cyrus Habib

Lower Left Washington State Senator Cyrus Habib delivers a speech on the Senate f loor, 2015. Photo: Legislative Support Services Photography.


Upper Right Lei Liang discusses Huang Binhong’s landscapes, 2015. Photo: A lex Matthews/ Qualcomm Institute.

attorney, professor, and legislator Cyrus Habib engages deeply and diversely with the law. He practices it at Perkins Coie, teaches it at Seattle University School of Law, and makes it as a newly minted Washington State senator. Cyrus has introduced policies in his state to limit carbon emissions, expand ride-sharing services, spur entrepreneurship through investor crowd-funding, and raise cigarette taxes to fund cancer research, prevention, and care. He is also a prime sponsor of the Washington Voting Rights Act, which would address racially polarized voting by facilitating electoral data collection and providing a less costly cause of action than litigation under the federal VRA. A Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, Rhodes Scholar, Truman Scholar, and three-time cancer survivor, Cyrus is among the few blind lawmakers and only Iranian American elected to a state office in the country. For his recent work in Washington, he has been named one of the “40 Under 40 Political Rising Stars” by the Washington Post, one of “12 State Legislators to Watch” by Governing magazine, and one of the “Most Influential People” by Seattle magazine. Outside of the law, Cyrus enjoys trying new restaurants and playing jazz piano. Article by Dov Fox (2007), assistant professor of law at the University of San Diego

Lei Liang COMPOSER, 2002 FELLOW in the world of music, Lei Liang is soaring. The Wire magazine called him “one of the most exciting voices in New Music.” In recent years, he has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Aaron Copland Award, and the 2011 Rome Prize. In 2015, as if all that weren’t enough, Lei was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his concerto Xiaoxiang. Xiaoxiang evokes a tragic event in Chinese history that took place in an area within the Hunan province for which the piece is named. The story, which took place during the Cultural Revolution, goes something like this: a woman took revenge on a local official for the killing of her husband by wailing like a ghost in the forest behind the official’s residence every evening. Eventually, she drove both the official and herself insane. The role of the concerto soloist in Xiaoxiang is striking and unusual: Lei notes that “instead of displaying technical virtuosity, the soloist in this piece portrays the protagonist’s inability to articulate or utter.” He has said that it might be perceived as “an anti-concerto.” The Pulitzer Prize committee describes Lei’s concerto as “blending the curious sensations of grief and exhilaration.” Article by Ryaan Ahmed (2013), freelance lutenist, vocal coach, and music director

2015–2016 edition volume x x



Mehret Mandefro FILMMAKER, 2001 FELLOW physician, anthropologist, and producer Mehret Mandefro has woven her triplicate threads into a film that made ripples when it splashed onto the Sundance scene and Berlinale last year, becoming the first film to ever win audience awards at both festivals. Inspired by a true story, Difret—Amharic for “courage”—is a narrative feature produced by the Ethiopian American Mehret (also on the producing credits: Angelina Jolie) about the defining court case that outlawed kidnapping child brides in Ethiopia. Written and directed by Mehret’s filmmaking partner and husband, Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, the story centers on Hirut, a bright young girl walking home from school in 1996 when a group of men kidnap her to force her into marriage—a common practice. Brave Hirut tries to escape, grabbing a rifle and ending up shooting her would-be husband. The film also follows Meaza Ashenafi, the unwavering female lawyer who takes on Hirut’s case and succeeds in challenging the entire entrenched system. Compelled to make visible and explore the social barriers to well-being, Mehret started the nonprofit production company Truth Aid. She then produced and co-wrote the feature documentary film Little White Lie (on Netflix). With her Harvard MD, public health MSc, and storytelling power, this Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, Fulbright Scholar, and White House Fellow is making waves. Article by Lilian Mehrel (2013), MFA candidate at New York University’s Graduate Film Program (writing/directing)

The New American

Above A still from the film Difret, 2014. Photo courtesy of Haile/ Addis Pictures.

2015–2016 edition volume x x



Right Fei-Fei Li presenting at TED, 2015. Photo: Bret Hartman. Opposite Class of 2014 Esperanza Scholar Blossom Ojukwu performs with partner Kareem Mack at Esperanza’s annual benefit concert, 2015. Blossom attends the University of Maryland. Photo: Rocky Wilson.

Fei-Fei Li


imagine a world where machines can see, providing an extra set of eyes to help in the hospital or assist rescue workers in a disaster zone. In her recent TED talk, Fei-Fei Li not only imagines such a world, but described how she has spent the last 15 years working toward this goal with her research. As director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and Vision Lab, she has advanced the field of computer vision, which aims to give computers image-processing capabilities similar to humans’. Her many contributions include the creation of ImageNet, the first database of its kind, which holds millions of images identified by humans. This database is open to the research community for training computer software to "see.” For her work, she has won numerous awards, including the 2011 Alfred P. Sloan

The New American

Research Fellowship, the National Science Foundation CAREER award, and the Google Research Award. Her vision of the future has been featured in the New York Times, Science, Wired, and the PBS NewsHour. However, no amount of awards and accolades can capture the excitement and chills generated for the viewer during her TED talk, when she demonstrates the fruit of her research. As Fei-Fei flashes images on the screen, a computerized voice creates full sentences, interpreting them at the level of a human child. While Fei-Fei acknowledges that there is still much to accomplish, her work has laid the foundation for turning science fiction into reality. Article by Roxana Deneshjou (2014), MD/PhD candidate at Stanford University

Alice Wang & Alvaro Bedoya


alice wang and alvaro bedoya are pioneers with a purpose. Plenty of people have good, even noble, intentions, but how many actually put their money—not to mention time, energy, effort, ideals, and heart—where their mouth is? Alice and Alvaro took on the ambitious feat of creating the Esperanza Education Fund, a scholarship and mentorship program that honors the brightest young immigrant students in the DC area, regardless of ethnicity, national origin, or immigration status (these uniquely inclusive eligibility parameters merit my deep respect). The fund has awarded over half a million dollars in just six and a half years and is almost entirely run by volunteers. How did it start? Alvaro e-mailed The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships listserv looking for someone who might help make the idea of an immigrant scholarship a reality. Alice responded. Soon enough, Alice’s husband, Andy Felton, joined the small team that built what Esperanza is today. I had the honor of performing twice for Esperanza’s annual benefit. On both occasions I was embraced with open arms by the entire Esperanza community, a cohort of passionate, down-to-earth individuals brought together by the galvanizing leadership of Alvaro and Alice. This year, Alice will have transitioned out of the leadership, passing the torch to a new generation, after having created something sustainable, impactful, and vital. Alice and Alvaro genuinely embody the word esperanza; their contributions give deserving students hope for the future, and light the way forward for our communities, our country, and our world. Article by Elizabeth Joy Roe (2005), pianist and member of the Anderson & Roe Piano Duo

2015–2016 edition volume x x



Right Vivek Murthy, surrounded by family, being sworn in by Vice President Biden as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, 2015. Photo: US Department of Health and Human Services.

The New American


“i was never supposed to be the guy giving speeches in rooms like this...[but] throughout my life, I was fortunate to have had teachers and mentors who were able to see something in me before I was able to see it in myself. And that has made all the difference.” Vivek Hallegere Murthy spoke these words upon assuming command as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States. For those of us who know Vivek, it was typically humble—and the rest of his address channeled the sincerity and soaring vision that he pairs inimitably. Yet it also seemed, in a sense, inverted, because he’s precisely the guy we want giving those speeches, and there are so many of us he has taught and mentored. As my supervising physician when I was a resident, Vivek taught me how to know when to slow down within the frenetic pace of the hospital, to center myself to become a better doctor for my patients. As a cofounder of Doctors for America, he showed the simple power of direct advocacy, contributing to a movement that wrought health care reform in the United States. And through a turbulent confirmation process, Vivek demonstrated grace and resolve, even when the odds were long. We live in an unprecedented time of change and opportunity in global health. Leaders must shape a public health vision around scientific advances and new ways to engage people and communities. Surgeon General Murthy is that kind of leader. Article by Dave Chokshi (2005), assistant vice president in the Office of Healthcare Improvement at the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation

2015–2016 edition volume x x


“The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship was the first time that I achieved something because of being an immigrant, rather than despite of it.” —DAPHNA RENAN, 2002 FELLOW

APPLICATIONS FOR THE CLASSES OF 2016 & 2017 The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships are open to New Americans of outstanding achievement. Fellows receive up to $90,000 over 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 A PPL ICAT ION S DU E

November 1 at 11:59 pm EST F I NA L I ST S NOT IF IE D

Early January F I NA L I ST I N T E RV IE W S

Last week of January and the first week of February PAU L & DA I SY SOROS F E L LOW S A N NOU NCE D


2015–2016 edition volume x x


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). 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. SE L ECT ION CR I T E R I A E M PH A SIZE CR E AT I V I T Y, OR IGI NA L I T Y, I N I T I AT I V E , A N D SUSTA I N E D ACCOM PL I SH M E N T.

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


2015 Class of

The 2015 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows for New Americans were selected from more than 1200 applicants. They reflect the diversity of recent immigrants, with parents from 21 countries. The Fellows earned their bachelor’s degrees at 24 different institutions.

Photos by Christopher Smith

Mohamad Abedi

Award to support work toward PhD in bioengineering at Caltech

Mohamad was born to Palestinian refugees in the United Arab Emirates. His family was under the constant threat of deportation back to the refugee camp in Lebanon where they had come from. His parents, lacking strong educations themselves, could not help Mohamad with his schoolwork, but always served as his role models and inspiration.

year wait, his family’s application to the United States was approved. Mohamad was able to pursue a degree in bioengineering at the University of California, Irvine, where President Obama distinguished him during a commencement address as someone who knows “what it means to dream.”

Cecil Benitez

At UC Irvine, he worked on building diagnostic devices for rural areas by designing computers that run on air instead of electricity. Later, he investigated the robustness of bacterial genetic circuits with respect to noise. Recently, Mohamad received the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, recognizing him as one of the future leaders in his field.

Award to support work toward an MD at Stanford School of Medicine

Mohamad is now pursuing a PhD in bioengineering at Caltech.

A world of education options opened up to him when, during his senior year, after a ten-

The New American

Born in the state of Durango, Mexico, Cecil and her mother came to the United States hoping to flee economic hardships when Cecil was nine years old. In California, Cecil adjusted to life as an undocumented immigrant, as well as to a new school system. Her school encouraged her to pursue a trade school education, but Cecil’s love of science propelled her toward college. During her senior year, Cecil’s dream came true; her family received residency. She graduated as valedictorian

of her high school, and was awarded a Gates Millennium Scholarship. At the University of California, Los Angeles, Cecil studied the migration of neurons in the spinal cord. Thereafter, she pursued a PhD in developmental biology at Stanford University, where she was awarded a National Science Foundation fellowship. Cecil’s thesis work resulted in multiple publications, including a chapter in a biology textbook. Now Cecil is pursuing an MD at Stanford Medical School, where she serves as codirector of a free vaccination program for lowincome patients. As a first-generation college student, Cecil encourages lowincome students to pursue medicine and science through her work as cochair of the Latino Medical Student Association.

Shinichi Daimyo

Award to support work toward an MSN at Yale School of Nursing

Shinichi witnessed firsthand the trauma experienced by the Vietnamese boat refugee community when he was growing up in Los Angeles. The stigma toward mental health issues and the lack of access to mental health services only compounded the problem. While cultural norms told him to ignore mental health issues, Shinichi chose instead to focus on them, which he did as a psychology major at the University of Southern California. Shinichi has become an

expert in developing and implementing community-based mental health programs across the globe through his work at the World Health Organization, Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, and Partners In Health. Whether in Haiti or Pakistan, Shinichi is focused on creating sustainable solutions for resource-poor communities with unmet mental health needs. He will be attending the Yale School of Nursing’s Graduate Entry Prespecialty in Nursing program to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner so that he can train the next generation of psychiatric nurses to provide mental health care to communities in need. His goal is to raise the profile of advanced-practice psychiatric nursing in low-resource settings to help transform how mental health systems are fundamentally structured to care for the poorest and most vulnerable.

