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The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships

Compiled/Written by Murali Kamma Email Compiled/Written by Murali Kamma
June 2014
The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships

The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships, each worth $90,000 towards graduate education, are awarded to immigrants or children of immigrants. This year, among the 30 winners, we have four Indian-Americans: Arnav Chhabra (for a PhD in medical engineering and medical physics), Sundeep Iyer (for a JD), Ramya Parameswaran (for an MD and a PhD in biophysical sciences), and Sana Raoof (for an MD and a PhD in molecular oncology). Another winner is Salmah Rizvi (for a JD), who is of Pakistani-Guyanese descent.

Sundeep Iyer’s work has a tie to Georgia: In 2011, Sundeep (pictured at left) founded the Statistical Reform in Redistricting Project, whose data have been used by the Sunlight Foundation and Georgia’s Legislative Black Caucus.

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 duty-bound 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 middle schoolers he was volunteer-teaching to fight for their rights. After graduating from Harvard, Sundeep worked for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, a non-partisan think-tank where he directed statistical research to evaluate democratic reforms. His research was used in several federal voter rights cases, andhis work has been cited in The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico and 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.

Ramya Parameswaran grew up in the Bay Area, a gifted violinist and performer of Bharathanataym (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 to Stanford University’s top undergraduate theses. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Ramya has often found herself 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.

Sana Raoof: 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 meters 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. Hoping to teach kids the chemistry of smoking versus running, Sana created a class, Breathe Strong, in 2010. She also became Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Science Review and the youngest 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. 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 non-small cell lung cancer. Optimistic about tobacco legislation reducing the burden of cancer, Sana wrote a meta-analysis quantifying second-hand smoke exposure in cars and presented it to the American College of Chest Physicians in 2013.

Arnav Chhabra: Medical care 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. Coming to the United States 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 resistance, and in 2009, he was first author on a paper 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 on chip model of the liver. The model will replicate the pathophysiology of human livers, thereby enabling a noninvasive study of liver function. Arnav is concurrently funded by the National Science Foundation.

Salmah Y Rizvi: 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 in the global grassroots. Thereafter, she completed an MS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University while working for the US 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 US national security and led ninety-two analysts in progressing intelligence reporting on the Muslim world while also enhancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Salmah is currently pursuing a JD at the New York University School of Law. She hopes to combine her legal, security, and nonprofit experience into a role as an effective politician and civic leader in Baltimore, a city she loves and desires to support through innovative advocacy and reform.

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