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The New American 2014–2015 edition volume xix

board of trustees


Daisy M. Soros Chairman

From the Director


Applications for the Class of 2015


The Fellowship with Heart: An Interview with Daisy Soros by Aarti Shahani 2010 Fellow


Class of 2014 Biographies


A Belated Goodbye by Irina Linetskaya 2002 Fellow


In the Country in Which My Parents Were Raised: Three Reflections in Memory of Paul Soros


Living the Questions: Prabhjot Singh’s Journey by Margaret Crane


Seeing Differently: The World Through New American Eyes by Margaret Crane


The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows’ Association Updates


Jeffrey P. Soros President Peter A. Georgescu Ann Kirschner David E. McKinney Lawrence C. McQuade N.J. Nicholas Jr. Marianna B. Ofosu Peter R. Soros Catharine R. Stimpson administration Craig Harwood Director Yulian Ramos Deputy Director

From the Director as i sit down to write these words, the summer sun is shining in New York City, and fall feels deceptively far away. I remind myself that this issue of The New American will be in your hands at the start of the academic year, when the pace of life, work, teaching, and learning quickens dramatically. For now, I’ll take the opportunity to match summer’s slower rhythm and reflect on the year just past. Since my arrival last August as the new director of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, I’ve been working hard to learn the rich history and culture of the fellowships and fill some pretty big shoes in the process. Working with the guidance of the Board of Directors and the advice of many fellows, my team and I have continued to nurture the traditions that distinguish the Fellowships as shaped by the program’s visionary founders, Paul and Daisy Soros, their sons Jeffrey and Peter, and its two inspired former directors, Warren Ilchman and Stanley Heginbotham. Throughout, Deputy Director Yulian Ramos has provided sage advice and steadfast support. As we look toward the future, it’s clearer to me than ever that building on this legacy is just as important as celebrating our many accomplishments, past and present. That’s just as true in the lives and careers of individuals as it is in organizations like ours. On the communications front, we’re pulling together an exciting strategy. We’re building our capacity to spread news about the groundbreaking work of our fellows across a broad range of traditional and new media. In addition, we’re preparing to revamp our website, building a new technological infrastructure that will allow fellows to receive and share news, stay connected, and communicate more easily. We also understand the importance of keeping the identity of the Fellowships up-to-date. We’ve retained a top-flight graphic design firm, headed by a Paul & Daisy Soros fellow, no less, to refresh our visual identity. Our renewed look will underscore our focus on the incredible

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journeys our fellows have taken to pursue their education and their dreams. Check out this very publication and see what you think of our efforts thus far! Alongside communications and visual identity, the diversity of the fellowship is a top priority. For everyone involved with the Fellowships, diversity is so much more than an abstract principle. The entire Fellowship benefits from having as wide an array of voices as possible at the table. Through our commitment to diversity, we honor and celebrate promise, talent, and achievement. In the coming years, we will do our utmost to ensure that the Fellowship represents the most deserving individuals from the broadest possible range of personal, intellectual, and educational backgrounds. It is a privilege to tell the story of the Fellowships to students and faculty at colleges and universities across the country. Our mission and our message are so powerful and so inspiring that it’s an honor to share them. That’s just one reason why I enjoy my job so much. But there’s a more obvious reason for my delight in being here: the opportunity to build relationships— to become part of the lives of our fellows, to support them in getting to know each other, and to collaborate with such a dedicated community of scholars and leaders. May we all continue to think, work, and grow together during the new academic year!

Craig Harwood, director


The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship liberated me from the traditional path I was expected to follow. Unburdened from debt & energized by peers who were taking the road less traveled, I have been able to thrive. —Shantanu Gaur, 2009 Fellow

The New American

Applications for the Class of 2015 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 in a U.S. graduate program. For more information and to apply online, go to A PPLICATIONS DUE

November 1, 2014 FINA LISTS A N NOU NCED

Early January 2015 FINA LIST IN TERV IEWS

January 28— February 6, 2015


A New American (a naturalized citizen, a green card holder, or approved for DACA if born abroad; a child of naturalized citizens if born in this country). Not yet 31 years old, as of the application deadline. A college senior or holder of a bachelor’s degree. Not beyond your second year—if already enrolled—in the graduate degree program for which you request support.


Early March, 2015


The program values a commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Fellowship promotes a strong sense of community amongst fellows and alumni through fall conferences and numerous events held throughout the country.

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An Interview with Daisy Soros


The Fellowship with

By Aarti Shahani, 2010 Fellow

Why start a fellowship? You could have started an issue-based non-profit or dedicated yourself to the arts. We were doing very well financially, and even though my husband was an engineer, he didn’t like the bricks and mortar. He did not like names on buildings. So we started talking about where to put our money. We were people-oriented. People are tangible. That’s the conclusion he came to after a week of thinking about it. So the fellowship was just an engineer’s calculation about good design? No, of course not—it was very personal. Paul arrived in this country with $18 and a camera. It was after he defected from the 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He’d been a member of the Hungarian National Ski Team. He was accepted to Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. The cost was $20 per point in each subject. Someone told him that at Brooklyn Polytechnic, it was better, $13 a point. So he went there and had a hand-to-mouth existence. He’d eat just an

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Fellows keep in touch. When my husband died, I got at least a hundred letters from them. Not just: “I’m sorry.” Real letters.

apple for some of his meals. He always said if someone just gave him ten thousand dollars, his life would have been different. Having a higher lifestyle, especially while studying, was what he wanted for others. You both ended up being very successful. Maybe life would have been easier. But you don’t seem to value easy lives—at least not if you look at whom you fund. One of our first fellows was Lera Auerbach. She is a Russian, a concert pianist. She won the Pushkin Prize in Poetry. She is erudite, accomplished. An intellectual with a sense of humor. She paints and sculpts. She writes operas.

Previous Daisy M. Soros. Courtesy of Opposite Paul and Daisy Soros greet fellows at the tenth anniversary retreat. Photo: Christopher Smith.

And what drives her? She suffered a huge loss. At a young age, she left her parents back in Russia. They couldn’t send her anything more than books. And she even lost all of that, in a fire, along with all her manuscripts. She spoke at my husband’s memorial. I’m impressed by people who know how to bear their losses, stand up to problems or rejections. Is this fellowship your husband’s main legacy? Besides his grandchildren and the things he built, he created a whole new method of port installations and a loading and unloading bulk materials system with projects in more than 100 countries. My husband was a very unique person. Engineers usually think in the box. It’s black and white. He wasn’t like that. His mind jumped between disciplines. In his field, Paul was a giant. But engineering was not as popular as law and economics. His character was that of an introvert. He wouldn’t say, “you’re the most wonderful, beautiful woman.” He wasn’t a social butterfly at all. Just a wise man with a twinkle in his eye. (It’s true. His eyes really did twinkle.) He sounds quite different from his little brother George in

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terms of personality and approach to philanthropy. Yes. George wanted to be a philosopher all his life. He had his idols and ideas. Paul was very into concrete things. They both belonged to the Council on Foreign Relations. One day a guy came up to them and told them how they look so much alike. My husband said, “except for our profiles. My brother has a high one. I have a low one.” They both believed in taking risks. Paul was once honored at his alma mater. He was already in a wheelchair then. He spoke to the students about entrepreneurship and told them, “Don’t ever be a corporate VIP.” The head of AT&T was the speaker right after him. It wasn’t his most diplomatic moment! You talk a lot about your husband. Any part of your story I should know? I had deportation proceedings against me for a few years. I came as a student. And I was to go to UCLA and marry somebody in California. But I got as far as New York and realized I wouldn’t go further. So I had to find a university to take me. Columbia took me. Then I got married to Paul and stopped going to school. I was on a student visa. They wanted to deport me, and my husband’s papers couldn’t help me because of some quirk in the law. I was told, “If you are in trouble, see your congressman.” And so I did. It was Lester Holtzman. I was 22. There had to be a way for me. And we found it. He put in a private bill for me so I could stay in this country. A private bill is a law passed by Congress, which applies only to a specific person. It’s an extraordinary feat. You got the entire Congress to agree? Yes. This was in 1952. It was a very different time. What’s your take on immigration reform? Will it pass?

I don’t think it’ll pass, and I don’t understand why. Maybe it’s jealousy or a superiority complex. I believe the mindset among some people is no different from anti-Semitism in a way. Look what they’re doing to the poor children trying to come here. The fellowship community is an immigrant community. If Congress called on you to testify, what would you tell them? Oh my goodness: here is the living proof! Here are the two-legged people—all immigrants and their children—serving this country. We have 15 clerks for Supreme Court Justices, presidential speechwriters, an ambassador, many inventors, amazing musicians, and the next Surgeon General of the U.S., if confirmed. The original ones who came on the Mayflower— did they do so much better than my fellows? No. Congress should have to hear something like that. I brought my sister to a PD Soros event once. She joked: “It’s who you’d imagine the president would put in a room if a meteor hit Earth and a tiny group

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had to be salvaged to reproduce the human race.” That’s cute. The PD Soros fellowship is backed by a $75 million charitable trust. It’s clearly a long-term project. What’s the next step? I don’t just give and forget. I like to hold onto the people. I care what their future will be. I asked a fellow who got the Rhodes and our Fellowship about the difference between the two. He said: “yours has a heart.” I like that. Fellows keep in touch. When my husband died, I got at least a hundred letters from them. Not just: “I’m sorry.” Real letters. I want this to be a group in the intellectual world. In medicine, law, composing, painting— a select group who started off pretty much at the same level and soared to their potential. Aarti Shahani, 2010 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, is a technology correspondent for NPR. This interview has been edited and condensed.


2014 Class of

The 2014 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

Carlos Estrada Alamo

Award to support work toward an MD and an MBA

Born in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, Carlos came to the United States at age five with his parents. Living in a poor, multi-ethnic community, he observed a lack of basic health care and a general fear of healthcare providers. It struck him that these impeded immigrants’ progress in society. Curious to learn about health care delivery, Carlos began volunteering in the Emergency Room at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center when he was in high school. The staff

allowed him to assist and, watching the trauma team’s dedication, he decided to devote his life to medical care and management. As an undergraduate at the University of Washington, Carlos pursued degrees in bioengineering and biochemistry while working as a Medical Assistant in the Emergency Room at Harborview Medical Center. For his senior bioengineering capstone project, he joined a research lab to develop a novel HIV diagnostic system for the developing world. Currently, Carlos is studying for an MD degree at Harvard Medical School, where he is co-chair of the Latino Medical Student Association. In order to pursue his goal of improving health care delivery, he plans to combine his medical degree with an MBA, and has already conducted quality improvement research at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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Mike Alvarez

Award to support work toward a PhD in communications

The social stigma of mental illness is Mike’s subject of investigation. Having spent time in the mental health system himself, he would like to help increase public understanding of psychiatric disorders. Mike was ten when his family left their comfortable lifestyle in the Philippines to move to a rough neighborhood in Jersey City. The transition proved bumpy, to say the least. After several months, Mike’s father went home, leaving his mother as the family’s sole support.