Daniela Delgado

Award to support work toward an MD at Harvard Medical School

Daniela intends to use her medical and policy training to advocate for minority communities as a community physician. Her current research focuses on the health needs of domestic workers in Boston, where she attends Harvard Medical School. Born in Bogotá, Colombia, Daniela came to the United States at the age of 12 with her mother and her sister. Daniela quickly learned English and became her family’s primary interpreter and advocate. Soon after immigrating, Daniela’s interest in being a doctor was born as she began interpreting at doctor’s appointments for her chronically ill grandmother.

2015–2016 edition volume x x

Amal Elbakhar As a college student, Daniela founded Progresa, a community-based research project at the University of Miami, which aimed to increase access to education for farmworker children. She concurrently volunteered at a free clinic serving lowincome, uninsured patients—an experience that solidified her intent to become a community physician. Now, as a third-year medical student, Daniela continues to be actively involved as a rights advocate for immigrants. Last summer, as a Rappaport Policy Fellow, Daniela worked at the Massachusetts State House, where she developed a strategic plan to meet the legal needs of immigrant youth.

Award to support work toward a JD at Harvard Law School

Amal has had one foot rooted in Arab immigrant culture and the other in the classroom of social justice since her family immigrated to New York City from Morocco when she was nine years old. Overcoming cultural barriers, Amal was the first in her family to graduate from both high school and college. Soon she will be the first to obtain a graduate degree. As a student at Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, Amal dedicated her free time to the Emergency Department at Bellevue Hospital, challenging her family’s understanding of how she should prioritize her time. Amal also worked at the Center for Reproductive Rights, an organization

with views incongruous with those of her own conservative upbringing. Unafraid of the differences, Amal pursued the similarities in her religious beliefs and emerging consciousness of gender equality through her academic schoolwork. She wrote an award-winning honors thesis on Iran’s health care laws for women and a second thesis on the current legal status of reproductive rights in the United States. Upon graduating from college, Amal was awarded the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs, an experiential leadership-training program in Pittsburgh that prepares individuals for effective and ethical leadership in the public affairs arena. As a future lawyeradvocate, Amal hopes to represent individuals facing adversities while promoting the principles of civil rights that underlie our social infrastructure.



Asmaa Elsayed

Award to support work toward an EdM in global education at Harvard University

By the time she became a US citizen, Asmaa had attended over 11 schools in four countries. Family instability and financial struggles transformed Asmaa from an academically gifted child on track to graduate from college at age 19 to a nontraditional student who was at points homeless. The disruption in her education was not an oddity to Asmaa’s inspiring grandmother, who is illiterate, and her widowed mother, who did not have the chance to finish primary school. Determined to succeed, Asmaa eventually graduated magna cum laude from George Mason University and earned a master’s degree from American University.

Arash Fereydooni­­­­ For three years, Asmaa helped translate, edit, and culturally adapt some of the first research-based and developmentally appropriate early childhood education curricula and assessment systems available in the Middle East in Arabic. She cofounded a US-based NGO, which helped provide education subsidies for orphans in Egypt and meals to over 700 families in 2008. She worked for two and half years at the office of Oman Ambassador to the US Hunaina Al-Mughairy, Washington’s first female ambassador from an Arab country. Asmaa is currently writing her first book, The Pursuit. Asmaa’s goal is to be an advocate for human rights and peace and a leading scholar and practitioner in the field of global education.

Award to support work toward an MD at Yale School of Medicine

Weary of life in an internationally isolated country with limited educational opportunities, Arash and his family moved from Shiraz, Iran, to the United States when he was a junior in high school. While still learning the language, Arash managed to lead his high school’s robotics team to second place in a world championship competition, patent two aerospace inventions, and graduate at the top of his class. As an undergraduate at Yale University, Arash was in a four-year program that allowed him to simultaneously pursue a BS and an MS in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology. He has been awarded

The New American

four research fellowships for his master’s thesis on measuring neuronal traction forces at Forscher Lab, and two international fellowships for developing a robotic surgery system that measures organ length stereoscopically at Heidelberg University Hospital in Germany. Influenced by the stories of Afghan refugees in Iran and his own challenges immigrating to the United States, Arash has helped refugees in Connecticut seek out better access to education and health care. He also founded International Aid Organization, which is sponsored by the UN Refugee Agency and raises awareness of, and financial support for, Syrian refugees. Arash is starting his MD in the fall to pursue his interest in surgery and academic medicine.

Krzysztof Franaszek

Award to support work toward an MD at Harvard Medical School and MIT

Krzysztof aspires to be a physician-scientist in the biotech field. He wants to combine basic science, clinical, and commercial insights to facilitate the development of novel therapeutics for previously unmanageable diseases. Born in Kraków, Poland, Krzysztof immigrated to the United States when his mother, a neuropharmacologist, and father, a theoretical physicist, took postdoctoral research positions at federal research institutions near Washington, DC. Growing up, he divided his time between Maryland and Poland’s Silesia region. Krzysztof graduated a year early from the

University of Maryland with dual degrees in cell biology and economics. While an undergraduate, he was a Presidential Scholarship recipient, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Research fellow, ambulance EMT at the Branchville Volunteer Fire Company, and a lightweight rower.

Ledina Gocaj

After graduating, Krzysztof was awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to pursue a PhD in pathology at the University of Cambridge. His work has focused on using novel molecular genetics and bioinformatics techniques to study protein expression in cellular and viral systems. In the fall of 2015, Krzysztof will begin his work toward an MD in the joint Harvard Medical SchoolMIT Health Sciences and Technology program, where he hopes to combine his studies with further disease-oriented research. He is eager to engage with Boston’s vibrant biotech startup community.

Award to support work toward a JD at Harvard Law School

Born in Albania to a family that suffered decades of political persecution under the Communist regime, Ledina does not take good governance for granted. The planned economy dictated everything from food rations to occupation choice for Ledina’s father, a professor, and her mother, a zootechnic expert on a farm cooperative. Ledina immigrated to the United States with her family when she was eight years old. Deprived of liberty for so long, she knew how systems and institutions could change lives and was determined to use that knowledge to help others in her new home. After graduating with

2015–2016 edition volume x x

honors and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University, her research on the institutional response to the sovereign debt crisis led to a presentation at the International Political Science Association’s World Congress and was published in a peer-reviewed journal. The 2008 financial crisis compelled her to acquire the skills needed to enact effective financial regulation. Now a student at Harvard Law School, Ledina researches the design and administration of the complex supervisory system of financial institutions in the United States. Her aim is to enhance financial stability in the United States while working for greater public awareness of the country’s financial system. After law school, Ledina will clerk for Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Oswaldo Hasbun

Award to support work toward an MD at Columbia University

A native of El Salvador who immigrated to the United States in 2001, Oz has been committed to improving the quality of medical care for “limited English proficiency” patients since starting his undergraduate studies at Stanford University.

he developed an effective, accelerated, and comprehensive model for training volunteer medical interpreters. Oz has been recognized as a White House Champion of Change by the Obama administration. In addition, he has received the Westly Prize for Young Innovators of California and has been selected as a United Health Foundation Diverse Scholar for his work on language services. His first-author evaluation of the training program was recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. He is now a medical student at Columbia University.

While at Stanford, Oz joined the Arbor Free Clinic as a Spanish interpreter and later became the interpreter coordinator. Realizing the need for formalized training for proper interpretation and the reduction of errors leading to dangerous clinical consequences, Oz used his role to restructure interpreter services at the medical school’s clinics. Partnering with professional interpreters,



Tiffanie Hsu

Award to support work toward an MFA in directing at UCLA

Tiffanie is an awardwinning filmmaker. As an MFA candidate at UCLA, she makes films that incorporate her unique outsider perspective and expand the breadth of the American experience represented in film. Tiffanie was born in Wisconsin to a mother who fled from civil war in China at the age of three and a Taiwanese father who overcame profound poverty to earn a doctorate in chemical engineering in the United States. Tiffanie’s fascination with narrative blossomed at Harvard University, where she directed several films, one of which, Three Beauties, was awarded the prestigious

Thomas T. Hoopes Prize. After Harvard, Tiffanie worked closely with director Ang Lee for three years on Life of Pi. Tiffanie has also worked extensively with Leehom Wang, a popular musician in Asia. Upon returning to the United States, Tiffanie wrote and directed Sutures in the American Film Institute Directing Workshop for Women (AFI-DWW), a highly selective program committed to mentoring female directors. Sutures has played in several festivals and garnered awards including the Excellence in Short Filmmaking Award at the Asian American International Film Festival and the Jean Picker Firstenberg Award in the AFIDWW Showcase. The short continues its festival run through the end of 2015. Her films strive to tell stories that show people overcoming their own isolation, coming at last to make strong human connections.

The New American

Ayan Hussein

Award to support work toward a PhD in neuroscience at Yale University

Born to illiterate parents in Mogadishu, Somalia, right before the civil war broke out, Ayan has sought refuge across country borders twice in her life. First, her family moved to a refugee camp in Kenya, and in 2003 Ayan and her family were resettled with a relative in Clarkston, Georgia. Long after she had adjusted to the rigors of college life, and the challenges of being a first-generation student there, Ayan discovered her passion for neuroscience. Her enthusiasm for neuroscience laboratory research grew while studying at the University of Oxford as a visiting scholar. After graduating, Ayan did research at Mount

Sinai School of Medicine’s Morishita laboratory, where she investigated the molecular mechanism of brain plasticity in an effort to provide novel therapeutic targets for amblyopia and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Ayan is examining the role of GABAergic interneurons in neural circuit development. Her research will provide insights into how dysfunction of inhibitory interneurons impacts the development of brain circuits in disease. Having benefited from mentors throughout her life, Ayan is dedicated to helping others succeed. Since 2008, she has served as a Gates Millennium Ambassador, helping to connect the Gates Millennium Scholarship Foundation with future scholars. She became a citizen of the United States in 2014.

Evgeniya Kim

Award to support work toward an MBA at Yale School of Management

Evgeniya’s heritage lies in four generations of border crossings. Born in what is now North Korea, Evgeniya’s ancestors moved to the Far East of Russia in search of a better life. Falling victim to Stalin’s repression, they were exiled to Central Asia and settled in Uzbekistan, where they faced marginalization. In 2002 14-year-old Evgeniya and her family fled Uzbekistan for the United States, where they fell victim to a visa scam and were forced to spend eight months in a family shelter in Leesport, Pennsylvania, before receiving asylum. Aware of her unique background, Evgeniya was always interested in the interplay of culture, politics, and

social change. As a student at Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College in New York City, she pursued international relations and interned at the Open Society Foundations, helping to address the very human rights issues that her family faced in Uzbekistan. She supplemented her studies with real-world experiences by volunteering abroad and traveling to more than 30 countries around the world.

Allen Lin

Seeing that behind most social issues lie tangible business problems, Evgeniya joined the Soros Economic Development Fund, where she analyzed the social impact of the fund’s investments on 21.4 million people across 20 countries. She is currently pursuing her MBA at the Yale School of Management.

Allen developed an interest in networks at an early age. He remembers spreading open a New York City subway map on the kitchen floor of his childhood home and searching for all the different routes between Times Square and JFK Airport. He is now completing his PhD in systems biology at Harvard University, where he is focused on figuring out one specific complex system, HIV.

Award to support work toward a PhD in systems biology at Harvard University

Allen’s parents immigrated to the United States from Taiwan in the 1980s, so that his father could pursue a computer science career. Allen attended MIT on Goldwater and Department of Homeland Security scholarships,

2015–2016 edition volume x x

graduating with a perfect 5.0 GPA, and with MEng and BS degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, a BS in chemical-biological engineering, and minors in political science and biomedical engineering. In addition to his coursework, Allen conducted research at Caltech, Stanford, and MIT, in the emerging field of synthetic biology, resulting in coauthorships in Nature Biotechnology and Nature Reviews Genetics. As a Marshall Scholar at the University of Cambridge and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Allen earned an MPhil in technology policy and an MSc in public health. Now, as a PhD student, he is interested in combining techniques in synthetic biology and evolutionary dynamics to create cost-effective vaccinations and therapies against HIV and other persistent infections that disproportionately affect marginalized populations.

