8 South Asian-Americans among 30 Soros Fellows

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Six Indian-Americans, one Indo-Caribbean and one Bangladesh-American are among 30 graduate students who are recipients of the 2017 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. Selected from a pool of 1,775 applicants, each of the recipients was chosen for their potential to make significant contributions to U.S. society, culture, or their academic fields and will receive up to $90,000 in funding over two years. The six Indian-American Fellows are Ellora Thadaney Israni, Pratyusha Kalluri, Sanjay Kishore, Shivani Radhakrishnan, Sanjena Sathian and Ashvin A. Swaminathan. Also selected this year are Bangladesh born Mayesha Alam, who is working on a PhD in Comparative Politics at Yale University and Suriname born Lorenzo Sewanan, who is pursuing a PhD in biomedical engineering and an MD in the joint degree medical scientist training program at Yale School of Medicine.

The Fellowship supports one to two years of graduate study in any field and in any advanced degree-granting program in the United States. Each award is for up to $25,000 in stipend support, as well as 50 percent of required tuition and fees, up to $20,000 per year, for one to two years.

Israni is the child of immigrants from India, will use her Fellowship to support work towards a JD at Harvard University. Though she was born and raised in the Bay Area, Israni often returned to Pune, India, where her grandparents lived. Her parents, both Indian immigrants, were themselves the children of immigrants – Hindu refugees to India. They instilled in Israni a commitment to help build a world that offers more equal opportunities.

While studying computer science at Stanford University, Israni became disheartened by the gender disparities in her classes and co-founded the university’s first conference for women in technology, she++. The conference has since grown into a nonprofit, supporting chapters of young women in engineering around the world. The award-winning she++ documentary is currently touring with the U.S. Department of State’s American Film Showcase. After graduation, Israni moved to New York City as a software engineer for Facebook. Now a JD candidate at Harvard, Israni hopes to leverage the intersection of technology and law to change the way we define and deliver justice in the United States.

Kalluri, a PhD student at Stanford University’s Department of Computer Science, was born on the East Coast and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. Her parents left India in the 1980s, seeking better job opportunities in America. Kalluri remembers growing up with American and Indian children’s books and a name from a Telugu poem, as her parents relayed the importance of education and expression. The emphasis on education empowered Kalluri to pursue her undergraduate degree at MIT, where she became deeply interested in artificial intelligence. As an undergraduate at MIT and, subsequently, a visiting researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid, Kalluri built AI systems modeling facets of human intelligence and human language processing. Simultaneously, Kalluri has continued to explore the intricacies of expression, studying literature and other media, and penning stories and poetry that tap into her intersectional identity. She aims to build artificial intelligence that is more humanlike and understandable by synthesizing symbolic and statistical approaches.

Kishore will use his Fellowship to support work towards an MD at Harvard Medical School. Born and raised in rural Virginia, Kishore is the youngest child of parents who emigrated from Hyderabad, India. Both of his grandfathers were Gandhian-era civil servants in the state of Andhra Pradesh who supported socialist land reform and helped operate medical clinics for the most vulnerable. In high school Kishore pursued his interest in government and service, becoming the youth governor of the Virginia YMCA Model General Assembly. He went on to Duke University, where he designed his own major around the social determinants of health. After college, Kishore sharpened his policy skills as the Villers Fellow at Families USA, a progressive health advocacy organization, and started Commonwealth Covered, Virginia’s first student-run campaign to enroll individuals in health insurance coverage. At Harvard Medical School, Kishore worked with fellow members of the Racial Justice Coalition to advocate for affordable health benefits for a union of over 700 Harvard dining workers. Now a second-year medical student, Kishore aspires to use his clinical training to serve not just as an advocate for individual patients, but as the foundation for a career organizing for a more just society. His elder brother, Sandeep Kishore, is a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow in the Class of 2008.

Radhakrishnan, a PhD Philosophy student at Columbia University was born in Middletown, New York, to Indian parents from Bangalore and Baroda who met while working together in the Catskills. Growing up around Gujarati and Tamil, and studying Russian and Latin, Radhakrishnan became interested in linguistic and social identity. After finishing her AB at Princeton University and her BPhil at the University of Oxford, Radhakrishnan lived and taught in Vladivostok, Russia, as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Radhakrishnan is now a PhD candidate at Columbia University, where she is studying philosophy’s role in social transformation. She is interested in how long-form journalism and fiction can help us think about philosophical questions. She has published critical essays and reviews in the Washington Post, n+1, the Paris Review Daily, and Boston Review. As an aspiring writer, critic at large, and philosopher, Radhakrishnan wants to prompt reflective inquiry about the various aspects of our social and political lives that go unexamined.

Sathian’s Fellowship will support work towards an MFA in Creative Writing at University of Iowa. The daughter of Indian immigrants who raised her in Bible Belt Georgia, Sathian connected with her twin cultures through the page. She grew up reading Hindu mythological comic books and Arundhati Roy, the New Testament and Flannery O’Connor. The granddaughter and great-granddaughter of respected South Indian translators, she always hoped to become a writer. Sathian earned a BA in English from Yale University, where she served as editor-in-chief of the Globalist magazine. After school, Sanjena worked as a health reporter for the Boston Globe before joining the media start-up OZY as an early employee. Santhian is thrilled to begin study at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Swaminathan, who will use his Fellowship to support a PhD in Mathematics at Princeton University, was born in New Providence, New Jersey. From his parents, both of whom earned graduate degrees in the United States after spending the first twenty years of their lives in economic hardship, Swaminathan has learned to be grateful for the freedoms and opportunities that the US has afforded him. He was the valedictorian of his high school class and received early election to Phi Beta Kappa as an undergraduate.

While Swaminathan,has demonstrated a strong commitment to excellence in a broad range of academic subjects, mathematics is the love of his life, and he aspires to become a math professor. As an undergraduate at Harvard University, he has not only authored ten research papers on a diverse collection of mathematical topics, receiving the Barry Goldwater Scholarship for his work, but has also served as a teaching fellow for six advanced math courses and has won prizes for excellence in teaching. After graduating from Harvard with degrees in both mathematics and physics, Swaminathan plans to pursue a PhD in mathematics at Princeton University.

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