Instilled with a love for learning, Mike excelled at school—but a rift was opening up in his mental world. As an undergraduate at Rutgers University, he suffered from debilitating anxiety that turned into horrifying delusions and a suicide attempt. A hospital stay was a turning point, steering him toward the study of mental health. Mike’s senior thesis on the relationship between creativity and suicide won the Charles Flaherty award and was subsequently expanded into his master’s thesis at Goddard College. Mike is currently enrolled in the communications PhD program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he is studying the phenomenon of cybersuicide. Recognizing the power of personal narratives, he has also completed a memoir about his own journey through mental illness.

Yuri Boguinia

Award to support work toward a PhD in music composition

Growing up near Boulder, Colorado, Yuri would improvise songs, sometimes singing for hours. For him, music was the essence of life. Born in Stavropol, Russia, Yuri and his younger brother Vladislav immigrated to the United States in 2000 with their mother to avoid anti-Semitic persecution. When Yuri began studying violin and piano, his musical ability was instantly recognized. His brother, too, was a gifted musician. On hearing the brothers play, a local

piano teacher, Shirley Gendreizig, offered to instruct them both on full scholarship. Every so often, Yuri would bring a large stack of his compositions to his lessons. The accolades soon followed. At seventeen, Yuri won the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer award. At nineteen, he was awarded a scholarship by Michigan’s Interlochen Center for the Arts. A graduate of Juilliard, Yuri continues to grow, thrive, and rack up achievements. He has been commissioned by the Moscow String Quartet, the Temple de l’Oratoire du Louvre, and the Kronos String Quartet, and has performed at the Aspen Music Festival and Tanglewood. He is currently working toward his PhD in music composition at Princeton University. To encourage others, Yuri teaches students in East Harlem and the Bronx. Yuri and his brother are in the process of assembling the Like Philharmonic, an orchestra of young musicians.

Alexander L. Chen

Award to support work toward a JD

Alexander was born in Colorado, the son of Chinese immigrants. Having lived under Mao Zedong’s authoritarian rule, his parents encouraged Alexander to follow his dreams, and he studied English literature, first at Oxford University and then as a graduate student at Columbia University. At the same time, Alexander was becoming involved in trans activism, and a rift was opening between his public and private worlds. In an attempt to reconcile the two, he took a multidisciplinary course at Columbia, called Law and the Humanities. Writing about the historical relationship of trans people to health care and the law,

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Alexander realized he wanted a career in civil rights advocacy. Accordingly, he switched to a JD degree at Harvard Law School. At Harvard, Alexander aims to acquire the skills to combine litigation, policy work, and academic research to advance civil rights for trans people. Involved in legal advocacy efforts on campus, he has also written on trans issues for the Harvard Law Review. He interned with the ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project during the summer of 2013, and worked at the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and at the National Center for Transgender Equality during the summer of 2014.

Arnav Chhabra

Award to support work toward a PhD in medical engineering and medical physics

A passion for the study and practice of medicine runs in Arnav’s family. Before he and his parents moved to the United States in 2006, his father ran a clinic in India for the poor, and his mother was an oncologist. Arnav grew up listening to his grandfather’s stories about the discordance between suffering and coping resources during the violent 1947 partition of India and Pakistan.

resistance, and in 2009, he was first author on a paper published in the Anticancer Research Journal. Arnav’s interest in medical technology led him to the mechanical engineering program at the University of Texas-Austin, where he investigated nerve regeneration and biomedical polymers. After achieving a perfect 4.0 GPA, he began a PhD in medical engineering at Harvard Medical School and MIT. In graduate school, Arnav is creating an onchip model of the liver. The model will replicate the pathophysiology of human livers, thereby enabling noninvasive study. Arnav is receiving concurrent support from the National Science Foundation.

Coming to the U.S. as a teenager, Arnav began working as a researcher at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas in high school. His work there was so impressive that he was asked to lead a project investigating chemotherapy



Roxana Daneshjou

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

When Roxana’s parents immigrated to the United States from Tehran in the late 1970s, the Iranian revolution was gaining momentum. Influenced by her father’s love of science, Roxana went to the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science and was named a Siemens Westinghouse technology competition semifinalist.

world’s most pressing health problems. There, she helped develop the diagnostic lab-in-abackpack, a travel pack containing medical tools that could run on a solar-powered rechargeable battery. Roxana is now an MD/ PhD candidate at Stanford Medical School. Her work on anticoagulant sensitivity in African Americans was awarded a Howard Hughes medical fellowship, and she is the lead researcher on the Iranian Genomes Project, the first project to study Iranian ancestry through whole genome sequencing. Roxana is also an active member of Education Under Fire, a global campaign to protest the Iranian government’s policy of expelling Baha’is from its universities.

Then she went on to Rice University, where, as a Goldwater scholar, Roxana not only received a bioengineering degree but also taught Sunday school at the Houston Baha’i center. In addition, she joined Rice’s Beyond Traditional Borders, an interdisciplinary program where undergraduates seek solutions to the

Robert Fernandez

Award to support work toward a PhD in molecular biophysics and biochemistry

Born in Lima, Peru, Robert came to the United States with his parents when he was five. But although he excelled as a high school student, college seemed out of reach when his parents disclosed that he was undocumented. Undeterred, Robert found he could attend Union County Community College, where he was elected to Phi Theta Kappa, leading him to York College in the CUNY system. At York, Robert was recognized as an outstanding student in the sciences. He was awarded the Alliance/ Merck Ciencia National Scholarship and received the Distinguished Graduate Award. He also served as a peer

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tutor in biology and physics, teaching lab skills to more junior scientists. Last year, Robert reached another milestone when he became a permanent resident. After a summer internship in a molecular biology lab at Princeton University, he was accepted into the PhD program in biophysics, biochemistry and structural biology at Yale University, where he is planning on studying the importance of maintaining neuronal connections in the brain. Robert has been accepted to Yale’s selective Medical Research Scholars program and has joined the Yale Student Science Diplomats, which aims to create a scientifically informed community by making presentations to the lay public.

Dan Feng

Award to support work toward an MD

Born in southern China, Dan first arrived in the United States in 2007, having been offered a full scholarship for biomedical graduate study from the University of Pennsylvania. There, studying metabolism, she made a discovery that sheds light on why people doing shift work have a higher risk of metabolic disorders. The finding was published in the journal Science. While this research was rewarding, Dan valued the real-world experience that came from treating patients. Fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, she volunteered at Chinatown Medical Services, a low-cost clinic serving the local Chinese community.

Her clinical experiences cemented her desire to become a physicianscientist. Going to medical school seemed unrealistic at first. She couldn’t afford the tuition, and her undergraduate degree was from China—both serious impediments. Dan persevered with her dream, strengthened by faith in herself and help from others, including her extended family in New York. Now, Dan is studying at Stanford University School of Medicine, where she is exploring different research interests. She is a member of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association, and she continues to serve the Asian community at a free clinic in San Jose.

David Hanifi

Award to support continued work toward a PhD in chemistry

David grew up in Maine, the child of Afghan refugees who had fled Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. His family at first questioned the practicality of David’s choice to pursue a career in academic research. They have, however, come to appreciate his love of chemistry. As an undergraduate at University of CaliforniaBerkeley, David worked on projects involving nanocrystal composites and the fluorescent labeling of zebrafish embryo cells. Arguably, his most profound achievements came while teaching basic chemistry. David wowed middle-schoolers through local science demonstrations, and he and a partner devised a student-run course

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called Chemistry of Cooking, through which students not only learned chemistry but ate their experiments. Now a first-year student in the Materials Science Department at Stanford University, David aims to use his chemistry research to address climate change. He plans to study optoelectronic materials and develop low-cost quantum dot films that, if successful, could replace traditional solar powered devices for a fraction of the cost. Since Stanford’s Material Sciences Department was instrumental in designing the current generation of solar power technology, David considers himself well placed to be on the cutting edge of future innovations.

Laura Huober

Award to support work toward a master’s degree in environmental management and an MBA

As a child in Germany, Laura enjoyed climbing trees, building dams, and exploring the fields behind her house. Then, at eight, her life changed dramatically. Her mother joined a cult and moved Laura and her brother to Austin, Texas, where they lived in a city apartment in near-isolation. Home-schooled but barely educated, Laura was forced to be selfreliant. She devised her own curriculum and drew up schedules telling her when to study, eat, and play. But life worsened as her mother was drawn more deeply into the cult, and at 16, Laura decided to leave home.

Laura was able to enroll at Santa Monica College without having taken the GED, where she made up missed high school classes and thrived. She then transferred to Amherst College, where she majored in environmental studies and researched waste management in Accra, Ghana. After two years of working on sustainability issues for Pax World Mutual Funds, she is now pursuing a Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and an MBA at the Yale School of Management. She hopes to become a leader in the field of e-waste management. Dedicated to expanding educational opportunities for young Americans, Laura also works at a local community college as a transfer success volunteer.



Jessica Hwang

Award to support work toward a PhD in statistics

Born in Washington, D.C., Jessica grew up tagging along to the laboratories of her Taiwanese immigrant parents, both scientists. While her parents tended to whirring centrifuges, she would tackle the advanced math problems her mom had set for her. On Sundays, she attended Chinese-language school, an experience that gave her a lifelong love of languages and poetry. Ultimately, though, it was statistics that captured her heart.

section drew over a hundred people, and a larger room had to be found. She was subsequently invited to co-author a statistics textbook with her professor. Her work on the textbook won her the Thomas T. Hoopes prize for best senior thesis. She accomplished all this while managing a fifty-person student orchestra and tutoring immigrant students. Last year, Jessica enrolled in the statistics PhD program at Stanford University. A member of the university’s Statistics for Social Good working group, she aims to partner with advocacy groups and explore how statistics can be used to identify and address social problems.

Sundeep Iyer

Award to support work toward a JD

Born in New Jersey, Sundeep is the son of Indian immigrants. His parents came to America in the 1970s, leaving behind families that they felt dutybound to support. Through their example, Sundeep learned the moral value of helping others. Democratic ideals excited Sundeep from an early age. Proud of the American system, he nonetheless grew concerned while studying government as a Harvard undergraduate. As he learned about the dangers of redistricting, he encouraged the low-income middleschoolers he was volunteer-teaching to fight for their rights.