Ismael Loera

Award to support work toward a PhD in chemistry at Rice University

Eleven-year-old Ismael’s life was turned upside down when his family moved from Tamaulipas, Mexico, to Houston, Texas. The move was sudden; Ismael never got to say goodbye to his friends, nor did he have the opportunity to anticipate what life would be like without his tíos, abuelos, and primos.

double-majored in chemistry and economics, and led several extracurricular organizations. As of the fall of 2012, Ismael became a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). On top of allowing him to apply to PhD programs, DACA impacted smaller parts of Ismael’s life, like being able to travel home by plane, instead of taking a 13-hour bus ride. Now a PhD student at Rice University, Ismael works on synthesizing bismuth carboxylate complexes, which have antibacterial and antiparasitic applications. He hopes to pursue a career in academia, where he can combine his passions for chemistry and higher education.

Ismael excelled in school, but had to diligently keep his status as an undocumented immigrant a secret. With the help of a teacher who knew his status, he was accepted to a magnet high school and went on to receive a QuestBridge National Scholarship that enabled him to attend Emory University. At Emory, Ismael



Paras Singh Minhas

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine

Paras was born in Baltimore, MD, the son of two Sikh immigrants. At a young age, he was exposed to the debilitating consequences of neurological diseases, which impacted his own family members. Refusing to be silent, Paras began finding his voice through the art of debate, winning local, state, and national competitions starting in high school and, later, in the William Pitt Debating Union at the University of Pittsburgh.

their voices and obtain sustainable careers. He also became the first president of the Student Health Advisory Board, pioneering mental health initiatives both on campus and in the city of Pittsburgh. Paras has been awarded multiple scholarships for his insightful research in neurology and policy initiatives in psychiatry. Now a student at Stanford School of Medicine, he continues to engage with disadvantaged communities to help bridge health care gaps. He serves a manager for the Pacific Free Clinic in San Jose and continues to run his NGO, frequenting villages in Ghana. Paras is pursuing an MD/PhD in neuroscience and is actively researching the etiologies of neurodegenerative diseases.

During his time at the University of Pittsburgh, Paras founded the Longitude Pittsburgh Organization, an NGO dedicated to helping adolescent orphans in Ghana and India find

The New American

Polina Nazaykinskaya

and Ezra Laderman, and completed a master’s degree in composition and theory, in addition to receiving an artist diploma in composition. Winter Bells, the first orchestral piece that Polina wrote in the United States, received wide acclaim, and was recorded by Sony Music in 2010.

Minh-Duyen Nguyen

Award to support work toward a DMA in composition and music theory at The Graduate Center, CUNY

Polina has won numerous awards, including the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and has garnered performances by ensembles including the Minnesota Orchestra.

Award to support work toward an MD at Stanford School of Medicine

Born in Togliatti, an industrial city on the Volga River in Russia, Polina was surrounded by music growing up. Her mother remembers the two-year-old Polina reaching for the piano and playing a small segment from the final scene of Glinka’s Life for the Tsar, which she had heard her siblings practicing, but had never been taught.

Through music, Polina would like to explore the difficulty of political choices and the decline of democratic institutions, the rise of nationalistic tendencies, and the creation of a culture in which authority and obedience are preferred to freedom.

Influenced by her immigrant and academic experiences, MinhDuyen hopes to provide care for women in lowresource environments upon graduating from medical school.

Polina entered the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory with the intention of becoming a concert violinist, but quickly realized that her true calling was composition.

Minh-Duyen immigrated to the United States from Vietnam with her family when she was five. Her mother’s tofu business helped the family integrate into a community of workingclass immigrants in Wichita, Kansas. Her understanding of advocacy took hold while growing up dependent on state welfare and the social services of Catholic Charities.

At the Yale School of Music, she worked with Christopher Theofanidis

Minh-Duyen gained acceptance to an international baccalau-

reate program in high school and was named a QuestBridge Scholar, Gates Millennium Scholar, and Philip Evans Scholar, which allowed her to attend Swarthmore College. In college she became an active leader of Children for Change Cambodia, an organization that provides educational support to children living in a high-risk brothel district of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Having volunteered in the capital city’s redlight district, MinhDuyen was motivated after college to travel across three continents under a yearlong Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to record the narratives of sex workers. Minh-Duyen believes that feminism is not just about promoting the inclusion and equal treatment of women at the top echelons of our political and economic systems, but instead is about the inclusion of all women. She hopes to one day provide medical care for women at the social and economic fringes of society.

Lucy Ogbu-Nwobodo

Award to support work toward an MD at UC Davis School of Medicine

Born in Nigeria, Lucy was brought by relatives to Oakland, California, when she was 11. The United States was promised to provide a better life, but as an undocumented student for over 12 years, Lucy had to fight for her own survival. She focused on her academics and graduated from high school at 15 as the class valedictorian. She obtained her undergraduate degree from California State University, East Bay, before the age of 20. Lucy went on to start the Operating Room Experiences (OREX), a premedical surgical observation program. As one of few programs in the nation allowing extensive access to

2015–2016 edition volume x x

undergraduates, OREX has matriculated over 30 students into medical and other graduate health education programs, and serves as a model for other teaching hospitals. As a medical student at UC Davis School of Medicine, Lucy serves as codirector of the Imani Clinic, a studentrun clinic that provides services to the medically disenfranchised in Sacramento. She is the copresident of the Student National Medical Association, as well as the president and founder of the UC Davis Neurosurgery Student Interest Group. Lucy is dedicated to improving health care through social justice. She plans to specialize in neurosurgery. After medical school, her goal is to bring specialty medical services to lowincome communities.

Sandra Portocarrero

Award to support work toward a PhD in sociology at Columbia University

Sandra grew up in Peru before she moved to the United States at the age of 16 to join her father, an undocumented immigrant, in Oklahoma. One year before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Berkeley, Sandra’s father was sentenced to seven years in federal prison. Sandra would like to analyze how the US penal system generates inequality. In particular, she would like to understand the effects of the US prison system on the family lives tof Latino immigrants.

McNair Scholars Program. Funded by the Institute of International Studies and the Haas Fellowship, she wrote her thesis on the effects of participation in an organization in the lives of Andean women affected by civil war in Ayacucho, Peru. Her thesis received high honors and was published in the Berkeley Undergraduate Journal. At Columbia, Sandra will study the relationship of low-income immigrant populations to the criminal justice system. Her goal is to produce academic research that can be used to develop policies that help alleviate poverty in the United States. Before starting her PhD, Sandra returned to Peru and worked at a copper mining company and as an adjunct political sociology professor at the National University of San Marcos in Lima.

At Berkeley, Sandra won the CAL Alumni Achievement Award, and was accepted into the Haas Research Program and the



Yakir Reshef

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in computer science at Harvard University and MIT

Born in Israel to a Romanian father and an Iraqi mother, Yakir spent his early life in Israel. After four years in Kenya, during which time his parents pursued medical and public health work, his family moved to Maryland. As the child of an epidemiologist and an ophthalmologist, Yakir grew up in an atmosphere suffused with medicine. However, during high school and college, he also discovered a love for mathematics and computer science. As a math major at Harvard College, Yakir helped develop a statistical method, subsequently published in Science, for detecting

new relationships in large data sets. This experience pushed him to explore avenues through which his computational skills could advance biomedical research. After graduating, Yakir spent three years in his native Israel, first as a software engineer and later as a Fulbright Scholar in the department of mathematics and computer science at the Weizmann Institute of Science. After realizing that he would need broad, deep training in both biology and computation in order to achieve his goals, he decided to enroll in an MD/ PhD program. Yakir is now pursuing an MD, in the joint Harvard Medical SchoolMIT Health Sciences and Technology program, and a PhD in computer science at Harvard. By marrying computational expertise with medical knowledge, he hopes to help translate improved data analysis methods into better outcomes for patients.

Raeuf Roushangar

Award to support work toward a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology at Michigan State University

Raeuf was born to an Iranian father and an Egyptian mother in Oman. Raised by his mother in Egypt after his father left for Iran, Raeuf endured continuous discrimination because of his Baha’i faith, culminating in his suspension from Cairo University at the age of 20. He traveled alone to the United States for a chance to continue his education and spent six months homeless after his arrival. He eventually found his way to Grand Rapids Community College where he got a math and chemistry tutoring job. As an undergraduate at Michigan State Uni-

The New American

versity (MSU), Raeuf was awarded two research fellowships and published his findings on genetic interactions in human orofacial clefting syndromes. Not forgetting those in need, as a freshman, Raeuf founded a nonprofit organization that to date has collected and shipped more than $1 million worth of medical supplies from the United States to poor communities worldwide. For his work and leadership, Raeuf was awarded the 2012–2013 MSU Leader of the Year, Clinton Global Initiative, and Martin Luther King awards. Raeuf is a first-year biochemistry and molecular biology PhD student at MSU, with a research focus on “omics” technologies and their applications in personalized precision medicine. Working to create mathematical models to integrate various omics data sets, Raeuf believes that his research will improve diagnostic testing, medical decision making, and future individual patient health care.

Eugene Rusyn

Award to support work toward a JD at Yale Law School

Eugene was born in Kiev, in the former Soviet Union, to a Russian mother and a Carpathian Ruthenian father. His family immigrated to the United States when he was four, leaving behind family and friends, many of whom he would not see again for decades. They settled in New Jersey, hoping for a life of greater freedom and opportunity. Eugene pursued his bachelor’s degree in history at New York University, which he completed summa cum laude. While there, his interests expanded to include philosophy and the law. He was particularly interested in concepts of national belonging.

His studies turned toward nationalism and the ways emerging transnational organizations try to foster community among diverse populations while guaranteeing basic rights. During this time, Eugene worked with professor Tony Judt on the completion of several books and articles published in the New York Times and the New York Review of Books. He also worked as an associate editor on legal journals, focusing on international and constitutional law. When Eugene was 23, he became a naturalized US citizen. The judge administering the oath told those present to remember the many others who wished to be in their shoes: citizenship, she said, is a lifelong privilege and responsibility. Those words guide Eugene as he works toward his JD at Yale Law School, where he is focusing on international, constitutional, and environmental law.

Andre Shomorony

Award to support work toward an MD at Harvard Medical School and MIT

Andre was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to parents of Jewish-European descent. In 2005, when Andre was 15, his family moved to Miami in search of financial stability and better educational and professional opportunities. Quickly overcoming institutional, cultural, and language barriers, Andre excelled in school and was awarded a QuestBridge scholarship to attend Yale University. Combining his interests in natural sciences and technology, he majored in biomedical engineering and spent his summers conducting research in microtissue engineering and cancer biology. In addition to pursuing biomedical

2015–2016 edition volume x x

research, Andre directed an awardwinning undergraduate a cappella group and was on the board of Yale’s Relay for Life team. During Andre’s college years, he helped take care of his father in a battle against cancer, a life-changing experience that drew him close to medicine. He was inspired to volunteer at Haven Free Clinic, where he learned about patient care, and decided to become a physician. Now a second-year student in the joint Harvard Medical SchoolMIT Health Sciences and Technology program, Andre is pursuing an MD with an added focus on biomedical research. He hopes to work at the intersection of engineering and surgery, developing new tools and techniques to improve the field of reconstructive surgery.

Sahar Soleimanifard

Award to support work toward an MD at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Sahar was born in Iran during the Persian Gulf War and in the aftermath of a revolution that left the country in a decadeslong battle between all sociopolitical groups. Growing up in a society with rigid gender roles, she developed a steely determination to live a purposeful life and make a lasting impact. She graduated from Sharif University, the top engineering school in Iran, where she became interested in biomedical imaging.

methodology that offers new biological insights into early coronary artery disease. She was named a Siebel Scholar and received funding from the American Heart Association to validate her techniques on patients with heart disease. Following the completion of her PhD, she started her medical education at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Her goal is to build on the technical dexterity that she acquired at engineering school with medical training to clinically care for patients and to develop noninvasive tools for early disease diagnosis, which can have a dramatic medical, personal, and economic impact on the lives of many patients. Sahar became a permanent resident of the United States in 2013 through the National Interest Waiver program.

