Five youth of Indian origin win highly competitive Soros Fellowship

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The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, a graduate school program for immigrants and children of immigrants, announced their 2019 Fellows April 11. Five of the 30 fellows selected from a pool of 1,767 applicants, are of Indian heritage. Fellows are all the children of immigrants, green card holders, naturalized citizens, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients.

Scholars are selected “for their potential to make significant contributions to United States society, culture, or their academic fields,” a press release from the organization said.

The five fellows of Indian heritage include Sunil Joshi, Shamik Masharak, Samir Paul, Indira Puri, and Shreyas Vissapragada. Each will receive up to $90,000 in funding. This year’s class also has the greatest number of women in the fellowship’s 20 year history.

Numerous individuals of Indian heritage have received this fellowship in the past. They include Vivek Murthy, Sachin Jain, Amit Bouri, Chitra Akileswaran, Vivek Ramaswamy, Jasmeet Ahuja, Chitra Aiyar, Meera Deo, Snehal Desai, Rollie Lal, Samir Mayekar, Gautam Mukunda, Sunita Puri, Dave Chokshi, Anika Singh Lemar, and Previn Warren. (https://www.pdsoros.org/meet-the-fellows?Heritage%5B0%5D=india)

Following is the list of Indian-origin recipients this year and a brief background on each provided by Soros Foundation:

Shreyas Vissapragada (All photos courtesy of Christopher Smith Photography)

Shreyas Vissapragada

Fellowship awarded to support work towards a PhD in  Planetary Science at California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

Vissapragada  was born in Hyderabad and immigrated to the United States with  his parents when he was one year old. He grew up in tightly woven communities of  Indian immigrants, mostly Telugu-speaking, in the suburbs of Detroit and  Chicago.

He was inspired at a young age by NOVA and meeting Bill Nye the Science Guy leading him  to eventually study astrophysics and computer science at Columbia University.

He received the  Barry Goldwater Scholarship and a USRA James B. Willett Educational  Memorial Scholarship, and attended the Leiden  Observatory in the Netherlands, where he set the foundations for his  bachelor’s thesis on complex chemistry in pre-planetary systems. Vissapragada is continuing his research into planetary and pre-planetary systems at  Caltech. His work covers a broad range of (exo)planetary science, from  searching for new molecules in Venus’s atmosphere to measuring the  densities of super-Earths outside the Solar System to probing  atmospheric escape from highly irradiated exoplanets.

Indira Puri

Indira Puri

Fellowship awarded to support work towards a PhD in  Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Puri is a PhD candidate in economics at MIT. She was born in New York to Indian immigrants. She has degrees in mathematics, computer science, and economics. Her awards include Stanford’s Firestone Medal, a best thesis award; the J.E Wallace Sterling Award, for being one of the top 25 graduating students across Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences; being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa her junior year; chess and debate recognition at the national level; and being named a United States Presidential Scholar. Puri has served as president of Stanford’s chess organization, and graduate co-chair of Stanford Women in Computer Science.

Samir Paul

Samir Paul

Fellowship awarded to support work towards a JD at Columbia University

Paul’s parents came to the United States as students in the early 1980s, and after stints in Nevada, Pennsylvania, and California (where Samir was born) the family settled in Maryland to start a business. A computer science graduate of Harvard University, Paul has been in politics as a field staffer for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, where he was in charge of five battleground counties in rural Wisconsin. He worked for IBM for two years, where he served the U.S. Postal Service’s international parcel shipping operation and its Postal Innovation team. He worked with Teach For America on an Amgen Fellowship, was recognized as TFA’s top 50 nationwide science/math recruits. He earned his master’s in teaching from American University and worked as an Algebra II teacher in a majority-immigrant public high school. In 2011, he started the only AP Computer Science class in DC Public Schools, teaching extra after-school and Saturday-morning sessions to give his students additional class time. He spent four years teaching computer science in his own high school. In 2016, Samir was named Montgomery County Rising Star Teacher of the Year, and in 2017, the National Education Association identified him as one of its 30 Under 30 educators. Paul ran for a seat on the Maryland House of Delegates losing by merely 12 votes out of the 50,000 votes cast.

Shamik Mascharak

Shamik Mascharak

Fellowship awarded to support work towards a PhD/MD in Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine and Medicine at Stanford University

Shamik Mascharak was born in Santa Cruz, California to Indian immigrant parents. As educators themselves, his parents stressed the importance of service to others and lifelong learning—and so, every moment was a teaching moment. This included his father’s cholecystectomy, which prompted Shamik to mull over the mechanisms underlying gallstone formation. His findings after months of research culminated in a 1st place award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, an experience that sparked his drive for research.

At Stanford University, he majored in bioengineering and conducted research on recombinant protein-based biomaterials, ultimately publishing design principles he uncovered in several first-authored papers and an awarded undergraduate thesis. To connect his engineering research to real patients, he began shadowing and volunteering at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and Stanford Cancer Center. He saw a stark gap between scientific and clinical realities, cand committed himself to serving patients as a surgeon-scientist, and pursued an MD/PhD at Stanford School of Medicine.

Sunil Kumar Joshi

Sunil Kumar Joshi

Fellowship awarded to support work towards an MD/PhD in  Medicine and Cancer Biology at Oregon Health & Science University

Joshi was born in Vallejo, California to immigrants from India. His parents’ struggle to provide for their family has served as a source of motivation for Sunil to take initiative and make the most of his opportunities, the Soros biography on Joshi says. His interest in medicine and science stems from caring for his grandfather who suffered from hypertension and prostate cancer.

From advocating for his grandfather’s health needs, Joshi realized his ultimate passion lies in caring for patients from underserved and socioeconomically disadvantaged families. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Joshi studied molecular and cellular biology and was a member and biology tutor at the Biology Scholars Program. He worked at UC San Francisco (UCSF) and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center as a research associate and medical assistant at an outpatient HIV clinic.

Currently, he is a student and ARCS Foundation Scholar in Oregon Health & Science University’s Medical Scientist Training Program where his research is focused on studying intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms of drug resistance in the setting of leukemia. Joshi is equally passionate about increasing and retaining racial diversity in the biomedical sciences and as such has been involved in numerous initiatives in Portland (e.g., NIH BUILD EXITO, Minority Association for Pre-Medical Students, Ted R. Lilley Continuing Umbrella of Research Education Program).

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