As a Harvard undergraduate, Jessica achieved top honors in PhD level classes and worked as a teaching fellow for an introductory probability class. Rather than attracting the typical five to ten students, her

After graduating from Harvard, Sundeep

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worked for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, a non-partisan thinktank where he directed statistical research to evaluate democratic reforms. His research was used in several federal voter rights cases, and his work has been cited in The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, and the National Review. In 2011, he founded the Statistical Reform in Redistricting Project, whose data have been used by the Sunlight Foundation and Georgia’s Legislative Black Caucus. Now, Sundeep is studying for a JD at Yale Law School. By integrating academic research with real-world litigation, Sundeep hopes to become an effective voice in safeguarding democracy.

Natalie Jesionka

Award to support work toward a PhD in sociology

Born in New Jersey to Polish immigrant parents, Natalie grew up listening to her mother tell stories about the challenges of life under Communism. Appreciating that her mother’s dreams had been sacrificed for her family, Natalie was determined to help people around the world realize their ambitions. As an undergraduate at Rutgers University, she founded the PRIZM Project, a global human rights education organization for young women. Natalie also worked to shed light on untold human rights stories, flying across the world to research and report on issues such as refugee rights and human trafficking.

After receiving her master of science degree in global affairs, Natalie served as a Fulbright scholar in Thailand, researching stateless hill tribes and examining the origins of human trafficking. Her work led to a partnership with Shine Global, an Oscar Award-winning nonprofit production company, on the upcoming documentary film Selling Our Daughters. Today, Natalie serves on the Board of Directors of Amnesty International USA. She writes the column “Travel Mirror” for The Daily Muse and is the editor of Shatter the Looking Glass, an online magazine that focuses on ethical travel. Ever energetic, she is pursuing a PhD in sociology at The New School and plans to become a leading authority on human trafficking.

Julia Jezmir

Award to support work toward an MD

Julia would like to change the way health care is delivered. Instead of an acute model, where patients seek care during extreme illness, she envisages preventive measures enacted through addressing upstream causes of illness and enlisting the support of community organizations. Julia was three when her parents, fleeing antiSemitism, left Russia for the United States. Arriving with limited means, her family began anew. Through support from relatives and an active Jewish community, Julia learned the concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world through social action. Soon her parents, though struggling themselves, joined efforts to help other Soviet refugees.

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After completing her bachelor’s degree at Boston University, Julia worked in public health. She joined Partners In Health, an international healthcare organization, focusing on tuberculosis control in Russia. After two years there, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to work with AMPATH, a healthcare NGO, to help improve early detection of TB in Kenya. Now a student at Stanford’s School of Medicine, Julia continues to address the needs of underserved patients. She co-founded Patient Partners, a student-run program to facilitate patients’ transitions home from the hospital and reduce hospital readmissions, and she works on advocacy to improve access to mental health services. As a future physician-advocate, she hopes to enact tikkun olam by designing measures to facilitate patient empowerment, promote health equity, and improve health outcomes.

George Karandinos

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in medical anthropology

Activism and idealism run deeply through George’s family history. During World War II, his great-grandfather joined the Greek anti-Nazi resistance as a medic and was tortured and executed by German soldiers. In 1973, his sixteen-yearold father was beaten and arrested by military police during a student uprising that helped end Greece’s military dictatorship a year later.

suffering imposed by poverty both in the U.S. and in his parents’ native Greece. To understand the social processes restricting the life chances of the U.S. poor more fully, George moved to a Philadelphia immigrant neighborhood at the heart of the city’s heroin and cocaine markets during his sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania. He lived there until beginning medical school at Harvard. He is now taking a year’s leave from medical school to co-author a book, Cornered, drawing on his experience in Philadelphia as a basis for examining the narcotics economy and its effect on public health. Then it will be back to Harvard, where he will continue his joint MD/PhD.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, George has pursued his ideals in a more peaceful context. His father left the family when he was twelve, and his single mother worked in urban communities as a psychiatric social worker. George saw first-hand the



Daniel Kim

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in cancer biology

The son of Korean immigrants, Daniel moved to California with his parents when he was seven. His grandfather was a farmer, and his father was the first in his family to get a college education. Growing up in Silicon Valley, Daniel admired his father’s meticulous approach to his work as a semiconductor engineer.

As his passion was taking shape, though, Daniel took a leave of absence from school to take care of his father, who was battling cancer. Realizing that research was a crucial tool in improving patients’ lives, Daniel met with his father’s doctor and arranged to work in her laboratory. Though he hadn’t previously done biomedical research, he was soon overseeing a study repurposing the anti-fungal agent itraconazole as a targeted therapy for skin cancer. After his father’s health returned, Daniel went back to Harvard with renewed ambition. Daniel is in his first year of a joint MD/PhD program at the Yale School of Medicine and looks forward to a career as a physician-scientist involved in the fight against cancer.

Mona Lotfipour

Award to support work toward an MD

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Mona was acutely aware of the sacrifices her parents had made to give her opportunities not afforded to girls in their native Iran. Upon arriving in the U.S., her parents worked minimum-wage jobs with no health benefits. Seeing them struggle, Mona chose her path: to help the disadvantaged get access to legal services and health care. While at Franklin and Marshall (F&M), Mona began realizing this goal through weekly visits to a maximum-security prison, where she and a partner interviewed asylum seekers from Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire. The two subsequently launched the AID Project, an online database of human rights reports, aimed at

Daniel started his undergraduate career at Harvard determined to make a difference in health care. He served as co-president of both Harvard College Red Cross and Team HBV, a group that educates the Asian and Pacific Islander community in Boston about the hepatitis B virus.

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assisting future immigration cases. Knowing how helpful tax credits had been to her parents, Mona founded the F&M Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, in which students volunteered to help members of the local community with their tax returns. Mona also designed and launched ONE Goal, a sports-based public health education program in South Africa. In 2011, Mona traveled to Ireland as a George J. Mitchell scholar, doing a master of science in equality studies at University College Dublin. Now a medical student at Pennsylvania State College of Medicine, Mona plans to continue her work for the advancement of global health care.

Patricia Nguyen

Award to support work toward a PhD in performance studies

Patricia understands deeply how trauma is inherited. Consequently, she has committed her life’s work to cultivating spaces for healing and political empowerment. Equally versed in sociology, politics, and the performing arts, she has used art to heal psychic wounds across political barriers. Growing up in Chicago, Patricia listened to stories of her parents’ lives before and after the war in Vietnam, from which her family ultimately escaped as boat refugees to Malaysia and Indonesia. They resettled in the United States in the 1980s. After earning her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Pomona College, Patricia went to Vietnam on a journey

of healing and reparation. In Vietnam, as a Fulbright scholar, she volunteered with the Pacific Links Foundation, an international NGO, where she founded the first arts education program for survivors of sex trafficking. In dealing with issues of censorship, Patricia used art as a vehicle into meaningful relationships with the women. Currently, Patricia is pursuing a PhD in performance studies at Northwestern University. She also volunteers with Asian Human Services in Chicago, where she facilitates dance and movement workshops for refugees and immigrants with mental health issues.

Ramya Parameswaran

Award to support work toward an MD and PhD in biophysical sciences

Growing up in the Bay Area, Ramya was a gifted violinist and performer of Bharatanatyam (South Indian classical dance). Ultimately, though, it was the excitement and rigor of science that won her heart. As a high school student, Ramya got her first exposure to scientific innovation during a summer internship at NASA. A few years later, as an undergraduate at Stanford University, her study of cancer in genetically engineered mice earned her the Firestone Medal, given for Stanford University’s top undergraduate theses. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Ramya has often found herself

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caught between two passions. Her parents and grandparents strongly encouraged her to excel in her academic pursuits. She also saw that women in communities all over the world, including South Asia, were often undervalued and mistreated. Seeing this gave Ramya a strong interest in women’s health, and influenced her decision to pursue a dual career as a research scientist and practicing physician. Now an MD/PhD student at the University of Chicago, she combines her research in nanoscale biomaterials that can interface with immune cells with time spent volunteering at the Maria Shelter for women and children on Chicago’s South Side.

Jassmin Poyaoan

Award to support work toward a JD and an MBA

Jassmin comes from a long line of resilient women. Her grandmother left school to support her family, raising herself from a domestic worker to a small business owner. Her mother emigrated from the Philippines to become a nurse in California and worked tirelessly to support the family. When Jassmin was almost twelve, her mother died, and her father could not cope. Jassmin and her sister were sent to the Philippines to live with their grandmother. There, Jassmin observed that even the brightest girls were forced by economic necessity to downscale their dreams. Determined not

to compromise, she returned to America at age seventeen, taking legal custody of her sister and responsibility for their sick grandmother. Jassmin attended Chabot College and then the University of California- Berkeley, where she studied sociology. As part of Oxfam’s ActionCorps, she lobbied the U.S. government for climate change policy after typhoon Ketsana devastated Manila. At home, Jassmin built capacity for immigrantowned small businesses and served with JusticeCorps, assisting low-income, selfrepresented litigants. Jassmin attends the UCLA School of Law, where she participates in programs in public interest law and policy and critical race studies. She will combine her JD with an MBA to help underserved communities rise above systemic poverty.



Azucena Ramos

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in biological and biomedical sciences

Born in Escondido, California, Azucena became a caregiver to her three younger sisters early on. In middle and high school, she excelled in math and discovered a love of science. A turning point came early in her life when her undocumented grandmother nearly died of pneumonia, unable to seek care. Seeing her grandmother suffer, Azucena vowed to become a doctor.

Beckman Scholar. Hoping to attract younger students to science, Azucena helped create an outreach program for elementary schools using age-appropriate chemistry and biology experiments. Following graduation, Azucena worked as a research assistant at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, where her work created new possibilities for understanding physiological blood formation, cancer, and cancer stem cells. Azucena is presently pursing an MD at Harvard Medical School and a PhD in biology at MIT. She plans to continue serving and empowering underprivileged communities through her volunteer work teaching sex education in Boston public schools and at Harvard’s studentrun clinic serving immigrant populations.