Sahar moved to the US at the age of 23 and started her graduate education at Johns Hopkins University. She forged collaborations with mentors in engineering, radiology, and cardiology, and developed a noninvasive MRI



Stephanie Speirs

Award to support work toward an MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management

Stephanie was born in Hawaii to a father who was adopted from China and a mother who emigrated from Korea to attend school in the United States. Stephanie’s mother escaped an abusive marriage and found herself struggling to both raise her three kids alone and pay for the one-bedroom apartment they all shared. She instilled in Stephanie a reverence for hard work, and Stephanie threw herself into school and jobs to help pay for expenses at home.

from Princeton University. She managed field operations in seven states for Barack Obama’s campaign and developed Middle East policy as the youngest-ever director at the White House National Security Council. Seeking to pivot toward issues that affect households on a daily basis, Stephanie will earn an MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management and work to expand clean-energy access to low-income households. She is currently a global fellow with Acumen, a nonprofit venture fund, and the innovation manager in India at d.light, a solar company powering rural villages without reliable electricity. While at MIT, she will continue building Solstice Initiative, the first-of-its-kind social enterprise she cofounded to increase access to solar power.

Stephanie went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a master’s degree in public affairs with a focus on international development

The New American

Gerald Tiu

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in genetics at Stanford University

Gerald’s parents, who are ethnically Chinese, emigrated from Myanmar to seek out new opportunities in the United States, and to escape institutionalized racism that barred them from pursuing their dreams. Through their example, Gerald, who was born in Anaheim, California, learned to put others before himself. Fascinated by science from an early age, Gerald began research in high school studying atmospheric chemistry, which culminated in a first-author publication in Chemical Physics Letters and third-place in the team portion of the 2005 Siemens Westinghouse Science and Technology Competition. As an

undergraduate at Harvard College, he performed chemical biology research to discover molecules that inhibit cancer pathways. The work was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Seeking to understand how social forces also influence human disease, Gerald spent a year after college in China and Myanmar on a Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Fellowship exploring the impact of culture and politics on HIV/AIDS dynamics. He is now working toward his MD/PhD at Stanford University in the lab of Maria Barna, where he is investigating novel layers of RNAmediated gene regulation. In the future, as a physician-scientist, Gerald hopes to understand how gene regulation is disrupted in disease and translate that understanding into new therapies.

Katherine Trujillo

Award to support work toward an MA in law and diplomacy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Born in South Central Los Angeles, Katherine is the daughter of immigrants from Mexico and Honduras. Katherine’s mother, a refugee from El Salvador, and her father, an economic migrant, sacrificed to provide her with an education. Their tireless work ethic continues to inspire Katherine’s commitment to advancing opportunities for others. Growing up in a community rich in diversity yet marred by violence, Katherine learned to navigate contentious spaces with empathy and diplomacy. At UC Berkeley, Katherine assisted refugees with asylum cases, mentored at-risk youth, and

empowered Latinas to pursue academic excellence. Following graduation, she served as an Operation HOPE fellow, where she led financial empowerment workshops for victims of domestic violence. At the National Head Start Association, Katherine lobbied for federal funding for early childhood education for low-income families. Recently, she worked as an educational policy researcher for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, representing the nation’s public, historically black colleges and universities. Today, Katherine is a Mitchell Scholar pursuing a master’s of law degree at Ulster University, and a master’s at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. By integrating transitional justice approaches and development strategies to inner-city communities in America, she hopes to revitalize economically depressed pockets of South Central LA, reduce crime, and improve social cohesion to ultimately encourage civic engagement and galvanize the empowerment of her community.

Mark Minghao Xue

Mark’s father spent a decade laboring on a commune farm before he was able to attend college under Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. Despite the setback, Mark’s father earned a fellowship from Columbia University that allowed Mark’s parents to immigrate to the United States.

Julie Zhu

Award to support an MS in computer science at Stanford University

Math was Mark’s primary focus before joining the Marines. He excelled in math competitions in high school, coached the NYC Math Team, and finished the majority of Columbia University’s graduate math coursework as an undergraduate.

Award to support work toward an MFA in combined media at Hunter College, CUNY

Mark was born a month before his father left China to pursue a PhD in the United States. His mother’s family raised him until his parents could afford to have him come to the United States, in 1989. Mark’s interest in computer science emerged over the eight years he served as a Marine Corps officer and helicopter pilot. Applying his software development hobby to his work, he was able to help pilots f ly more safely by creating and integrating preflight planning and navigational software. The sense of civic responsibility that led Mark to serve in the US military was born out of his father’s experience during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

2015–2016 edition volume x x

In the fall, Mark will begin work toward a master’s degree in computer science, with a focus on systems and machine learning.

Julie’s parents were part of the first class of students to graduate from college in China after the Cultural Revolution, during which time universities had closed their doors for more than a decade. Both mathematicians, Julie’s parents came to the United States to pursue graduate school. Like her parents, Julie developed a passion for math, but as she grew up, she felt increasingly drawn to the arts. She cartooned for the Washington Post, and her paintings were exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery after she was named a Presidential Scholar in both academics and visual art.

University, where she double-majored in mathematics and art, enjoying the freedom to pursue both fields simultaneously. As a freshman, she added to these lifelong devotions the carillon, the world’s heaviest musical instrument. After graduating, she pursued advanced carillon studies at the Royal Carillon School in Belgium, while also painting and exhibiting her work abroad. She is now the carillonneur for St. Thomas Church in Manhattan. Her artistic work today sits at the intersection of music, mathematics and visual representation. In 2012, Julie cofounded the Sitka Fellows Program, a poly-disciplinary residency in Alaska that celebrates the meeting of disparate fields, now in its fourth year. Julie currently studies combined media at Hunter College, CUNY, and teaches art in Alaska during the summer.

Julie went on to Yale


She’s in the


Always The New American

when pardis sabeti (2001) answered her cell phone, she didn’t stop Rollerblading. And after nearly an hour of conversation, she was still on her skates and didn’t sound winded. Two things come to mind. First, you don’t want to try to keep up with this woman, on any level. Second, even on a recreational break from her teaching and research at Harvard, she’s multitasking. She’s a scientist of the moment, someone who has spent the last year battling Ebola in Africa and is now helping to design new techniques for data mining, as a spin-off from her groundbreaking work in genetics.

By Peter Georgescu (Trustee)

While she skates, to the sound of lawns being mowed along her path, she traces the success of her career—one is tempted to call it a destiny, given its drama and brushes with tragedy. She talks of three crucial turning points. The first was when she got her first glimpse of her future as a sixth-grader in Florida. A film she watched in her advanced math class showed students operating autonomous robots they had designed and built for the annual 2.70 (now 6.270) Competition sponsored by MIT. She thought, “That is the coolest place on earth. That’s where I want to live.” So she did, getting her undergraduate degree there a decade later. In a sense, she’s still living in that world. Right now, she works only a few miles away from that school, at Harvard, where she teaches genetics and devotes herself to both basic and applied scientific research. Looking back, after the first decade of a pioneering career, she can identify two other pivotal moments. When a car accident shattered her father’s legs, Pardis, only in her teens, convinced the doctor who operated on him to let her be his apprentice. That’s when her love for science narrowed into a love for medicine. The third pivot in her life was the day she won a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship. It gave her the time and freedom to completely immerse herself in genetic research, and it led to a fundamental discovery about how to identify and analyze the most recent genetic mutations governing human immunity to disease. The Fellowship essentially gave her the courage and freedom to stay up until 3 a.m. chasing and finding something no one else knew. What she discovered became a routine tool researchers use to recognize significant needles in the haystack of data encoded into a genome. She told PBS the exhilaration of that moment is what continues to drive her forward in life: “It’s the thrill of discovery. It’s a wonderful, wonderful scavenger hunt, when you get to the end.” Her breakthrough in those wee hours, poring over data, continues to open doors. The media flocks to her. She has been profiled by NOVA and Smithsonian and Time magazines. She has won six- and seven-figure grants for her work from the National Institutes of Health, Gates Foundation, Packard Foundation, and, most recently, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of the most prestigious in science. She was among the Ebola fighters in Africa named as Time’s Person of the Year in 2014. This year, Time followed up by including her on its 100 Most Influential People list.

2015–2016 edition volume x x


And she has to be the only person in science and medicine whose rock band (Thousand Days) got an honorable mention in Billboard’s World Song Contest. Yet somehow this rock-and-Rollerblading scientist, with a singing voice like a more soulful and compassionate Liz Phair, isn’t even out of her 30s.

Previous Pardis Sabeti at work in Sierra Leone, 2013.

She traces much of her grit and energy to her upbringing in an extremely close-knit family of Iranian immigrants whose lives were upended by Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. Her father had been a high-ranking official in the Shah’s government, and they were certain the family wouldn’t survive the revolution, given the new regime’s inevitable reprisals. So they fled to America before the coup and settled in Florida. It was a crammed, loving home out of a Frank Capra movie: she slept in a bedroom with her grandmother, her aunt, and her sister, as well as an occasional cousin (along with some of the household’s resident dogs, cats, and birds). Yet what she remembers most from what others might consider a claustrophobic lack of privacy were her grandmother’s nightly bedtime stories from ancient Persia. This was a family devoted to its children, teaching them to prize what little they had and the possibilities that lay ahead of them in America. In home movies from those years, shot on a sandy beach, she’s appears to be a young, cute girl-waif, a refugee, in a family that had lost nearly everything, yet she’s standing on a beautiful new shore. She felt privileged, almost lucky. Growing up, she was proud of what made her different. “It’s a rare experience to have been displaced by a revolution where you have an enormous diaspora of people fleeing the new regime. So many Iranians settled here in the US.” Her ability to speak another language seemed like a distinction, something that made her a little more interesting. “At one of my Soros events, I remember we went around the room and were congratulated for what we had overcome—from Vietnam and Chernobyl and elsewhere. But at the end of the day, I had the sense that I hadn’t overcome all that much, to be honest. To have a personal story like ours can be a very motivating influence in your life. I was born from a revolution—you can’t pay for the sort of motivation that gives you as a child.” Her parents assured her she mattered, in the way all loved children feel, and that she should cherish the rare opportunity of living in America. “I ask friends, Did any of you not have one

The New American

person in your life who believed in you? They all did. They all had support and someone who believed in them. My parents had lost their entire livelihood, language, culture, and jobs, but they still made us feel as if we had the most blessed childhood. That’s richness. We didn’t have money, but so much richness. It was almost a blessing, my life as a refugee in America.” After MIT, she continued on to Oxford, on a Rhodes Scholarship, which wound up being a three-year sojourn for a master’s and PhD. She’d known for years that she wanted to go on to medical school, but sought out the Rhodes because she wanted a break from the career track. By the time her two years were up, she’d already done most of the work for a PhD, so she stuck around for a third year to finish it. She returned to America and connected with The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans as she started her study at Harvard Medical School. “Neil Hattangadi and a few other friends from Oxford introduced me to PD Soros in the early years of the program. It really spoke to me. The Soros family is an exceptional family for what they have independently achieved and the sort of good they want to do in the world. I had just come back from England, and I thought it would be amazing to have enough support to pursue what I wanted to. I applied for the Fellowship my first year in medical school.” As a result, on the morning of her discovery, she had no need to get up at 8 a.m. and make money in some other way. So she was still poring over data at 3 a.m., trying to find a way to determine the newest mutations in a gene sequence indispensable for human survival. It wasn’t exactly a matter of picking a needle from a haystack, but rather knowing how to decipher the meaning of the haystack’s shape around the needle: how to read the configuration of the genome for its significance. She realized a particular mutation was a recent one when, in all her samples of DNA taken from individuals in a population, it was surrounded by the same genetic structure, from sample to sample. Nothing else around it had had the time to mutate randomly in its vicinity, as it would have around an older mutation. She was the first to realize how to locate the new kids on the genetic block. It was her eureka moment. Identifying the most recent mutations in a genome made her work in Africa possible because it enabled her team to understand what was

My parents had lost their entire livelihood, language, culture and jobs but they still made us feel as if we had the most blessed childhood. That’s richness.

Clockwise from Top Left Pardis Sabeti with Philomena Ehiane, 2013. Photo courtesy of Nathan Yozwiak. Pardis at work in Sierra Leone, 2013. Photo courtesy of Erica Ollman Saphire. A Halloween photo of Pardis (left) and her sister, Parisa. Pardis as a child, flanked by her sister, Parisa (left) and a friend.

