The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, the premier graduate school fellowship for immigrants and children of immigrants, has announced their 2016 recipients. The thirty awardees include three Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology (HST) students, selected for their potential to make significant contributions to US society, culture, or their academic field.
The three HST students are Vishwajith Sridharan, who is from southern India and is enrolled in the HST MD program as well as an MBA program at Harvard; Suan Lian Tuang, a native of Myanmar; and Eran Hodis from Israel. Tuang and Hodis are both pursuing MD-PhD degrees in the HST program.
This year’s 30 winners were selected from a pool of 1,443 applicants with a two percent acceptance rate, making this the most competitive year in the Fellowship’s history. Five HST students and alumni have won Soros Fellowships since 2013.
Vishwajith (Vish) was born and raised in southern India. His grandmother, who had limited education, cared for him while his mother worked many jobs and his father sent money home from the United States. At the age of nine, Vish, his mother and his sister were reunited with his father in New Jersey, where he began third grade. He worked hard to catch up with his classmates. Soon Vish was excelling, and by the age of 15, he was working at Children’s Hospital in DC, where he spent multiple years developing novel HIV vaccine models, one of which was patented.
Vish lost his grandmother to abdominal cancer the same year he was admitted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for his undergraduate studies and so he changed his focus to cancer. Vish’s NSF-funded college research on protein thermodynamics led to publications in Molecular Cell and the ACS Journal Biochemistry, and also earned recognition from the Goldwater Scholarship Foundation.
Vish has been keen to work with vulnerable populations across the globe. He has traveled to Uganda and helped set up healthcare infrastructure in rural villages and has also held an internship with the United Nations in Switzerland, working to develop guidelines regarding hazardous chemicals management for resource-poor countries.
Vish is now working towards his MD in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program, where he is investigating immunotherapy in the treatment of cancer. He is also pursuing an MBA at Harvard Business School. He hopes to develop translational therapeutics in the lab, bring them to market, and make a difference in cancer care among underserved communities.
Suan Lian Tuang
Tuang was born and raised in a rural town called Tedim in northwestern Myanmar. His family, practicing Christians and members of the Zomi ethnic group, immigrated to Orlando, Florida.
Seeing education as a key to helping his family overcome their socioeconomic situation, Tuang entered high school in the US as a junior, fully determined to succeed. With the mentorship of his ESL teacher, Ms. Jacquelyn Gomez, who instilled in him the belief that he could realize any dream in America despite his background, he was accepted to MIT with full financial aid.
At MIT, Tuang developed an interest in chemistry and conducted research in bioinorganic chemistry and systems biology as an Amgen scholar. He worked in the lab of Dr. Stephen Lippard at MIT and the lab of Dr. Ralph Weissleder at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Having benefited from service projects during his childhood in Myanmar, Tuang sought to implement community-centered service projects around the world. He served as the president of MIT’s International Development House (iHouse) and developed a passion for teaching, serving as a teaching assistant for two undergraduate classes and received the Frederick D. Greene Teaching award. During his senior year, he was awarded the Albert G. Hill Prize and was featured on the MIT homepage.
In 2014, after receiving his BS from MIT, Tuang became a United States citizen. Tuang is now pursing an MD in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology medical program, and a PhD in chemistry at MIT. He is currently working in Dr. Bradley Pentelute’s laboratory. Tuang hopes to combine his chemistry expertise and medical knowledge to treat infectious diseases and neglected tropical diseases. He is guided by his faith to apply his training to help others. “Every day, I go back to the same Bible verse, Philippians 4:13,” he says. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Born in Haifa, Eran is the son of Israeli immigrants. When his father’s employer offered relocation to the United States, his parents jumped at the chance to pursue the American dream and one day become US citizens. Eran learned to appreciate hard work and the value of education, inspired by the example of his parents and their efforts to make a fulfilling life in a new country.
Fascinated by math and science from a young age, Eran relished any opportunity he had to pursue advanced coursework as he progressed through the Massachusetts public school system. After earning a bachelor’s in math and biology from Boston University, where he was a University Scholar, Eran returned to Israel to study computational biology as a graduate student at the Weizmann Institute of Science. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer, he moved back to Boston to be with his immediate family and resolved to refocus his research efforts on cancer.
Eran’s subsequent research in cancer genomics at the Broad Institute and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has led to landmark advances in the field. His work has been published in Nature, Science, Cell, and Nature Genetics and highlighted on the front page of the New York Times. In 2015 he was named among the Forbes “30 Under 30” in science. Outside of the research lab, he has shared his excitement for science with students by co-creating and co-teaching a highly-rated course in computational biology at Harvard College.
Eran is currently an HST MD-PhD student, working toward a PhD in biophysics at Harvard University. He would like to imagine a world where cancer is a friendlier disease and believes we can get there through scientific research.
Daisy M. Soros and Paul Soros (1926-2013) founded the Fellowship program in 1997, which has awarded more than 550 Fellowships over its eighteen-year history. The couple, both Hungarian immigrants, has contributed $75 million to the organization’s charitable trust.
In addition to receiving up to $90,000 in funding for the graduate program of their choice, each new Fellow joins the prestigious community of recipients from past years, which includes US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, leading Ebola researcher and Harvard faculty member Pardis Sabeti, Aspiration founder Andrei Cherny, Oscar health insurance co-founder Kevin Nazemi and over 535 other New American leaders.
“The Fellows are from all different countries and socio-economic and religious backgrounds, and they have come to the United States in a myriad of ways – some were born here, while others are asylum seekers, refugees, and green card holders – but they all bring excellence to the table,” said Craig Harwood, who directs the Fellowship program. “They demonstrate that immigrants, regardless of their background, continue to be a critical part of our nation.”
Individuals can learn more about the Fellowship, the current Fellows and the application, as well as sign up for the Fellowship’s e-mail list, and an informational webinar, at the program’s website: www.pdsoros.org. The 2017 application is now open, and is due on November 1, 2016 at 11:59 EST.