After high school, Azucena attended Smith College, where she grew determined to become a physician scientist. Her research and senior thesis on axon guidance in the zebrafish brain was awarded highest honors, and she was named a national

Sana Raoof

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in molecular oncology

As a Muslim teen, Sana faced a dilemma: She wanted to run track but dress modestly. She qualified for junior nationals four times in the 800-meter race and ran varsity track at Harvard College... in a boy’s uniform. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Sana was raised on Long Island. After studying knot theory at MIT, she won the Intel International science and engineering fair in 2008 and the Taiwan international science fair in 2009. In an effort to teach kids the chemistry of smoking versus running, Sana created a class, called BreatheStrong, in 2010. She also became editor-in-chief of the

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Harvard Science Review and the youngest ever keynote speaker for the American Mathematical Society. Her published thesis, which used statistical mechanics to model protein interactions, illuminated the process of antibody optimization. Sana represented Harvard at the World Debate Championships in Botswana, hoping to sharpen her persuasive skills to eventually fight tobacco-related illness through policy change. Her mother’s battle with breast cancer inspired Sana to enroll in Harvard-MIT’s MD/PhD program. She will study resistance mechanisms to targeted therapies for nonsmall cell lung cancer. Optimistic about the prospect of reducing the burden of cancer through tobacco legislation, Sana wrote a metaanalysis quantifying second-hand smoke exposure in cars and presented it to the American College of Chest Physicians in 2013.

Salmah Y. Rizvi

Award to support work toward a JD

Born in Indonesia, Salmah is the daughter of a Pakistani father and Guyanese mother. Raised as a Shia Muslim, Salmah was motivated to fight inequality from an early age. As a sophomore at Johns Hopkins University, Salmah founded and led the humanitarian relief organization Vision XChange, which produced competitive fundraising events to creatively combat injustices such as child soldier recruitment and human trafficking. Thereafter, she completed an MS in foreign service from Georgetown University while working for the U.S. Department of State and National Security Agency. She mastered multiple foreign languages

and impacted missions that countered terrorism, terrorist financing, and nuclear proliferation. Salmah was appointed the first chairwoman of the N.S.A. Islamic Cultural Employee Resource Group. She highlighted Muslims as assets to U.S. national security and led 92 analysts in advancing intelligence reporting on the Muslim world while also enhancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Salmah is currently pursuing a JD at New York University School of Law. She hopes to combine her legal, security, and nonprofit experience toward a role as an effective politician and civic leader in Baltimore, a city she loves and desires to support through innovative advocacy and reform.

Kevin Shenderov

Award to support work toward an MD

Kevin’s family fled Chernovtsy, the Ukrainian town south of Chernobyl where he was born, to seek medical care in the U.S. for illnesses developed after the 1986 nuclear disaster. Thanks to doctors in New York, both he and his older brother fully recovered. The experience left him eager to understand disease on a molecular level. As a high school student, Kevin began pursuing his goal by interning at a lab at Memorial SloanKettering Cancer Center. For four summers, he studied potential cancer vaccine targets, earning recognition as an Intel Science Talent Search semifinalist. This interest in immunology continued as he went on to study biochemistry

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at New York University. Following college, Kevin began a PhD in immunology through a joint program of the National Institutes of Health and Oxford University, with funding from a Rhodes Scholarship. Entering a doctoral program was particularly meaningful because his father, who graduated near the top of his class in physics in Russia, was denied a job due to anti-Semitism.

Richard Tao

Wanting to gain more insight into patient care, Kevin is currently pursuing an MD at Johns Hopkins University. He also serves as a board member of the Charm City Clinic, a free screening clinic for uninsured Baltimore residents.

At the age of five, Richard emigrated from Nanjing, China, to Detroit, Michigan. For years, Richard lived and attended school in a distressed and crimeridden neighborhood. Yet it was there, in Detroit’s Cass Corridor, that he developed a lifelong love for the Motor City. He attended high school in Troy, Michigan.

Award to support work toward a JD

lead him to Goldman Sachs, the Federal Trade Commission, and, after graduation, McKinsey & Company. Two years ago, Richard returned to Yale to pursue a JD. Detroit filed for bankruptcy less than a year later. That summer, Richard was in Detroit working for the local prosecutor’s office. After returning to school, he began supporting the Detroit Mayor’s Office with policy research. He has also continued to develop his financial skills at an investment management firm. On a recent trip home, Richard saw several new businesses in his old neighborhood. It was a small, inspiring step forward—one that he hopes to build upon in his future work.

As an undergraduate at Yale, Richard served as student body president, successfully advocating for reforms to Yale’s policies on financial aid and housing. An interdisciplinary law review published his award-winning thesis on the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments. Richard’s interests in public policy, economics, and business would



Khalil Tawil

Award to support work toward a JD and an MBA

The son of Lebanese immigrants, on September 11, 2011, Khalil watched in horror as the World Trade Center towers collapsed. Learning that Islamic extremists were responsible, he knew others would regard him differently. As an Arab-American, Khalil felt uniquely positioned to foster understanding. He enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he talked to his peers about the true nature of the Arab and Muslim worlds. After graduating, he conducted research on poverty reduction in Egypt on a Fulbright scholarship, earning a master’s degree in economics.

Khalil then served three tours of duty as an infantry officer in Afghanistan. The soldiers under his command came from housing projects and upper-class suburbs, from American Indian reservations and Midwestern farms. War, however, collapsed their differences as they fought to help each other survive. Most recently, he worked on the prosecutions of alleged international terrorists, including the high-profile trial of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators. Now working toward a JD at Yale and an MBA at Harvard, Khalil hopes to remain tied to the Middle East, building institutions that increase political and economic stability. He continues to work with Service to School, a non-profit organization he co-founded that assists veterans with continuing their education.

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Jonathan Tsai

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in developmental biology

Whether as a ChineseAmerican expatriate in Belgium or a Fulbright scholar in Israel, Jonathan has learned to value all facets of life. As the son of Chinese immigrants, Jonathan grew up in Silicon Valley and moved to Brussels with his family when he was a teenager. Jonathan returned to the States to attend the California Institute of Technology, graduating with honors. While still an undergraduate, he worked in the laboratory of Dr. David Baltimore, where he developed and patented a technology to isolate T-cell receptor genes from single tumor infiltrating cells, creating new proteins

able to kill melanomas. After graduation, Jonathan was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study human and cancer growth factors at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, resulting in publications in leading scientific journals. Listening to Israeli peers who served in the military, Jonathan learned of the risks Palestinian parents typically take to obtain medical care for their children. These stories steered his decision to pursue a joint MD/PhD. In his first year of medical school at Stanford University, he worked with a twelveyear-old living with leukemia, whose optimism and humor continue to inspire Jonathan to focus on pediatric oncology. He is now working toward his MD and PhD under Dr. Irving Weissman, developing new tools to study blood and solid organ development and regeneration.

Bianca Tylek

Award to support work toward a JD

Bianca is focused on aligning the United States prison system with its purported mission to successfully reenter incarcerated individuals to reduce recidivism rates. The child of a Polish father and Ecuadorian mother, Bianca was bornin New York and grew up in New Jersey. Raised by non-English speaking relatives, her English suffered, and she was placed and forgotten in remedial classrooms. By the time she joined standard classrooms, she’d developed a resentment that led to delinquency. In high school, Bianca attended the funeral of her murdered boyfriend, visited a heroin-addicted friend in rehab, and took

calls from incarcerated friends. Meanwhile, her grades soared. Bianca was accepted to Columbia University, where her mathematical prowess led naturally to a career in investment banking. She viewed these victories in light of her previous challenges and discovered the importance of second chances. Bianca transitioned into the social sector, working in growth strategy for Teach for America and developing College Pathways, an innovative program that prepares inmates at Rikers Island for college-level education. Now a candidate for a JD degree at Harvard, Bianca is a member of Harvard Defenders, the Prison Legal Assistance Project, and the Harvard Civil Rights­Civil Liberties Law Review.

Sarahi Uribe

Award to support work toward a JD

As a child, Sarahi learned how to navigate between two worlds: her working-class Mexican parents’ home and the privileged enclaves of the private schools she attended on full scholarship. The ability she developed to communicate with all kinds of people has served her well as a community organizer and coalition-builder. A turning point in Sarahi’s life came when her father was arrested, imprisoned, and deported. Not present when Sarahi graduated from Yale with a degree in history, her father died a few months later in Mexico. Over the following years Sarahi worked to honor her family’s struggles by providing legal support

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to parents in detention, organizing with lowwage immigrant workers to recover their unpaid wages, and leading efforts to enact proimmigrant local laws. Her work at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network helped establish the organization as a prominent leader in immigration reform, challenging mass deportation enforcement policies. She has been published in The Guardian, Washington Post, and The Nation. Sarahi began work toward her JD at New York University Law School and is currently completing her degree at Yale Law School. She aims to focus her career on decriminalizing immigrant communities and challenging mass incarceration, and plans someday to serve communities as an elected public official.

Winston Yan

techniques and developed a new approach to reduce EEG noise in simultaneous EEG/ fMRI. At the same time, he explored his entrepreneurial interests and, supported by AT&T, launched LampPost Mobile in 2010 to build better mobile apps for university campuses.

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in biophysics

Winston is now a thirdyear MD/PhD student at Harvard Medical School/MIT. In the lab of Dr. Feng Zhang, he is developing molecular tools to probe the intricate genetic, epigenetic, and neural circuits of the brain, in both health and disease. He has combined his neuroscience and entrepreneurship interests to help produce MCB80x, an online version of Harvard’s introduction to neuroscience course that offers students a new level of interactivity. Winston is eager to continue building a greater public interest in science throughout his career as a physician-scientist.

Winston hopes to improve the understanding and treatment of psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases as a future physicianscientist. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Winston spent his early years living with his grandparents in China while his parents worked to make a home in the United States. His family had been through many upheavals during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. From a young age, Winston was connected to medicine through his parents, who are both physicians. Studying physics at Harvard University, he became interested in improving neuroimaging


A Belated


The New American

By Irina Linetskaya 2002 Fellow


n 1977, the excitement over my birth was overshadowed by the thrilling news that my family had gotten permission to immigrate to the United States. Along with thousands of Jewish refugees, my family sought asylum from the long-standing anti-Semitism of the Soviet Union. However, only weeks before our scheduled departure, the borders of the USSR closed. We would be trapped in the country for the ensuing 11 years—years that upended my family’s structure and destiny. In 1979, when I was two, my father died suddenly at age 45 of cancer, or a brain aneurysm, they said, unsure. Then, in I986, the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl exploded 60 miles outside our home in Kiev, Ukraine. Because the government covered up the accident, we continued to expose ourselves to radiation through water, milk, and food. In 1987, shortly after the catastrophe, my mother died at the age of 40. I turned 10 that summer.