2015–2016 edition volume x x


significant in the genetic structure of people who were resistant to highly infectious viruses. She began with work on malaria, then Lassa fever, which led naturally to work on another hemorrhagic disease, Ebola. Essentially, if her work ever saves lives in an epidemic—and it undoubtedly already has—she believes the survivors will have The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans to thank, along with everyone providing health care based on her research. Above Pardis Sabeti with Christian Happi of Harvard University, 2013. Photo courtesy of Nathan Yozwiak.

“My lab and I develop statistics that allow the genome to pinpoint the important mutations that occurred in human history. This led us to Lassa fever. Lassa is on the list of emerging diseases, but we found a signal that seemed to say it’s an ancient force. So we started questioning, Was this disease widespread and not being reported, and were people who carried a particular mutation in the genome resistant to Lassa fever? That’s how I got to Africa. That test told me this is a disease we should pay attention to. We’ve been studying Lassa fever for seven or eight years and are only now beginning to publish original research, but we have had important insights along the way, like the hypothesis that socalled emerging diseases like Ebola and Lassa fever are not new diseases but just new

The New American

detections of diseases that have been here for millennia, that they may have long been circulating undetected.” Science published their perspective, “Emerging Disease or Diagnosis?” in 2012, years before the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The same journal also published a paper she and her collaborators wrote about how to analyze large data sets for useful information. It described a new statistical approach to detect patterns of any kind in any large collection of data. “In the past, we had only certain ways to explore associations in large data sets. I worked together with two brilliant young students who developed mine [Maximal Information-based Nonparametric Exploration], a powerful new way to find many relationships in the data.” In an accompanying piece published in Science, the new test was said to be a “culmination of more than 50 years of development of [mutual information].” It has already been cited many hundreds of times, and the software to carry it out has been downloaded by tens of thousands of users. This impactful piece of work is very much a PD Soros paper. It began almost accidentally. By happenstance, Pardis had met Dave and Yakir Reshef, now both PD Soros Fellows, and

I don’t even know why we’re here, but we had always said whatever happens we will keep our promise to sing.

they shared an interest in computation, science, and public health. They were trying to discover ways of finding patterns and significance in large amounts of data on public health, and later found its utility to so many data sets, from genomics to finance to even baseball. Now with PD Soros support of their own, Dave and Yakir are getting that same freedom Pardis once enjoyed to pursue their passion, and have been expanding the theoretical and practical implications of mine much further. Their work on data mining also has important applications to Ebola. Pardis and her team have gone on to find sophisticated ways to establish a person’s risk of dying and know what data points to collect. The most important single factor is an individual’s viral load: how much of the virus is active in the body. “Yet that alone isn’t so predictive, but when you use all the variables together, you can get to near 100 percent prediction accuracy.” Even with the gaps typical in data for public health, her research enables workers to extrapolate from what information is available to make accurate predictions. “We also created an Android app that will carry out the analysis and give you a predicted risk, by best taking into account the information you do and don’t have.” The upshot of her research over the past decade is that she can see a way toward preventing outbreaks by being able to identify precisely where a particular virus is lurking—regardless of current symptoms. She recently proposed a program to do that with the Africa Center of Excellence in Genomics and Infectious Diseases. “If these viruses are circulating we can put early-warning system for the next outbreak. We are a small group, and it took years to get funding, but we now have it.” This work can be just as heroic as it sounds. And that comes with a cost. As thrilling as a 3 a.m. discovery of some basic truth can be, it led last year to work in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, where death was an immediate risk.

2015–2016 edition volume x x

Her life over the past couple of years has been exciting and fulfilling, but sobering and humbling. Ebola killed some of her close colleagues in Africa as they fought to defeat it. “If I could take back the past year, I would. We lost many colleagues, and the countries where we worked are devastated. There’s no way around it: we all lost a few decades of our lives in the process of this, and we experienced how chaotic the international front can be. It was not a good year by any stretch, but it was a meaningful one. It was a nightmare, but if it had to happen, it was fulfilling to be part of the response.” Her work as a singer and songwriter merged with the fight against Ebola at a time when she needed it most. For many years, she had kept a tradition to always collaborate musically with the West African scientists who had fought disease alongside her on their many visits back and forth across the Atlantic. They promised to always keep at least a weekly appointment to do so no matter the circumstances. One song of hers rose up spontaneously from the crucible of their struggle as they learned about friends who had just died. “Two of the nurses in our clinic in Sierra Leone had come down with Ebola. By the next weekend, they had both died, and the head physician had contracted Ebola. That Friday, my collaborator in Nigeria called and told me he had just diagnosed Ebola in Nigeria. In such a short span, people who had previously been healthy had died, and Ebola emerged in Nigeria. As we got together, I thought, ‘I don’t even know why we’re here, but we had always said whatever happens we will keep our promise to sing.’ We pulled out an old, unfinished track, with just a simple repeating chorus—uh, uh, uh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah—and the girls started harmonizing, and before I knew it, words were coming out of my body and out into the world, and it became the song ‘One Truth’ that I was singing to my colleagues across the ocean to tell them, ‘I’m here in this fight [with you] always.’”


Landscape with American Dream

By Janine Joseph (2009) Poet and assistant professor at Weber State University

Putting down the beets, you got to thinking my life had dead-ended and were serious, and I agreed—But first I need capers and whatever’s past the pimentos, I said and scanned the list. I needed the lemon glaze, the stuff I craved down the ethnic lane and still I had to sing of how I walked a thousand hot miles because my mom was Catholic and pressed the white blouse, the blue jumper, and we were good people and good people lent their good cars to those in more need. It was like the distance from here to the Philippines, I nodded. I MapQuested it once. And they— my brothers—were all eyes on their Game Boys, dodging potholes, snake holes, and ant hills from St. Francis to who-knows-where we lived. We walked so much my dad every night kneaded the stiff backs of our shoes so they wouldn’t peel scallops on our heels when we walked lesson after lesson without turning an ankle. What wrecks we were! What expert wrecks burning down those sun-spun streets. Now look how I muscle my stack of avocadoes and hearts—see how I coast and carve and fault my rootless cart. See how I course my arm to say go and go. Do you wait for me? Do you circle the lot’s quiet loop while I lift into a run like a dog dead and slipped from her leash? Do you brake? Do you idle? Do you whir your arm from an aisle like a table saw saying come, come? I’ve a line to beat and no double coupons so do you strike up your shoes? Do you barehand your grief and pump its slack lap after lap after me? Come bred roadster, come American galloper. Come bark this breath out with me.

“Landscape with American Dream� first appeared in The California Journal of Poetics (issue 1).

This Page A childhood photo of Pardis Sabeti (left) and her sister, Parisa on the beach.

A Century of

The New American


By Deisy Del Real (2011) PhD candidate at UCLA

hen i was six, my family left Mexico to immigrate to the United States. At that time, I craved only three simple things in life. I wanted to eat lots of candy, attend school with my friends, and work on my family’s farm with my dad. My parents never had money for candy, but I found ways to fulfill my other two desires. Whenever hard times hit our family, my father would say, “Deisy, you are de jinetes. You must be strong.” In these moments my dad was asking me to tap into the strength of my jinete ancestors. As legend has it, I come from a lineage of Maghrebian horsemen, Northwest African men and women who crossed three continents in search of fertile land. This legend would continue with my great-great-grandfather, who brought my ancestors to Mexico in the era of the Mexican Revolution. During this time, the rural elite of the country buried barrels filled with gold coins called reales in the ground. They had hoped to dig up the currency and regain their wealth once the revolution ended. In 1914, after Pancho Villa had defeated the federales in Zacatecas and was making his way to Mexico City, my great-great-grandfather found one of these mythical barrels. He changed our family’s name to Del Real, after these gold coins.

While the legend of my great-great-grandfather’s riches lived in our hearts, there was no evidence of his wealth in our lives. The North American Free Trade Agreement made it impossible for my family to compete with the government-subsidized agribusinesses in the United States. My parents could not sell their crops at a competitive rate, and poverty struck our family. Farming could no longer sustain our livelihood, so like the Maghrebis

2015–2016 edition volume x x

My parents could not sell their crops at a competitive rate, and therefore, poverty struck our family. Farming could no longer sustain our livelihood, so like the Maghrebis before us, my parents started their search for better land.


before us, my parents started their search for better land.

Previous Left A photo of Deisy as a child growing up in Mexico. Previous Right A photo of Deisy’s mother, Estela, and Deisy as a baby.

I was only six years old when, after a long day of working in the cornfields, my father dyed my blonde hair black to prepare for our migration to the US. A few days later, his siblings arrived from California. They separated my immediate family into strategic units for the border crossing. I was sent with an aunt whom I had never met before, and I was instructed to call her Mom. My two younger siblings were given to other aunts and uncles. We were too poor to ever qualify for a US visa, so we immigrated to the US the only way we could: without authorization. When my family set out to cross the Mexico-US border, we did not know if we were going to see each other on the other side. We did not know whether one of us was going to be discovered and detained. My dad’s siblings were risking arrest, and my dad was risking death. “Suffering is necessary,” my father told me before we parted ways; it was the only way that we would find our own reales. Over the next few weeks, my immediate family slowly reunited in Los Angeles. The last one of my family members to arrive was my father, who had crossed the border by foot. Two immigration officers had chased and beat him, but luckily he had escaped their detention. As a family united, we began to live in my aunt’s small garage, where we would remain for several years. When I was 13, I began to dream of college. To prepare, I decided to apply to a collegepreparatory program. There was one small problem, though: the program required a copy of my Social Security card. When I asked my parents for a copy of my card, they frantically told me that I did not have one. While struggling with their own fears, my parents asked me to lower my expectations, to avoid becoming completely shattered by my unrealistic dreams. They encouraged me to finish high school so that I could get a black-market job in order to help them provide for my siblings. I quickly learned that being an undocumented immigrant meant that I would not qualify for financial aid and would have to pay for college on my own. Desperate for a solution, I called my father’s boss to ask for a job at the factory. At the early age of 13, I joined the electronic assembly line next to a proud father who saw me as his safety net—the key to the

The New American

family’s survival if he was to be deported. Filled with remorse, I did not tell him that I was saving to pay for my own college education. At the factory, I befriended other hardworking undocumented individuals who were worried about getting deported or separated from their children. In their company, I discovered a new kind of fear, one so real that absolutely nothing felt safe. If I ever did feel comfortable, the anti-immigrant headlines on the news announcing efforts to “deport illegals” served to remind me of my vulnerability. I was aware that anybody who found out about my immigration status could, with one phone call, have my entire family deported. People would tell me to live in the moment, but they did not realize that every moment for me was filled with a real threat of being separated from my family. I was scared that one of us would get sick and be forced to endure, or die from, a curable illness because we could not access regular medical care. I feared that if my dad lost his job, we were a few misfortunes away from becoming homeless. My life could unravel at any moment. As I got older, my perspective started to change. I realized that even though I was undocumented, because of my education, I had more privileges than my parents. I had become fluent in English, and I had learned about US history, US government structures, and social movements. I also realized that my friends who were US citizens were also struggling; many were dropping out, joining gangs, or finding out that our inner-city education was not preparing us very well for college. As a way to expand my horizons, I began to work with Digital Migrant, a documentary filmmaking program that focused on the lives of four undocumented hotel workers who had become union leaders. A woman named Lupe, the only female leader on the team, left a deep impression on me. Despite being poor, undocumented, and a single mother, Lupe embraced life with enthusiasm and fearlessness. Her ferocious spirit helped me see that amid the legal barriers we faced, we undocumented immigrants could be powerful. This power that I discovered while among the hotel union leaders sunk in slowly—a part of me believed it, and the other part was facing a hopeless reality. When senior year of high school started, I had barely saved enough money to cover one

We were too poor to ever qualify for a US visa, so we immigrated to the US the only way we could: without authorization.

Clockwise from Top Left Deisy’s quinceañera. Deisy’s adopted Buddhist grandmother, Elso Kanagawa, and Deisy at her high school graduation. A group of close friends at Grinnell College.