Through it all, my family continued to face unremitting discrimination. Being Jewish in the Soviet Union was a tremendous burden, one that had marked my family’s fate for generations. Although both of my grandparents survived the Holocaust, anti-Semitism persisted undiminished long after World War II. Even during my childhood, the persecution of Jews was widespread and state-enforced. It began at birth, when each citizen’s nationality was stamped in his or her passport. A Ukrainian’s passport read “Ukrainian”; a Georgian’s said “Georgian.” But a Jew’s passport, regardless of the republic of his or her birth, was always stamped “Jew.” This branding allowed the state to bar Jews from social advancement, higher education and desirable jobs. In fact, both my mother and her brother, top graduates of their respective high school classes, were rejected by Kiev’s Polytechnic University and forced to get their engineering degrees through correspondence courses in Moscow and Siberia. However, because communism abolished the fundamental

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But a Jew’s passport, regardless of the republic of his or her birth, was always stamped “Jew.” This branding allowed the state to bar Jews from social advancement.


concept of religion, we were not practicing Jews. In fact, I don’t recall ever being introduced to the concept of God or spirituality. “Jewish” was an ethnic marker, not a religious one. But unlike the rest of my family and community, I was born with an uncanny gift: a shikse punim, meaning a gentile girl’s face, as Jewish elders commented, often surprised that I was actually Jewish. My blond hair and goyishe features allowed me to slip under society’s anti-Semitic radar unnoticed. Previous Left A hilarious shot of Grandma (looking fierce), my brother Leo (aka Rambo) and me in 1987 looking like some kind of touring circus acrobat troupe. Previous Right Photo of me age 5 or so grinning like a fool despite the massive Soviet bow threatening to crush me from above.

After my father’s death, my mother changed my unmistakably Jewish last name of Vieselman to her less conspicuous one, Linetskaya, a brilliant precaution that further assured my “passing.” So while other openly Jewish children, including my much older brother and classmates, were bullied, harassed and ostracized at school, I enjoyed relative popularity. I was simultaneously guilty and triumphant, motivated by their suffering to defend my secret at all costs. My Jewish identity felt like a haphazard and confusing shadow lurking behind me. When children taunted each other, the word zhid (a particularly caustic anti-Semitic slur) was a crowd favorite, an insult aimed casually in all directions. At the sound of the word, my senses would sizzle to life as I waited for the insult to be aimed at me and stick. But it never did. No one, it seemed, suspected a thing. Hiding such a fundamental element of my identity also meant that I couldn’t invite friends to my house. The most subtle clues could give my family away. And nothing about my family was remotely subtle. Our home, too, trembled under the strain of anti-Semitism. After my father’s death, Mama married a non-Jewish man who turned out to be violent and erratic, often battering my brother and mother while screaming “you dirty Jews!” When not trying to place my little body between his fists and my mother’s body, I would hide in the corner, trying desperately to escape into the tales in my yellow Hans Christian Andersen book, wishing this “Jew” word would stop poisoning my life. On weekends and school holidays, I escaped to my grandparents’ house, a safe, warm apartment on the other side of the city. But I couldn’t risk inviting friends there either, as my grandparents’ constant bickering in Yiddish would surely spoil my disguise. So I made up endless excuses and kept my friends away from my family. One day, on our walk home from school, Sveta, my best friend, asked me what my grandmother’s

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name was. “Fanya,” I casually replied. “Fanya? Hmm...but Fanya is a Jewish name,” she slowly replied, suspicious in her 8-year-old knowing. I froze, petrified, panic thrumming in my ears. You sloppy idiot, I berated myself while spinning impromptu lies, terrified that my one thoughtless blurt, the two innocent syllables of my grandmother’s name, had sabotaged my impeccably constructed facade. But how did she know? Did Sveta’s family recite lists of Jewish names at the dinner table? Opting for the snooty tack, I quickly retorted: “Anya, not Fanya, you nimrod! Why would my Grandma’s name be Fanya?” She shrugged and seamlessly moved on to a new topic. But I trembled for days to follow, nerves on edge, and watched my friend carefully for signs of suspicion or malice. I increased my vigilance, and although nothing dreadful came of this incident, the Jewish shadow behind me became grayer and more ominous. Of course, I instinctively knew that my careful lies, my decoy last name and my shikse punim were only temporary camouflage; the “Jew” stamped on my passport would eventually surface, topple my life and truncate my future. When my mother died shortly after my tenth birthday, the Soviet government began legal proceedings to place me in a state-run orphanage. At 67, Grandma struggled with Parkinson’s and rheumatic heart disease and was deemed too frail to take care of me. Grandpa, 11 years her senior, once a robust man with a rotund belly and teenager’s stamina, was losing weight at an alarming rate, an early sign of his gastric cancer. But Grandma, the most tenacious, principled person I have ever known, fought tirelessly to become my legal guardian. She persevered, and her guardianship changed the course of my life forever. The very next year, when Soviet borders finally reopened to Jewish emigration, my grandparents did not hesitate. Despite their advanced age and deteriorating health, they uprooted themselves, their lives, and their belongings in order to give my life a chance in America. Leaving was bittersweet. Sure, I was mildly piqued by the promise of “freedom” and “opportunity” the adults seemed to be abuzz about (although I was ecstatic about the prospect of real, fresh bananas!). But I dreaded leaving my friends, the games we played on the Kiev streets until all hours of the night, the time capsules we buried in the park before snowfall, the universe of make-believe and laughter that had buffered my otherwise turbulent reality. And yet, on the chilly November

I instinctively knew that my careful lies, my decoy last name & my shikse punim were only temporary camouflage.

Clockwise from Top Left A funny one of me eating, age 2. This pretty much summarizes my entire existence since 1977. The joint passport photo of my grandma and me was on my visa to exit the Soviet Union. A photo of my mom with me (left), my brother (middle), and a neighbor (right) circa 1979.

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Above A treasured shot of me and Grandma on her 90th birthday in 2012 (three months before she passed).

Perhaps the remaining dregs of shame & secrecy had tucked themselves into the folds of paper, returning to their hatching place in the former Soviet Union. They were no longer part of me in America.

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morning in I988 when we left Kiev forever, I didn’t say good-bye to any of my friends. Not even Sveta. I was too ashamed to admit that I had deceived them all along, that the very identity I had hidden so carefully from the world was now my family’s ticket out of the Soviet Union. My grandparents, my uncle, and I stuffed ourselves and our possessions into a taxi and embarked on a grueling year-long journey to America. I barely recall the interminable train rides from Kiev to Moscow to Vienna and Rome, hopping from one refugee settlement to another as we appealed to our final destination countries (Israel, the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Germany) for asylum. Finally, after 10 months of anxious waiting, we learned that we were going to be sponsored by Grandma’s sister, who lived in California. I distinctly recall that Pan Am flight from Rome to New York, my first ever. We arrived in Oakland on September 20, 1989. During our first year in America, my grandfather lost his agonizing battle with stomach cancer, my uncle got married, and my Grandma and I—at 67 and I2—became a fierce battalion of two. The culture shock of the United States was bewildering and exhilarating. In comparison to the turmoil, loss, and fear that had enveloped my childhood in Kiev, my new life was relatively peaceful. I thrived in school, absorbed English in gulps, made new friends. After a year of ESL classes, brandishing my accentfree California-girl English, I was seamlessly integrated into mainstream classes with American kids. But with new friends came the task of explaining how my family had made its way to America, and why. My relentless chattiness would halt when faced with such questions. “We came for a better life,” I would hedge, mortified by the prospect of going deeper, of admitting that I was Jewish. I vividly recall the first time I managed to get the sticky words out, words that had been shackled to my vocal cords by years of hyper-

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vigilant secrecy. “We came because we are... we are...because we are Jewish,” I blurted out to Faedra, a gregarious classmate with wild curly hair and curious gray eyes, and froze, waiting for the cataclysm. In my twelve years, I had lost innumerable loved ones, crossed an ocean and learned a new language, yet uttering that sentence felt insurmountable. I had never confided to anyone that I was Jewish. But Faedra merely shrugged and replied, non-chalantly, “So what? I’m Jewish, too. What’s that got to do with anything?” So what? Indeed. In retrospect, I realize that this brief exchange marked a transitional point in my life, a point when fear and shame gave way to the seeds of self-awareness and liberation. Gradually, I found that I could admit I was Jewish without choking on the words. Eventually, “admitting” began to feel like “telling,” and later still, the whole subject became second nature. Once I felt firmly settled into my integrated identity, nearly two years after arriving in the U.S., I painstakingly drafted a belated goodbye letter to Sveta in Kiev. I recall few details about Sveta’s reply or our brief letter exchange. But I do remember writing and rewriting my letter until I got the wording just right. Finally, in meticulous cursive, using my beloved purple pen, I wrote a sincere apology to Sveta for vanishing without a word. I apologized for deceiving her about my being Jewish, admitting that I had felt ashamed of it and was scared that she wouldn’t be friends with me had she known. I explained that we were in America now and that I was doing well in school. I folded the letter with trembling hands and stuffed it into a plain white envelope. Yet the letter felt much heftier in my hand than the single piece of paper it contained. Perhaps the remaining dregs of shame and secrecy had tucked themselves into the folds of paper, returning to their hatching place in the former Soviet Union. They were no longer part of me in America.


The New American

In the Country in Which My Parents Were Raised Three Reflections in Memory of Paul Soros

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In the country in which my parents were raised, a funeral is a celebration. You might be confused by the congregation. The sturdy woman in the front pew wearing a pink hat. Or Mr. Singh, the color of cinnamon, dressed in an ivory suit. The music swells loud, percussive. Hymns like What a Mighty God We Serve, palms raised as if in praise. Why praise? My parents are not philosophers. They don’t use fancy words. I’m not sure if they care about the details of the afterlife—or whether or not any such thing exists. We focus on what we could focus on. The moments that passed, that pass. Each kiss. Each pat on a shoulder. Each failure made. Each triumph earned. A dollar lost, a thousand loaned. Afterwards, we gather in somebody’s backyard. We eat fish with our fingers. We drink sorrel, the color of scarlet. Dominoes slam on a table. Men break out rum—the best, Guyana El Dorado, fifteen year—and clink glasses and laugh and tease. We do this over and over again, till sunrise. But what I remember the most is this. Each morning. April 18th. My mother’s small fingers on my grandfather’s gravestone, whispering not goodbye, but two words: Walk Good. —Stephen Narain, 2012 Fellow

In the country in which my parents were raised, death is a homecoming. Family members and friends gather from far and wide—crossing cities, coasts, and even the hinterlands to pay their respects.

In the country in which my parents were raised, death is movement.

In the village where the honored man did his greatest work, among the people who knew him best, they build a house. Brick by brick. Sometimes with their own bare hands.

In our ceremonies, we chant together to guide the souls of loved ones,

This hard labor—this sweat—is made sweet by the musicians and writers called from afar to recite the old classics, to sing the old songs of praise. As the old Nigerian saying goes, there are some men who simply cannot be buried. —Elinathan Ohiomoba, 2012 Fellow

Because death is not the end of life, but rather its next octave.

The sound of our names and voices forming a familiar passage. And in that long, withdrawing roar the passing is made oceanic. We send off our loved ones as to a new citizenship, a distant language. And with our own breaths we close the distance daily: Ten thousand times we exhale thank you. Ten thousand times we inhale goodbye. For death is a leaving. But as with nature’s passing cold, it is also a journey toward transformation. It is a shedding; it is an unleaving. —Henry W. Leung, 2012 Fellow


This Page Paul Soros talks with fellows at the 2009 Fall Conference. Photo: Christopher Smith.

The New American

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Living the

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what matters? When you set out to design something—whether a neighborhood, an information network, or a healthcare system—what are its most important elements? How do you extract the essentials from the onrushing flow of information? Then, how do you apply what you’ve learned to the needs of real people in their communities? And, perhaps most important of all, how can people appropriate and transform these learnings to improve their lives?

By Margaret Crane

For more than a decade, Prabhjot Singh, a 2005 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, has been asking questions like these, and it’s his mission in life to find answers to them. To do that, he travels across disciplines that typically divide entire fields of inquiry: fields such as medicine, political science, genetics, global health, international development, systems design, and information theory. These days, Prabhjot doesn’t spend his time in the lab or at academic conferences. For one, he’s a hands-on clinician at City Health Works, an innovative fusion of lay workforce training and community-based primary care founded by his wife, Manmeet Kaur, in East Harlem. He also leads the One Million Community Health Workers Campaign, an initiative that substantially augments existing community-based primary care systems in sub-Saharan Africa. The same man who used to grapple with big data in the lab has been engaging with local communities in 14 African countries, and closer to home with one of the most challenging neighborhoods in New York City. When he’s not at the clinic, Prabhjot is Director of Systems Design at the Earth Institute and Assistant Professor of International Public Affairs at Columbia. He arrived on the shores of the Earth Institute in 2006 at the invitation of Jeffrey Sachs—distinguished author, academic, and economic adviser to heads of state all over the world. “At the start of my postdoctoral fellowship, Jeff asked me to work on community health workers at a systems level,” he says. “The One Million Community Health Workers Campaign is the practical outgrowth of that work.” Not long ago, health workers were given tomes of information before going out into the field, he explains. Once out there, however, they tended to forget much of what they had learned. “We used to think the answers lay in more education, more information, and more training,” he says. “But when you’re in a rural setting, and you’re alone with someone who has a high fever, there’s no time to consider disease vectors and the life-cycle of the parasite. You need a rapid malaria diagnostic set, for example, or rehydration therapy kits for children with diarrhea. You need tools and information that are critically needed in the household, and you need trust and relationships. “Community health workers used to be considered the least valuable

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link in the healthcare chain,” he continues. “Today, they’re at the very heart of primary care, precisely because of their ability to form deep and lasting relationships. I also see them as champions of grassroots democratic traditions, both here and abroad, by dint of their work as community advocates. I’m thankful to Jeff for giving me the opportunity to have a global vista and to think for myself,” he says. “I love what I’m doing.” On April 3, 2014, Prabhjot co-hosted an event billed as an “Intimate Conversation with Jeffrey Sachs” at the Open Society Foundations in New York. Contentious, open, and even raw at moments, the conversation was by all accounts unforgettable. This special event was sponsored by the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows’ Association, the Fellowships’ alumni platform for ongoing social, professional, and creative interaction. (Read more about this and other Fellows’ Association activities on pages 49–52.) Tracing the Path

Previous Prabhjot and Hukam Singh (at one year old) sharing a joyful moment.

For his achievements, his promise, and the sheer audacity of his ideas, Prabhjot has garnered a long list of grants and awards. He’s a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Young Leader and a Truman National Security Fellow—yet winning the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans in 2005, he says, was the most important of all. “The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship came at a pivotal moment in my personal development. Through my diverse academic interests, I was seeking a path to something that’s hard to identify, something I’ll call the ‘substrate’ of social cohesion. In supporting two years of my MD/PhD studies at Weill Cornell Medical College and Rockefeller University, the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships played a critical role in helping me build the road I’ve been traveling in the nine years since I received that lifechanging award. It has been a bumpy ride so far,” he adds, “but a great one.” While still earning his MD, Prabhjot quickly found a way to combine his love of information theory with his need for social engagement. He developed a large-scale database to help the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a venerable humanitarian relief organization, supply refugee camps with urgently needed resources, and to track and update these resources in real time. “I patched together a system that was implemented across many

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countries. Later, it was used as the basis for a more sophisticated model that’s in widespread use today.” Soon thereafter, Prabhjot’s passion for science found a home at Rockefeller University. In 2010, he emerged with a PhD in Neural and Genetic Systems. That’s a specialty requiring the scientist to sift through vast quantities of information and pull out the most relevant data sets according to the problem at hand. How, for example, can you predict the evolution of an organism from its genetic code? Its ability to adapt to a changing environment? Its behavior? “There are networks of influential genes in biological processes,” Prabhjot explains. “But what do we mean by ‘influence’? We’re back to the question of ‘what matters.’ And the only way to find that out is to ask, ‘What does it matter for?’” One major upshot of Prabhjot’s research has been the counterintuitive insight that in many cases, less information is more. “Small amounts of information are often sufficient to allow you to understand the structure of things,” he says. “The question then becomes: What is that minimum?” Beyond the what in information theory, Prabhjot is also keenly aware of the who: who possesses, curates, and controls information. Prabhjot believes the fruits of research should be transferred to people in particular socio-cultural settings as quickly as possible. At the same time, scientists need to be mindful of what works at the local level as they analyze and revise their own findings. A Holistic Thinker in Fragmented Times It’s not that Prabhjot ever had to make a huge effort to high-jump over disciplinary lines. He never recognized them in the first place. In his junior year at the University of Rochester, Prabhjot launched the Journal of Undergraduate Research, an interdisciplinary journal of ideas. That was back in 2001—and the journal is still a going concern. Around that same time, he took a class in the history of medicine and discovered Rudolf Virchow, a 19th-century German physician, anthropologist, and political theorist remembered today as an early champion of public health and the “father of pathology.” In Virchow, Prabhjot found a kindred spirit and a mentor, if not one he could meet with over coffee.

Through my diverse academic interests, I was seeking a path to something that’s hard to identify, something I’ll call the ‘substrate’ of social cohesion.

Clockwise from Top Left Prabhjot Singh and Jeffrey Sachs. Courtesy of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Manmeet Kaur and Prabhjot Singh, proud parents, shortly after Hukam Singh was born. Courtesy of Scott Breitinger. A young Prabhjot Singh hanging out near a junkyard in Nairobi. Tarlochan Singh Dhadialla, Prabhjot’s dad, as a young artist and scientist in Nairobi.

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But he has often returned to contemplate his works. “When I got to medical school, I was in for a rude awakening,” he says. “It was all very biomedical. Where was the human side of the story? Where was the historical and social context for the practice of medicine? Where was Virchow?” Prabhjot had no choice but to get with the program, hunker down, and study hard with the rest of his colleagues.

Above Walking with community health workers in rural Uganda. Courtesy of FEED.

Then, in 2004, the young change-maker joined forces with four of his classmates to found the first-ever free clinic at Weill Cornell, run entirely by students. Soon, though, he began to see how hard it was to run a healthcare enterprise—even a very small one. “Healthcare delivery is so much more than patient care,” he says. “You need to deal with how it’s financed and regulated, how healthcare professionals are credentialed, how diseases and conditions are defined and treated, and much more. Fortunately, I was able to learn from these early experiences. Today, City Health Works reflects a very different approach to healthcare. The East Harlem-based clinic is embedded in neighborhood housing and connected to a large network of primary care clinics, insurers, and community-based organizations.”

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City Health Works isn’t just another health resource, he says. It’s a social enterprise, benefiting from the input of multiple partners across the for-profit and non-profit sectors. It trains peer health coaches, this country’s equivalent to community health workers in developing countries, providing jobs in East Harlem and boosting the local economy. It complements and supplements the city’s overused hospital-based healthcare system by helping patients avoid visits to the emergency room and set personal goals that lead to better health. And it takes advantage of agile mobile technology to communicate with partners, staff, and patients. “Right now, what we’re doing is small, but the pressure to expand is growing. If we continue to get positive feedback in our neighborhood, and if we crack the code on how to sustainably finance this work, we’ll share what we’ve learned with neighborhoods in other parts of the country.” At Times, a Persecuted Minority Asked whether his Sikhism has something to do with his passion for social engagement, Prabhjot explains that service (seva) and remembering the bigger picture (simran) are, indeed, hallmarks of the Sikh faith.

In Nairobi, everyone knew who Sikhs were. Not so in the United States, where Sikhs remain poorly understood.

Sikhism is a monotheistic, egalitarian religion founded in the early 16th century in the Punjab region of Pakistan and India. Its overarching ethos is to serve humanity (sarbatdhaballa). But that’s not what Prabhjot’s attackers saw on the evening of September 21, 2013. That very day, members of a Somalia-based Islamist group had mounted an assault-rifle attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. Relieved to learn that his relatives there were okay, Prabhjot went out for a stroll along Central Park North, near his apartment building in Harlem. From behind, a voice shouted, “Osama! Terrorist!” A stream of young men on bicycles proceeded to chase and overtake him. Multiple fists rained down, fracturing his jaw and knocking his teeth loose. He spent the rest of that night in the ER at Mount Sinai, bruised and bloodied. Prabhjot’s wounds have mostly healed since that gruesome event. His attackers remain at large. A few days after the attack, appearing on Huff Post Live, Prabhjot expressed empathy and even forgiveness for his tormentors and offered the following comment: “Ultimately, I think to simply go out and punish those individuals who have acted out on hate crimes is insufficient. More broadly, we need to have a real national conversation around ‘Who looks American? What does it mean to be American?’” In an extraordinary display of support, the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships community mounted a successful social media campaign on his behalf, which reached major media outlets and politicians. “The warmth and caring of this group is extraordinary,” he says, “and in challenging moments it simply gets stronger.” The Long Journey Home Prabhjot is a new American—and yet that identity feels elusive to him. His family immigrated twice in two generations, moving from India to Nairobi, where Prabhjot

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spent much of his childhood, and then to East Lansing, Michigan when he was just 8 years old. Despite the warm welcome extended by his school’s principal and other well-meaning members of the community, his reception at school was even colder than the Michigan climate: “I was nerdy, shy, and looked different. I was physically and verbally bullied in school. In Nairobi, everyone knew who Sikhs were. Not so in the United States, where Sikhs remain poorly understood.” That “poor understanding” has increased since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, but American Sikhs have actually been the target of violence for the past hundred years. As the victim of a brutal attack, Prabhjot knew he was far from unique. He also felt that the attack was a symptom of a country coming to terms, often inelegantly, with a rapidly changing population. If there’s a silver lining to his ordeal, it has come in the form of a renewed sense of belonging to his Harlem neighborhood, and of rising to the challenge of being an American. In the Sikh community, the term sangat refers to a collective way of shaping the future. Prabhjot and his wife Manmeet, with their two-yearold son Hukam, are treasured members of their many sangats—the Sikh community they worship with, the professional community they do service with, and the neighborhood where they live. Through sangat, the outpouring of love and support for Prabhjot and his family has been unceasing. The man who belongs nowhere yet everywhere continues to live and work in Harlem. His days are over-full. He divides his time between seeing patients, mentoring students, working on the One Million Community Health Workers Campaign, and living the big questions. He’s at home in New York, and in dozens of villages across sub-Saharan Africa. And anywhere else that’s fortunate enough to be touched by this visionary physician-scientist with a heart to match. You could say his sangat is rapidly going global.