2015–2016 edition volume x x


Above Deisy and her mother at her college graduation.

Arbitrary legal, immigration, class, and ethnic boundaries leave millions of people barely surviving in the margins of society. My father was right that suffering is inevitable, but suffering should not be legalized.

The New American

year of community college. But soon, without my even realizing it, things began to change. My efforts to improve my life and the lives of others slowly cultivated a network of allies. My college counselor, who knew about my social and creative campaigns, nominated me for a merit-based scholarship to attend Grinnell College, a liberal arts institution in Iowa, which eventually gave me a fulltuition scholarship. At Grinnell, I realized that immigration is a fractured system and that I could help others navigate the process. I immediately began working with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) to help create a statewide network of undocumented students in California. In 2005, during my time at Grinnell, my family received a notice from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services informing us that, after waiting for 16 years, our case was going to be reviewed. For me, the excitement was short-lived. Soon after we received the notice, I realized that I would age out of my family’s application for permanent residency when I turned 21, which was in two months. This would mean that I could be deported and banned from reentering the US for ten years. In other words, the immigration officer, one person, could destroy everything I spent a decade cultivating. When I told Angelica Salas, the director of CHIRLA, about my situation, she asked if I would be willing to share my story before the media. My parents objected; they were afraid that calling attention to myself would lead to my being deported before our immigration interview. But I was tired of being scared, and more than anything, I wanted to tell my story so that other undocumented immigrants would know that they were not alone. I started out talking to reporters and college groups. Then, one afternoon, Angelica asked me to join a social justice bus tour that CHIRLA had organized for tourists visiting Los Angeles. I explained to the tour group that I was just a nerdy student—just a human being who had struggled to get into college and wanted to stay in the country to get my degree and give something back. If I got deported without a degree, I had no idea how I was going to survive in Mexico by myself. I was scared. At the end of my talk, an elderly man with silver hair introduced himself to me as Craig Clark.

2015–2016 edition volume x x

He was a priest from New Mexico. “Your story really moved me; we need to keep you in this country,” he said as he handed me his business card. “Please contact me and count on my support,” he told me as he hugged me. Later that week he wrote to tell me that he was mobilizing several religious congregations under the campaign he had named Saving Miss Deisy. In case I received a deportation order, they were getting ready to fight to keep me in the US. In that same tour, a lawyer also offered his services to help with my case. A second lawyer joined my family for our immigration interview, and it was there that our legal counsel successfully convinced immigration services to grant us permanent residency. I have been a legal resident of the US for nine years now. In 2014, I became a US citizen. Over the past decade, I have been searching for ways to heal from the scars of my undocumented life and to find ways to share what I learned with other immigrants. My search for healing and for solutions to improve the broken immigration system has led me to work in other countries that are recovering from political oppression. I have worked with the children of the Khmer Rouge survivors in Cambodia. Additionally, I have lived among former political refugees in Argentina, and I have worked with immigrant rights organizations that serve migrants across the world. Through my work and travels, I have met many other oppressed people who are also struggling to find ways to take care of their loved ones. The 16 years that I was undocumented taught me that even in the most fertile soil, not everybody can have access to opportunities. Arbitrary legal, immigration, class, and ethnic boundaries leave millions of people barely surviving in the margins of society. My father was right that suffering is inevitable, but suffering should not be legalized. I also understand that I could not have thrived in this country if it were not for the kindness of people I met along the way. So instead of searching for my own barrel of gold, I am dedicating my life to finding policy solutions that will expand the rights, protections, and opportunities of immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless people around the world. I hope that my work and the work of other immigrant rights activists will help the millions of other jinetes find a place where they too can thrive.


Introduction by Luis Garcia (2000) Startup operator in San Francisco



i moved to california to attend graduate school at Stanford as a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow. That opportunity initiated a career in Silicon Valley that led me to operational roles at Google, YouTube, and various venture-backed startups. Along the way, I worked in venture capital, where I had the privilege to see some of the world’s most inspirational company founders in action. Business theorist Howard Stevenson defines entrepreneurship as “the relentless pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled.” The entrepreneur, however, is best characterized not in theory, but in practice. No two entrepreneurs are alike, but in my experience, the successful ones share three common traits. First, they are motivated to solve a problem that they have either experienced directly or understand deeply. Second, they augment their capabilities, oftentimes by building a team with complementary skills. Third, they align and focus resources to solve a well-defined and critical pain point. The following profiles showcase six Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows who lead with entrepreneurial spirit. All of these founders embody the characteristics described above. For example, Jonas Ketterle (2008) and Paola Prestini (1999) draw direct inspiration for their ventures from their personal family stories. Zahir Dossa (2010) complemented his skill set with the marketing know-how of another Fellow to brand his company. Connie Chen (2008), Andrei Cherny (2000), and Steph Speirs (2015) are laser-focused on solving fundamental problems in health care delivery, personal finance, and the solar industry. Transformative startup leaders imagine the world as they would like it, and then bring others along. Here are six Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows who are doing just that.

2015–2016 edition volume x x


Firefly Chocolate founded by jonas ketterle (2008) A rigorous engineering education is not the usual path to becoming a chief chocolatier, but chat with Jonas Ketterle, the founder (and yes, chief chocolatier) of Firefly Chocolate, and the path becomes apparent. Jonas, who emigrated from Germany with his family 25 years ago, launched his craft chocolate business, he says, “because I see chocolate as a platform for connecting people in meaningful ways.” The story behind Firefly Chocolate is full of meaning—of opportunities, of pain, and of an obsession with learning. Previous Maria first introduced Jonas Ketterle to the chocolatemaking tradition in Teotitlán del Valle, Mexico, 2012. Photo: Lena Easte/Firef ly Chocolate.

When his family arrived in the United States, the plan was for a temporary stay, while Jonas’s father completed a postdoc. But as a foreigner in a new country, his father found opportunities to pursue his interests that led the family to place its roots down permanently. “That’s something that’s really been reflected in my own path—working on things I’m passionate about,” Jonas says. His mother influenced him, too, through her “environmentalist bend,” Jonas recalls. When she saw that Jonas’s elementary school didn’t recycle and used Styrofoam trays, she encouraged him to organize in an effort to change the policy. He remembers it as “training to see that just because it is done this way doesn’t mean it can’t change.” Engineering appealed to him as a path to become a resourceful problem solver. This is the point that Jonas was at in 2007, pursuing a graduate degree in mechatronics at Stanford and applying for The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. That same year, his mother died by suicide. “It made me ask questions about everything,” Jonas says. He put his degree on hold to go work. He then put his job on hold. In 2012, Jonas traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, and a chance encounter

The New American

with a rug salesman led to an invitation to a Zapotec village and an introduction to a woman who shared the best chocolate he had ever tasted, and introduced him to chocolate making. Soon enough, his experiences would become the ingredients for Firefly Chocolate. Back at home, his engineering background helped him build and modify equipment for making chocolate, being inventive with materials like pieces of pipe from a hardware store and the speed control of a vacuum. It was a hobby at the time, he says. “It was the hobby that satiated that need for a steep learning curve,” he explains. Still reflecting on his mother’s death, Jonas saw the need for a more holistic suicide prevention program. “When I got back from Mexico, I was exploring our society’s response—or lack of response—to suicide,” he says. It was when the mechanics and science of chocolate making and the social aspect of preventing suicide came together that put Jonas’s vision in focus. The chocolate bars he makes—“85 percent dark, beyond fair trade, bean to bar”—are good: “pure childhood fairy dust,” in the words of one reviewer.


Left to Right Firef ly Chocolate bars, 2015. Photo: Michael Zeligs/ Firef ly Chocolate. Inspecting premium cacao at Maya Mountain Cacao in Belize, 2015. Photo: Jonas Ketterle/Firef ly Chocolate. A childhood photo of A ndrei Cherny and his parents, 1980.

From Jonas’s perspective, the success of a chocolate operation is a powerful tool to conversations between people, including conversations about suicide prevention. Chocolate is so socially accepted, Jonas says, that “it becomes a gateway to begin a conversation with someone. It’s an invitation to connect.” Article by Mariano Castillo (2008), editor for CNN Aspiration founded by andrei cherny (2000) Do well. Do good. Those may seem like obvious words to live by, but for Andrei Cherny, they are more than just a motto. He’s on a mission to achieve this for the middle class (and for all Americans), and if you’re determined to make the greatest impact possible, what better sector to do it in than the one with the most distrust and dissatisfaction: the finance industry—specifically, banks. Skipping the brick and mortar of traditional banks, Aspiration, Andrei’s startup, offers a direct-to-consumer online and mobile investment product that is superior in every sense of the word.

2015–2016 edition volume x x

There are four key areas where Aspiration strives to differentiate itself today: 1. A revolutionary “pay what is fair” approach to fees that is built on—and builds—mutual trust with customers. 2. A unique and differentiated brand identity marrying profit and purpose, including a commitment to donate ten percent of revenue to charitable causes. 3. Thoughtfully crafted investment funds, including socially conscious investments, access to privately held growth companies, and liquid alternatives that are created by experienced investors and available at a $500 minimum (unlike the tens of thousands needed for many traditional investments). 4. A humanized approach to financial education that combines storytelling with statistics. Why is Andrei the right person to lead this charge? Born in Los Angeles to parents who had emigrated from Czechoslovakia three years earlier, he has advised some of America’s top consumer brands, including Intel and Wells Fargo. He cofounded Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, where he helped launch the fight for the landmark Consumer Financial Protection



Bureau. He was also a financial fraud prosecutor, best-selling author on technology and business, and the youngest White House speechwriter in American history. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, Andrei believes in service for the greater good and his country, which included a stint as an intelligence officer in the US Navy after 9/11. Andrei isn’t aiming small. The total assets under management for the middle class is more than $19 trillion (not a typo) in their personal investment and retirement accounts. He believes he can build a multibillion-ayear business and still do well and do good helping the middle class. I believe him. Article by Zaw Thet (2003), founding partner of Signia Venture Partners Solstice Initiative founded by stephanie speirs (2015) Eighty percent of the US—90 million households—can’t access solar energy. You cannot install a solar array on your roof if you rent your home, don’t have enough income or credit, or if your roof is covered by a tree or facing the wrong direction. But Steph Speirs aspires to help families and communities overcome these

The New American

barriers as cofounder of the Solstice Initiative and as a newly minted Echoing Green Fellow. Solstice’s vision is ambitious: the organization aims to make solar energy accessible to underserved communities across the US, no up-front cost required. Solstice finances, builds, and sells communitybased solar arrays and transforms local organizations such as churches into one-stop shops where constituents can switch to solar. Households buy a portion of this shared off-site solar farm, saving money on their electric bills immediately and supporting clean energy in the process. Steph’s interest in solar is in part unsurprising since she hails from sunny Hawaii. But she became particularly intrigued by the challenge of energy access while working as the youngestever director at the White House National Security Council. There, Steph focused on the Middle East during the Arab Spring and saw families waiting in line for fuel while she worked on large-scale policy questions centered on counterterrorism. She found herself pulled more and more to the day-to-day challenges that people in the region faced, and energy access stood out to her as the most important for the economy and for individual living standards. Pursuing a public affairs

master’s at Princeton after the White House, Steph met her cofounder while working on a solar consulting project in India. Steph and her classmate Steve Moilanen witnessed solar proliferating in the most remote of Indian villages and decided they needed to help make solar back home more affordable and accessible too. The idea for Solstice was born. Solstice is in its early stages as a startup. It has an advisory board of nine experts and four part-time staffers, and recently hired its first full-time employee and launched an initial pilot in January 2015 in Massachusetts. Incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Solstice aims to build diverse and sustainable sources of revenue in order to reach impact at scale. It currently collects a referral fee from solar developers, who gain access to new customers because of Solstice’s community relationships, and Steph and her partners envision future additional revenue sources as they expand the organization.

Left to Right A ndrei Cherny on the campaign trail with Barack Obama, 2008. Photo courtesy of Callie Shell. Steph Speirs of Solstice Initiative and her cofounder Steve Moilanen enjoy a light moment while explaining to customers how they may switch to solar without paying an up-front cost or installing anything on their roof, 2014. Photo: P r i nceton Keller Center. A still from the film portion of Paola Prestini’s multimedia opera, Oceanic Verses, featuring Helga Davis who performed in the film and live on stage at The Barbican Centre and The Kennedy Center in 2012. Filmmaker: A li Hossaini.