Opposite Lilian Mehrel, illustration from Muchijoon: A Hybrid Story, 2009. Next Mariam Ghani, A Brief History of Collapses. 2011–12. Photo: Roman März.

Seeing The World through New American Eyes

Differently By Margaret Crane

in fields as disparate as law, information technology, music, medicine, and literature, past winners of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships continue to make their mark. A better world: That’s the mantra that informs their work, their lives, and their impact. Each year, fellowships also have been awarded to a select number of visual artists. Unsurprisingly, their identities as New Americans are integral to what they see, how they see it, and how their inner vision translates itself into art. Meet four visual artists whose creations are breaking through to new terrain. They paint, photograph, design, and document pieces of the world as they experience it between and across diverse cultures. With their courage and their boundless creativity, they help us see the world anew.

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Mariam Ghani 2001 Fellow For Mariam Ghani, every creative project begins with an idea, a moment, or a place. An established figure in the art world, she works internationally, driven by her curiosity and her desire to dig deep into places and spaces where cultures intersect, clash, or struggle to overcome conflicts—past or present. She’s drawn to “border zones, no-man’s-lands, translations, transitions, and the slippages” where cultural dissonances play out: places such as her mother’s native Lebanon and her father’s native Afghanistan. Born in New York, Mariam grew up between three cultures. “I’ve always felt that I occupied a borderline position, one in which things seemed estranged yet familiar,” she says. “I’m an outsider who has gained insider access to the places I’ve researched. My approach and my sensibility are very much those of a firstgeneration American and a descendent of not one but two diasporas.” Mariam illuminates the spaces she enters through video, storytelling, database forms, and the use of art as a tool for public dialogue. Working across a variety of disciplines, she also maintains ongoing, multi-year collaborations

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with choreographer Erin Ellen Kelly and visual artist Chitra Ganesh. A retrospective of her collaborative projects with Kelly, “It Could Go Either Way,” has been touring internationally, with Alaska the next stop on the itinerary. Her work over the past decade includes both lens-based approaches and innovative writing and archiving. With her father, economist Ashraf Ghani, she wrote a book titled Afghanistan: A Lexicon, one of the 100 Notebooks series published by dOCUMENTA 13. Written by distinguished authors from a wide range of disciplines, the Notebooks feature observations and drawings that encourage readers to reimagine history. In Afghanistan, father and daughter describe the cycle of repeated collapse and recovery that Afghanistan has undergone from the early 20th century through the present. “In certain moments or contexts, the act of archiving becomes inherently radical,” Mariam says, “especially when it resists an ongoing erasure.” This innovative approach to archiving is also a way of getting at the hidden history of a place, the history that lives inside what she calls the “black box”: deliberately forgotten or disappeared materials, persons, or events, which can be recovered through the politically ambiguous spaces of art.

Currently, Mariam is working on a series of projects investigating the treasure trove of feature films—finished and unfinished—made during Afghanistan’s communist period. She’s considering making her own feature film based on four of these unfinished films, one that will address what happened, what was lost, and what was left unfinished during those turbulent years. Chiara Galimberti 2011 Fellow Chiara Galimberti, too, is profoundly interested in places and contexts. She has been working in public spaces in order to engage directly with her surroundings. Left to Right Mariam Ghani installing Kabul: Constitutions, 2003–5. Photo: Rick Vogel. Mariam Ghani, still from Landscape Studies: New Mexico, 2008 –10. Photo: Mariam Ghani & Erin Ellen Kelly. Chiara Galimberti, Athens II, 2012.

Born near Milan, Italy, Chiara moved to America with her young twin daughters in 2002, seeking a fresh start and gaining distance from her violent, dysfunctional family background. She eventually found her way to Chicago, a city that has witnessed and, at various points in its history, advanced the struggle for social justice. For Chiara, aesthetics are an integral part of her work and social justice practice. “My work as a public school teacher has offered an additional avenue to develop a practice that integrates art and social justice work,” she says. Chiara works in a variety of media that allow her to explore the dynamics of oppression, whether around gender, race, class, ethnicity, orthe subtle misuse of power as it plays out in daily life. Her choice of medium is flexible and can take many forms depending on the project at hand, ranging from painting to installations and guerrilla-style street art. In her early exhibits, Chiara tackled issues surrounding immigration, assimilation, and otherness, along with cross-cultural responses to gender violence. More recently, she has focused on art in public and non-traditional spaces. In 2013, the Chicago School Board voted to close 49 public schools in an effort to slash the city’s $1 billion budget deficit. Chiara joined the

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movement to protest these school closings, seen by many as racist and deeply discriminatory. As a teacher, she found herself directly impacted by the closings, which affected her artistic practice and relationship with the city. After graduating with Highest Distinction from Indiana University in 2008, Chiara worked as coordinator for the Bloomington gender violence prevention youth program. Then, she applied for a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship, which would allow her to pursue an MFA in painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “I wasn’t selected for an interview the first time around, but I decided to try again the next year—and I succeeded! The importance of winning the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship goes way beyond my personal story,” she adds. “I hope that my presence in fields that have historically been accessible only to the very privileged can help open the door for others coming from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.” Chiara received a La Pietra fellowship from NYU in 2014 and will be traveling to Florence to do comparative research on social justice movements in Italy and the U.S. She hopes her year in Italy will allow her to reconnect with her culture of origin. She also hopes to serve as a cultural bridge between the two countries by fostering greater interplay between American and Italian artists.


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Above Chiara Galimberti, Athens I, 2012.

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Lilian Mehrel 2013 Fellow Lilian describes herself as a “visual storyteller.” In other words, she’s a passionate young filmmaker. But it took a while for her to see her way clear to a cinematic vocation. Born in Washington, D.C., she is the product of what she calls “star-crossed cultures”: Her Iranian-born mother is the daughter of Kurdish tribal chiefs, and her German-born, HungarianJewish father is the son of Holocaust survivors. Growing up, she found nourishment and inspiration in their stories, gradually making them her own. As a Senior Fellow at Dartmouth College, she wrote and illustrated an award-winning family memoir, called Muchijoon: a Hybrid Story, centered on the lives of her grandmothers and her parents’ immigration story. “I used illustration, watercolor, photography, and found photos to bring the memoir to life,” she says. “In retrospect, I think it was as close to a film as a book could get.” Clockwise from Top Left Lilian Mehrel, still from set of A Crack, 2013. Jeff Sheng, Nick, Cross Country/ Track and Field, San Ramon High School, California from Fearless, 2007. Lilian Mehrel, illustration from Muchijoon: a Hybrid Story, 2009. Next Jeff Sheng, Tristan and Zeke, Honolulu, Hawaii from Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Vol. 1, 2010.

Lilian’s offbeat sense of humor, poetic sensibility, and cinematic eye continued to ripen through her international peace and justice activities. She worked as a Seeds of Peace counselor and led film workshops for Israeli and Palestinian youth, a Kathryn Davis Peace Project that encouraged them to hear each other’s stories. This inspired her to found YALA Peace in 2009, an after-school creative leadership program for diverse girls at the Arab and Jewish Community Center in Jaffa, Israel, with the support of a James B. Reynolds Fellowship. In 2011, she won a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship, allowing her to pursue her MFA in filmmaking at NYU Graduate Film, and she has been going like gangbusters ever since. She has written, directed, edited, and produced multiple film projects, including a James Franco series. Her short films have garnered awards from the Disney/ABC Television Group and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; an invited membership in New York Women in Film and Television; and scholarships from the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television. In her films, Lilian homes in on the surprise moments of human connection and juxtaposes humor with poignant emotion. Celebrated illustrator Maira Kalman praised her work as “epic and cinematic...full of heart and curiosity.”

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Lillian is currently in post-production on her latest film, an Alfred P. Sloan-supported short titled The Loneliest. “It’s a comic ‘mockumentary’ with an all-female cast and crew,” she explains, “a ‘behind-the-scenes’ peek at the making of a nature show, starring a camera girl with a wry sense of humor and a marine biologist with a passion for whales. Together, they go looking for the loneliest whale in the world—one with a voice too high for other whales to hear.” Jeff Sheng 2005 Fellow On Jeff’s 30th birthday, his phone rang at 5:00 a.m. It was a member of Katie Couric’s production team asking if he could meet for a taping at the gallery where his photographs were being shown. “It was the most memorable birthday of my life,” he says. That exhibit, titled Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, played an instrumental role in the repeal of the eponymous policy requiring gays in the military to keep their sexuality under wraps. When Jeff’s powerful photos aired on ABC World News Tonight—co-anchor Bob Woodruff did a special series on Jeff and his work—the tweets and emails started pouring in. Over the next year, his photos appeared in Time, Newsweek,

The New York Times Magazine, on CBS Evening News, and in dozens of other broadcast, print, and online media outlets. “Suddenly,” he says, “I found myself at the center of a major civil rights issue. It was thrilling, but it was also difficult for me to be swept up into the media storm. The great thing, of course, was that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed on September 20, 2011—just one day before my next birthday.” Jeff was born in Santa Barbara, California. In the 1970s, his Taiwanese parents arrived in the States with $300 in their pockets. Early on, they made him aware of social and economic inequality and encouraged him to engage in social justice and leadership activities.

gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) athletes would become fully visible in the public sphere. Since then, his Fearless photographs have been shown at many high schools and college campuses around the country, and at the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games in Vancouver and London respectively. When Jeff was selected for a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship in 2005, the timing couldn’t have been better: “The fellowship gave me the bump and the push I needed to pursue an MFA in Studio Art at the University of California-Irvine, and even to purchase a high-end printer, which I desperately needed!”

He has taught photography at the University of California-Santa Barbara and more recently at Harvard, in 2011. Although Jeff loved At Harvard, Jeff earned an AB degree in visual teaching and mentoring students—especially and environmental studies, a relatively new those who shared his passion for using the visual interdisciplinary program that spans filmmaking, arts to advance changes in public policy— painting, environmental science, the humanities, he began to think along more academic lines. and popular culture. That’s when he started He is now a doctoral candidate in sociology getting serious about integrating his photography at Stanford University. with his activist agenda. “My career is much ‘bigger’ than it was originalIn 2003, he started working on a photography ly,” he says. “Photography will always be my project called Fearless, in which he spotlighted primary artistic form, but I’m also a writer and gay athletes on high school and college sports an activist, both inside and outside academia. teams. That was a good 10 years before lesbian, And a future professor.”

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The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows’ Association Updates


uring his first year at Harvard Medical School, Eduardo Hariton (2012) started casting about for an internship. Lawrence Shulman, who was the Chief Medical Officer of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute at the time, invited him to join his team, spend part of the summer in Rwanda, and help the country’s Ministry of Health develop a national plan for cancer treatment. “That experience changed the way I saw medicine,” Eduardo says. Northeast Hub

On a frigid evening in February, several dozen fellows and friends met at a local restaurant in Boston, savored a three-course meal, and engaged Dr. Shulman in an open, informal conversation about healthcare reform. “For two hours, we discussed the roles of physicians, government, the pharmaceutical industry, and insurers in the reform process,” Eduardo says. “We tackled the topic in all its many-sidedness, from law to politics, medicine, and ethics. There was plenty of disagreement in the room, but it was really about ‘help me understand your point of view.’ “By the way, the Boston network of Paul & Daisy Soros fellows is huge,” he adds. “We’re a close group, and we find plenty of excuses to get together”—excuses like the Harvard-Yale football game. “Harvard won, but the Yale fellows were gracious enough to host us for dinner and drinks that evening.” Way Out West

Eduardo is now enrolled in Harvard’s MD/ MBA program, and he counts Dr. Shulman asone of his closest mentors.As a member of the steering committee of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows’ Association (PDSFA), Eduardo proposed the idea of a special event featuring Dr. Shulman, and soon, he made it happen.

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“It’s easier to bring fellows together where there are big concentrations of them,” says Marianna Ofosu (2009), Chair of the Fellows’ Association. “Predictably, we’ve got strong networks in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. But our California counterparts are starting to catch up.”


This summer, California fellows gathered for cocktails and appetizers at the home of Catharine and Jeffrey Soros, near Los Angeles. President of the board of directors of the Paul & Daisy Fellowships for New Americans, Jeffrey is dedicated to his parents’ philanthropic vision and maintains strong ties with the community of PD Soros fellows both locally and nationally. Deisy Del Real (2011), a PhD candidate in sociology at UCLA who attended the soirée, describes the conversation that made for such a memorable evening at the Soros home: “We learned that Catharine Soros is involved with the L.A. Dance Project, which spurred a discussion of diversity in the arts, especially with respect to ethnicity and gender. Snehal Desai (2006), a producer, director, actor, and playwright, shared the news about the play he directed this season—A Nice Indian Boy— at East West Players, the oldest Asian-American theater company in America. “Then,” Deisy continues, “Vanara Taing (2010) gave us an update on her latest documentary film project. Jeffrey Soros is a screenwriter, filmmaker, and producer, so it was a pleasure to hear about his work as well.” Fellows met with members of their own classes as well as with those who came before and after. Lawyers talked shop. Graduate students compared notes, and academics discussed their work across a variety of disciplines, says Meera Deo (2005), who teaches law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. “The distances in California are huge,” says Meera. “We don’t meet nearly as often as we’d like, but when we do, we instantly create community. For example, we recently held a gathering of fellows and their families at the beach at Dana Point, giving us a chance to get to know each other better on a personal level.” Meera is optimistic that the California cohort will find more opportunities to organize formal as well as informal get-togethers in the year ahead. Due East Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., fellows have built a lively community that meets regularly at dinners, in professional settings, and even at happy hours. “Just as an example,” says Alex Iftimie (2009), “a group of our D.C. doctors recently took over

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an entire restaurant and had a raucous time.” Last July, Alex, along with Tarun Chabra (2009) and Previn Warren (2009)—the regional event coordinators for Washington, D.C. and close friends from their fellowship class—organized a memorable dinner featuring Cecilia Muñoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House. A group of 40 fellows and friends engaged Ms. Muñoz in a lively, off-the-record discussion of immigration reform. “Our goal was to bring our D.C. fellows community together and to have a conversation on a policy issue that is deeply important to us,” says Alex. “We were humbled to have an opportunity to engage with Ms. Muñoz, who is in the center of the immigration reform effort, and whose personal story and achievements reflect the values of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships.” This summer, they hosted Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, for a discussion on healthcare reform. The coordinators say they hope such special speaker events will become an annual tradition. Alex, an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, also doubles as director of mentorship on the Fellows’ Association’s steering committee. “I pair new fellows together with alumni who are pursuing careers in the new fellows’ fields of study. The new fellows discover the tremendous resource they have in the alumni— and we build the larger Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows community in the process.” New York, New York New York City remains a magnet for many past and current fellows, offering abundant opportunities to bond over dinner, drinks, concerts, plays, and other stimulating cultural and intellectual fare. This year, the Fellows’ Association sponsored two standout events in New York: a surprisingly candid conversation with Jeffrey Sachs, economic adviser to governments around the world and director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute; and an intimate exchange with Catharine Stimpson, a trustee of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans and University Professor and Dean Emerita of the NYU Graduate School of Arts and Science. Both events took place at the Open Society Foundations’ headquarters on West 57th Street in Manhattan. Prabhjot Singh (2005) was instrumental in arranging the meeting with Jeffrey Sachs, his mentor and colleague at the

Earth Institute. “We have a great relationship,” says Prabhjot, “and he was happy to engage with us. I asked Jeff to strip down to the raw core of what he thinks—and that’s exactly what he did. He’s a person who evokes strong opinions, so there were many dissenting perspectives. In fact, the room was split right down the middle, with one half favoring Jeff’s emphasis on a technocratic approach to international development and the other deeply critical of it.”

Previous Chitra Aiyar, 2002 Fellow (right), moderates a Fellows’ Association discussion with PD Soros Trustee Catharine Stimpson. Photo: Julie Brown. Above Fellows in conversation with Jeffrey Sachs. Photo: Julie Brown.

Sachs, who advises undemocratic regimes as well as democratic ones, favors a “what works” perspective. The goal of development, as he sees it, is to improve the basic conditions of living for people, and such efforts shouldn’t be withheld because people happen to be governed by authoritarian or corrupt governments. “Jeff claims he isn’t influential enough to stabilize a bad regime,” Prabhjot explains, “but many fellows disagreed, insisting that he does indeed wield that kind of influence. ” “Of course, we weren’t going to resolve these huge questions in a few hours. My goal was to cool the discussion and monitor its sharpness. But that sharpness was one of the qualities that made it real. People got to express deeply felt beliefs and be fully heard. And so did Jeff,

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in a way that doesn’t happen often in his regular talks at the Earth Institute.” The sheer intellectual firepower in the room, says Prabhjot, along with an atmosphere of mutual respect, moved the dialogue forward in small yet significant ways. Dialogue is what it’s all about as well for Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships trustee Catharine Stimpson, who is also a pioneer in the study of women and gender and a major public intellectual. This July, Chitra Aiyar (2002), Executive Director of the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, moderated an animated interchange with Catharine—“Kate” to her many friends— introducing her as an “outrageously prolific scholar” at the forefront of gender studies and feminist theory. In addition to her many academic posts, awards, and publications, Kate has served as chairperson of the New York State Council for the Humanities, the National Council for Research on Women, and the Ms. Magazine Board of Scholars. She also founded the groundbreaking journal Signs, serving as its editor from 1974 to 1980. “Signs was born in one room at Barnard College with two Selectric typewriters and


the occasional bottle of champagne,” Kate said, to the delight of her mostly young audience. Since then, women’s studies has morphed into gender studies, with Kate one of the field’s preeminent leaders to this day. At the July event, the jumping-off point for the discussion was her latest book, Critical Terms for the Study of Gender, co-edited with Gilbert Herdt and published this summer by the University of Chicago Press.

Above Fellows gather at the Washington D.C. Fellows’ Association dinner. Photo: Mary Calvert.

Kate asked her audience to interrupt her as she spoke. “That’s how a real conversation goes,” she said, “especially when lots of highly intelligent people in one room are brimming over with ideas.” The new book, a collection of essays on gender from wide-ranging perspectives, makes it clear that social, cultural, and economic inequities cut across all kinds of lines and in all kinds of ways: “As you read it, think through what’s important with respect to academic theory and ideas for action, and pay attention to your emotional response as well. Understand your ideas but also your feelings about a difficult subject.” “My feminism includes celebrating women who use power well,” she said, adding that power

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will less easily corrupt those who wield it if there are corrective systems in place. Those systems include the exercise of democratic rights—and the cultivation of empathy, respect, and dignity as universal social values. True Fellowship A spirit of collaboration is yet another value that informs the work of the Fellows’ Association, adds Dena Simmons (2010), who serves as director of regional affairs: “It’s all about relationships. We’re able to organize intellectually rich, unforgettable events because of fellows’ incredible professional reach and connections.” In other words, the community of fellows creates a different kind of “fellowship,” defined as a friendly relationship among people who share common interests, feelings, and backgrounds. “Sure,” adds chair Marianna Ofosu, “it’s about intellectual growth and professional networking. But it’s also about friendship. We tend to become friends based on the intangibles that define a Paul & Daisy Soros fellow. These intangible qualities go way beyond nationality, profession, or academic discipline. I’d say that this year, the Fellows’ Association rose to the occasion as a vehicle for all of the above.”

managing editor Craig Harwood contributing editor Margaret Crane associate editor Yulian Ramos design Isometric Studio printer Colonial Printing cover photo Julie Brown director photo Christopher Smith

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