Steph’s commitment to service and social progress comes from her youth. Raised by a single mother who emigrated from South Korea, Steph witnessed the power of her sacrifice “creator, educator, performer, and entrepreneur.” and work ethic. Managing field operations in seven states for the Obama campaign in 2008 From her opera Oceanic Verses, which was and working on challenges in places like Yemen, inspired by ancient folk songs from her native Italy, to her current endeavor, National Pakistan, and India convinced her that progress Sawdust, a new music center transformed from is driven by the creative recombination of ideas a century-old sawdust factory, Paola takes from both the public and private sectors. past and literal dust to build the extraordinary. Her training mirrors this belief: she’s mixing her graduate work in public affairs with business In October 2015, National Sawdust, where Paola training at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. is artistic and executive director, will open its doors to the public after six years of planning, Steph dreams of a day where every household in construction, and hard work. The 13,000the US can access solar energy. In the next square-foot space, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, five to seven years, she believes Solstice can begin will be an artistic incubator, performance to make a large dent by linking 100,000 space, recording studio, restaurant, and bar. households to solar energy, putting the idea of community solar firmly on the map. In 2009, founder Kevin Dolan chose Paola for If anyone can do it, it’s Steph. her artistic leadership and seeded what would become National Sawdust with $8 million, Article by Victor Roy (2012), PhD candidate at the which Paola helped match through extensive University of Cambridge and MD candidate at fund-raising. Their aim is to create a new Northwestern University kind of performance space. National Sawdust founded by paola prestini (1999) “Thy tread is on an Empire’s dust.” Byron’s words, though about the Battle of Waterloo, seem to speak directly to Paola Prestini’s own remarkable journey as a composer and

2015–2016 edition volume x x

Venues abound in New York, but National Sawdust is innovatively new and multidisciplinary. Like Paola, it wears many hats and does everything: with 12 musical groups in residence, 4 artists in residence, and 24 curators, National Sawdust will host rehearsals, performances, talks, recordings, workshops, and broadcasts.


Above A still from the film portion of Paola Prestini’s multimedia opera, Oceanic Verses. Filmmaker: A li Hossaini.

The New American

It will also offer educational programming, commission new works, and introduce Next Steps, a mentorship program that guides young artists in creating musical careers and performances from fund-raising to production. Paola grew up on the Mexican-American border with many musical influences—her father made musical instruments; her mother loved opera and Mexican folk songs, and energetically supported Paola’s decision to become a composer. It was natural for Paola to be driven—her mother was the same way. A single mother, Paola’s mother started her own children’s clothing business specializing in Italian fashion. Paola attended Juilliard for undergraduate and graduate study in composition and was a 1999 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow. She remembers how important the Fellowship was to her, giving her “a lot of freedom to focus on larger dreams” by providing vital financial support, resources, and connections that helped her found VisionIntoArt (VIA), the nonprofit, and start of her entrepreneurial pursuits, that she heads to this day. Paola saw very little opportunity after graduate school and so created her own. Now VIA has its own label and is a significant production company for contemporary classical music. Paola advises young artists not to think of success as a leap, but rather one brick at a time, cumulative, a lifetime of trial and error, “to be true to what you want and to continue to find ways to make it possible.” For Paola, National Sawdust is just one step in a long artistic journey. Article by Julie Zhu (2015), MFA candidate in combined media and painting at Hunter College, CUNY The Argan Tree founded by zahir dossa (2010) Between the Anti-Atlas mountains and the Sahara desert is an area of Morocco called the Sous Valley. When Zahir Dossa first visited the region many years ago, he found himself fascinated by Argania spinosa, more commonly known as the argan tree, a species endemic to Morocco. Zahir witnessed Moroccans doing what they’ve been doing for centuries, turning the insides of the argan’s small kernels into oil

2015–2016 edition volume x x

to treat their ailments and smooth their skin and hair. The process of producing the oil is onerous; it involves drying, peeling, cracking, grinding, and pressing, and can take up to five weeks. As an expert in sustainable enterprises, Zahir began looking into the many cooperatives that he saw making and selling the oil and ended up studying them for a year. The cooperatives were a major employer for females in the region, who, Zahir said, generally had a hard time finding work, but Zahir saw a flaw in the model. Often the middlemen liaising between the women and the consumer were taking more than their fair share. Zahir started The Argan Tree Beauty Cooperative in 2010 with 18 employees. Now he employs 60, all of whom are women. The cooperative is based in Agadir, the capital of the region, and produces a full line of beauty products which are then marketed and sold directly to American consumers online. Driven by a strong social mission, The Argan Tree returns 100 percent of the profits to its producers. Zahir initially struggled in branding the company and turned to Andy Chen (2010) for help. Andy assisted Zahir in creating a successful brand and marketing strategy.



Previous and Above Members of The Argan Tree cooperative busy at the task of extracting argan oil, 2012. Photo credit: Zahir Dossa. Right Vida coach and application display. Background Photo: Giuseppe Milo.

Currently, Zahir is completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the International Institute for Management Development Business School in Switzerland. He is also coauthoring a book on sustainable business models, and is in the process of developing other ventures. Moving forward, he hopes to continue establishing sustainable projects that contribute to international development. The Argan Tree is not Zahir’s first startup. He started in Sudan where he cofounded an organization to distribute low-tech, inexpensive irrigation pumps to low-income farmers. Although that venture eventually failed because of the Darfur crisis and the political upheaval in Sudan, Zahir remained persistent in his pursuits to establish sustainable enterprises, which is ultimately what led him to Morocco. Zahir credits his upbringing and immigrant experience for instilling in him the values that guide his vision today. As a Canadian American raised in Texas by parents of Indian heritage who had settled in Tanzania and then fled during the socialist regime, he understands the value of having opportunities. His goal is to give that same opportunity— to achieve whatever one desires—to as many people as possible.

The New American

Article by Amal Elbakshar (2015), JD candidate at Harvard University Vida founded by connie chen (2008) Seeing one patient at a time is certainly important work, but are there ways to deliver health care on a broader scale? This is a question that Connie Chen has relentlessly pursued in making the leap from clinical medicine to health care entrepreneurship. It is also the question that underpins Vida, an organization Connie cofounded and of which she now serves as chief medical officer. Vida is a model of health care with four key components: a mobile app that provides a platform for health education and tracking health data points, a national network of coaches who build relationships with patients, a library of clinical programs, and a novel web-based technology to better track interactions between coaches and their patients. Vida breathes new life into the old problem of promoting behavior change, healthy lifestyles, and treatment adherence in the management of chronic disease. Taking advantage of technology, the health startup makes health care part of its clients’ everyday lives, rather than something that is punctuated by huge gaps of time between doctor’s visits. Not all the coaches are doctors;

in fact, the majority hail from varied backgrounds such as nutrition, exercise physiology, personal training, and nursing. But they all share “empathy toward the realities of what it means to be chronically ill in this country,” Connie said. Vida’s ability to serve a wide swath of the population and solve previously intractable problems in the field of health care delivery is what most excites Connie about her position. Growing up as a second-generation Taiwanese immigrant, she was deeply influenced by her maternal grandfather’s career in medicine. He was born in a rural part of Taiwan and became one of the first surgeons in the area. Though he was offered numerous positions to lead hospitals in the big city, he chose instead to dedicate his life to growing a small program in his hometown. Like her grandfather, Connie has been faced with tough choices. Perhaps the hardest thus far has been choosing to focus her energy on a startup rather than practicing medicine as a doctor. When she was a freshman at Harvard, Connie took Paul Farmer’s global health seminar, which inspired her to pursue medicine and health policy in order to understand barriers to health care access and essential-medicines diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

2015–2016 edition volume x x

But it was at the University of California, San Francisco, where she attended medical school as a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, that she was exposed to the possibilities of making an impact on patients’ lives outside the clinic. She worked for HealthTap in its early stages, helping to democratize access to health knowledge via an online platform. She was f loored when over 10,000 doctors had written 100,000 tips and answers. This was her first real introduction to the “culture of making things.” The partnerships that formed Vida emerged during Connie’s time as a resident in internal medicine at Stanford University. It was there that she was immersed in the burgeoning Health 2.0 movement and the culture of innovation. Leaving clinical training was not an easy decision. Ultimately, however, it was the desire for impact on a larger scale that prompted her to take her skills into the startup world. “We’re at a unique time in digital health, with the Affordable Care Act, lots of discussion about value-based care, and changes to the way providers are delivering care in this country.” And Connie, through her startup Vida, plans to be at the frontlines of that transformation. Article by Amrapali Maitra (2013), MD/PhD candidate in anthropology at Stanford University


A Circle of Honoring Members of the Board of Trustees

The New American

when my father and mother founded the Fellowship program in 1997, they set out to build something brand new.

Introduction by Jeffrey Soros (Trustee)

My mother brought her energy, charisma, and decision-making prowess to the creative process. While my father, an engineer and pioneering CEO, knew how to lay the foundation of something that would not only be sustainable and lasting, but that would be significant and innovative as well. Together, they made a great team. Of course, one thing that made them an even better team was their desire to build the Fellowship with others; they wanted to bring the best minds to the table to create something truly innovative and impactful, and that’s just what they did. They looked to their incredible network of friends, which was full of leaders from across sectors, and saw the types of people they hoped their new program might help develop. Two of the founding board members, Catharine Stimpson and Lawrence McQuade, stepped off the board in the fall of 2014, after nearly 17 years of service. Both Kate and Larry were dear friends to my parents, but they also offered unparalleled professional experience. Kate had built academic programs at several universities, while Larry had worked at the highest levels of both business and government. We can’t thank Kate and Larry enough for all that they have brought to the Fellowship. They are truly extraordinary people and leaders. Taking their place on the board, are Kenneth Buckfire and Paul Holdengräber, two people who have so much to offer the Fellowship’s leadership. Ken leads a financial restructuring firm, and Paul is the director of programming at the New York City Public Library. They understand what it means to be a leader in the 21st century, and they both care deeply about the immigrant experience. We wanted to honor the contributions of Larry and Kate and introduce you to Ken and Paul, so we asked four Fellows to interview them. The full interviews will be on our brand-new website, but we’ve included a few highlights from their interviews here. From 1997 to 2013, the year my father passed away, the great pleasure of working with the board was being part of a team that cared about and respected not only the Fellowship, but one another. Since 2013, the board, and the organization as a whole, has become even more important because it is a circle of friends that is committed to seeing my father’s vision through—just as each and every Fellow does as he or she leads an extraordinary life.

2015–2016 edition volume x x


immigrants, and the life they had made as New Americans. I was also impressed by their philanthropy and their adamant insistence on giving back.

NEWS FROM THE BOARD Outgoing Board Members

On what the board has achieved You might ask, what has the program as a whole achieved? The board is only a part of it. The board is a legal governing structure under the leadership of the family, and I would say it has realized two primary achievements.

Honoring Catharine Stimpson Throughout her career, Catharine Stimpson has excelled in multiple arenas while preparing others to do the same. When Paul and Daisy first asked Kate to join the board, in 1998, she was the director of the MacArthur Foundation’s Fellows Program. Like many of the Fellows, Kate has not limited herself to one profession; she built her career as a graduate dean, professor, and an early architect of the field of women’s studies at Barnard College, Rutgers University, and New York University. Here are a few highlights from our interview. On her early work with the Fellowship I was just finishing up with MacArthur when Soros started, and when Paul and Daisy asked me to be on the board, I found it irresistible. I wanted to make it a priority. One reason was because of the family itself—Jeffrey (Paul and Daisy’s son) and I had served together at Creative Capital, which gives grants and fellowships to artists, and I had a lot of respect and affection for him. And Paul and Daisy themselves I found to be magnificent human beings—people with such integrity and courage—and the opportunity to work with them was an honor. I also thought their purpose was compelling: the chance to be able to support the policies of immigration and the goals of specific new Americans was an opportunity that doesn’t come along that often. It was an honor to be asked. On her memories of Paul and Daisy They had quite different personalities. Paul was very courtly, while Daisy is famously effervescent. I admired their backgrounds, their courage in coming to America as new

The New American

One is helping to counteract anti-immigration frenzy, showing that immigration is a powerful and positive thing for the United States, and that New Americans are powerful and positive citizens. Our first achievement is in supporting that very important idea. Secondly; just look at the Fellows themselves: “By their fruits you shall know them.” The fruits of the foundation are the lives and careers of the particular Fellows. That’s the test of any fellowship. On being in the late stages of her career and her career advice to Fellows Ha! I hate that term, late stage—really, it’s a new beginning. A career is a long game. In working with arts organizations and artists, I see that question arise of how to remain faithful to yourself. In many fellowship programs—I saw this in MacArthur—people who win a fellowship compare themselves to the others and think I’m not living up; what are they going to think of me; I must be the choice who shouldn’t have been made. MacArthur Fellows have actually said all these things to me. These doubts go with the territory. Did I deserve this? Am I as good? Am I one of their mistakes? Just go with it and trust that you’re not a mistake. In the end, I have two really important things to say, especially for Fellows who have worked so hard and have such honorable ambitions. One: failure is inevitable. Trial and error consists of two words; trial and error. Don’t be afraid. You’re not broken by one failure. Two: Don’t forget the importance of kindness. What goes around comes around. Always remember to be kind. Interview by Janani Sreenivasan (2004), writer, performer, and filmmaker in Brooklyn

they do. They hired the right person to pull it together, Warren Ilchman. He knew how to bring their ideas to fruition. I had lunch with him, and that convinced me. He did a fantastic job because he knew the college system, he knew how to evaluate people, and he worked for two people who recognized how his capabilities matched up with what the Fellowship needed. Warren was powerful, useful, and necessary in getting the Fellowships the start that it needed.

Honoring Lawrence C. McQuade Several years ago, I had the honor of serving on the board of the Fellowship, with Lawrence C. McQuade. Larry, a lawyer by training, worked at the top of both the business and government sectors, and often at the intersection of the two. From 1963 to 1969, he served under four secretaries of the Commerce Department, learning skills that would help him later as a chief executive and investment banker. Our conversation reminded me of how fortunate we all are as Fellows to have the opportunity to learn from such extraordinary role models. Here are a few highlights from our conversation. Previous Spread Chitra Aiyar (2002) moderates a Fellows A ssociation discussion with Trustee Catharine Stimpson, 2014. Photo: Julie Brown. Opposite Outgoing Trustee Catharine Stimpson at a Fellows Association event, 2014. Photo: Julie Brown. Above Right Outgoing Trustee Lawrence McQuade at former Director Warren Ilchman’s goodbye party, 2011. Photo: Christopher Smith.

On Paul and Daisy and the origin of the Fellowship Paul and Daisy conquered extraordinarily difficult times and stayed true to their principles. They lived for other human beings, really. They were innovators and had the talents and wisdom to make a considerable success, and they chose to spend their money to help people develop their own capacities. The Fellowships help young people make America the opportunity for success that it was for Paul and Daisy. Even by now, their graduates are starting to be consequential to America’s growth as a governmental entity and in all the arts and disciplines that make up a complicated society like ours. Paul and Daisy are international in their understanding of how the world works, positive and selfless. They have a wonderful spirit, which the Fellowship did not create but which the Fellowship helps grow. On the Fellowship in the early years It began unknown. I think we were very fortunate to hire the right person. When Paul and Daisy go after something, that’s what

2015–2016 edition volume x x

Every year, the community of immigrants and their children would get to know the Fellowship a little bit better. We began to get stature. But even at the beginning we had high-quality choices for Fellows. On the type of Fellows who have stood out most to Larry There is one category, which is music. That’s one category where, if you’re really good, you don’t need 20 years of experience to show off! On the confirmation of Vivek Murthy (1998) as the US Surgeon General That’s what should happen. These are fantastic people, and as the world goes on, they are able to have full careers. That’s what should happen and what does happen. I just get dazzled by all of the Fellows making their individual marks of excellence on this country and the world! On what’s been most fun about working with the Fellowship Being with the Fellows! Is there something better? On his hopes for the future of the Fellowship I do not have a confident answer. The inevitable challenge is to adapt as the world changes yet to maintains the elements that have guided it to success so far. On his advice to Fellows as they move on in their careers Be true to yourself and to the kind of principles which Paul and Daisy Soros epitomize. I think the overwhelmingly important thing is that if you have talent and energy and you have principles, which Paul had and Daisy has, and which are always at the core of what they did, you will always be a success by my standard, whether or not you make a lot of money or run a company. Interview by Nusrat Choudhury (2004), ACLU Racial Justice Program staff attorney


On his own immigrant story


My family came from Europe. My family came over under very difficult circumstances. My grandparents were refugees. I’m a generation and a half American. We’re all very grateful. I feel very indebted to the US for what they’ve done for my grandfather and everyone else. On the lessons he learned from his grandparents and parents

Incoming Board Members

Meet Kenneth Buckfire

I was raised from the early days that it’s extremely important to make the world a better place. There’s an old Jewish principle that you ought to make the world better every day, and I chose to do that through my work in restructuring.

Kenneth Buckfire is one of the two new board members of The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships.

On his work for Detroit during the bankruptcy

Like many Fellows, Ken has led an incredibly successful career spanning both the public and private sectors. Currently, he is the copresident of Miller Buckfire, a New York-based firm focused on financial restructuring. There, he has advised clients in a wide range of industries, including companies in the energy, food products, building products, and broadcasting sectors, among others.

When the opportunity came up to help restructure Detroit, I felt very good about it. It was an incredibly difficult assignment, but I am glad that we got to go back home and do something like that. I believe in the principle that “if your work isn’t making the world a better place, find something else to do.” More broadly, it’s one of the reasons to do what I chose to do. We can really make a difference.

We share Detroit as a hometown; a city I watched him shepherd through Chapter 9 bankruptcy between 2012 and 2014. It was the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history. Here are a few highlights from my conversation with Ken.

On what he has learned from public sector restructuring work more broadly

On his relationship with Paul Soros Paul was a remarkable guy. He was brilliant, kind, and insightful. He also had no illusions about the way the world works. He sincerely believed that he had been given so much by the United States and that he had an obligation to provide the same opportunities to others.

It’s easier now to do public-private work than 20 years ago. People in both sectors have a much greater sense of mutual appreciation. You have many examples these days of how the application of public sector thinking has actually worked out. You are seeing, for instance, people in the private sector looking at well-run public sector enterprises. It’s not true, and it’s never been true that the public sector has been inherently inefficient. On approaching the world with an interdisciplinary lens

On why he is serving as a Trustee The board had meant so much for Paul. I want to keep that relationship going. I’m here to help Daisy and the others carry out Paul’s legacy. That’s what serving on the board means to me. On what he would like to see implemented as a Trustee Paul wanted to have as deep a reach into the cadre of New Americans as possible. I would like to see awareness of the Fellowships increased across the country, especially outside of the coasts.

The New American

We live in a complex world, and we have to be nimble thinkers capable of looking outside our immediate worldviews. The Fellows’ diversity of backgrounds speaks to the Fellowship’s real strength in bringing people with interesting backgrounds. The fact that the Fellowship looks for mathematicians, musicians, and writers is great. You can’t look at the world anymore and believe that it’s understandable from one intellectual prism, and it’s great that the Fellowship recognizes this. Interview by Richard Tao (2014), senior advisor to the mayor of Detroit

On how his story led him to his career at the New York Public Library

Meet Paul Holdengräber

Opposite New PD Soros Trustee Kenneth Buckfire, 2013. Photo: Kathleen Galligan/ Detroit Free Press/ZUMA. Above Right New Trustee Paul Holdengräber in conversation with Jay Z and Cornel West, 2010. Photo: Jori K lei n / The New York Public Library. Next The very expressive PD Soros class of 2013 with Daisy Soros at the Fall Conference in N YC, 2014. Photo: Christopher Smith.

I learned early on, from my parents, that I needed to fend for myself, that I needed to learn how to speak to everyone. The various languages that we learned—English, French, German, and Spanish, more or less all simultaneously—obviously contributed to that sense of not necessarily having a mother tongue but several father tongues. It also contributed to the fact that now I’m able to speak to Patti Smith or Zadie Smith, Ricky Jay or Jay Z, the library guards or the board of trustees: everyone has a story to tell. I think that being exposed to so many different places and so many different stories, and coming from a family where you were never allowed either to be bored or to feel entitled—I think that contributed greatly.

When I spoke with the Fellowship’s newest board member, Paul Holdengräber, it was clear that he has the rare pleasure of being situated on an undimmed horizon of the world around him. As director of the New York Public Library’s public programming and founder of LIVE from the NYPL, Paul uses conversation as a way of curating culture in its fullest sense.

On interviewing for the Fellowship

Not content with talking with a handful of writers or academics, he has organized and conducted interviews with figures as wideranging as Umberto Eco, Patti Smith, Werner Herzog, Jay Z, and President Clinton. He came to the position after having founded the Institute for Arts and Culture at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He had done so after leaving an academic life— he has a PhD in comparative literature from Princeton University and has held several academic positions.

I’m always reminded of what Napoleon said of one of his generals, “He knew everything and nothing else.” I think it’s really important to develop our interests and to expose yourself to many, many different influences and to step outside your areas of specialization.

Here are a few highlights from our interview. On his own family’s immigrant story I come from a very colorful family, from a family that has traveled great distances. My parents are Viennese, my grandparents were Romanian and Polish, and my parents left Vienna just in time. My father is still alive. I’m actually going to see him next week in Brussels. He’s turning 97 very soon. It makes my wife despair, just how much more of me there is. I’m genetically so well predisposed, she has another half century with me. My parents were married a little over 70 years, my mother died about a year and a half ago. They left Vienna and spent the war years in Haiti. There was a very small Jewish community in Haiti. They went from Haiti to Mexico City. I was born in Houston, Texas. And then we lived in a half dozen countries in Europe.

2015–2016 edition volume x x

One of the aspects I always seek when I interview someone for a Fellowship is, how capacious are their interests? I think it’s very important to be focused, but, as I said earlier, I think there is a true relationship between having interests and being interesting.

On his leadership on the Fellowship’s board I think it’s important that knowledge of this Fellowship reaches communities that may not know about its existence and the possibilities it offers. That I think is very important and something that I think the board is eager to see happen, and I’m just a very recent acquisition of the board. On the Fellowship as a whole I think first of all the Fellowship is such an extraordinarily enlightened idea that has lasted now nearly two decades. It’s an extraordinary gift to invest in someone quite that young and permit many of the Fellows to follow their bliss, to pursue their course of study without too much worry of the financial burden it might place on them. I think that is extraordinary. Interview by Nishant Batsha (2013), PhD candidate at Columbia University





fellows as of 2015


countries represented


total views on the ted talk by nadine burke harris (1999), on trauma and health

100+ cities fellows live in today


number of hbo’s GIRLS episodes cowritten by jason kim (2011)

250 10 million to 1

million dollars raised by oscar, cofounded by kevin nazemi (2009)

odds of finding four quasars as close together as the ones joseph hennawi (2000) discovered with his team at the max planck institute for astronomy

The New American

PDSFA Steering Committee 2015–2016 The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows Association is dedicated to helping alums and current Fellows stay connected both in friendship and professionally. Want to host or attend an event? Looking to get or be a mentor? Want advice on connecting with other Fellows? E-mail us at! Dena Simmons


2010 Fellow



2010 Fellow Treasurer

Alex Iftimie

Jason Kim

2009 Fellow

2011 Fellow





Juan Jofre

Nina Rastogi

2011 Fellow

2007 Fellow





Sejal Hathi 2013 Fellow Second-Year Representative

executive editor Nikka Landau Beaugard contributing editor Craig Harwood associate editor Yulian Ramos design Isometric Studio printer Meridian Printing cover photo Damon Winter/The New York Times/Redux

2015–2016 edition volume x x


The New American 2015-2016  

The 2015-2016 edition of The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans annual newsletter.

The New American 2015-2016  

The 2015-2016 edition of The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans annual newsletter.

Profile for pdsoros