Nine Yalies win Soros Fellowships for New Americans

Nine past, current, and soon-to-be students at Yale are among the 30 winners of 2015 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans.

The fellows, selected from a pool of 1,200 applicants, will receive tuition and stipend assistance of up to $90,000 in support of graduate education — in any field and in any advanced degree-granting program — in the United States.

The program was established in 1997 by Paul and Daisy Soros to support the graduate educations of students who were born abroad but have become permanent residents or naturalized citizens of the United States. Each award recipient must have “demonstrated creativity, originality, and initiative in one or more aspects of her or his life,” as well as “a commitment to and capacity for accomplishment that has required drive and sustained effort.” In addition, they must have shown a commitment to the values expressed in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The Yale recipients and their bios, taken from the Soros Foundation website, follow:

Shinichi Daimyo, Vietnamese, M.S.N. at Yale School of Nursing

Shinichi witnessed first-hand the trauma experienced by the Vietnamese boat refugee community when he was growing up in Los Angeles. The stigma toward mental health issues and the lack of access to mental health services only compounded the problem. While cultural norms told him to ignore mental health issues, Shinichi chose instead to focus on them.

As a psychology major at the University of Southern California, Shinichi volunteered in the Navajo Nation, and studied the psychological consequences of the Cyprus problem in the Republic of Cyprus and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Recognizing similarities, Shinichi was inspired to study mental health across cultural boundaries and countries.

Shinichi has become an expert in developing and implementing community-based mental health programs across the globe through his work at the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, the World Health Organization, and Partners In Health. Whether in Haiti or Pakistan, Shinichi is focused on creating sustainable solutions for resource-poor communities with unmet mental health needs.

Shinichi’s work has shown him the game-changing potential of nurses in addressing the significant burden of mental illness. Consequently, Shinichi will be attending the Yale School of Nursing’s Graduate Entry Prespecialty in Nursing program to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner so that he can train the next generation of psychiatric nurses to provide mental health care to communities in need. His goal is to raise the profile of advanced practice psychiatric nursing in low-resource settings to help transform how mental health systems are fundamentally structured to care for the poorest and most vulnerable.

Arash Fereydooni ’15, Iranian, M.D.

Frustrated by life in an internationally isolated country with limited educational opportunities, Arash and his family moved from Shiraz, Iran to the United States when he was a junior in high school. While still learning the language, Arash managed to lead his high school’s robotics team to second place in a world championship competition, patent two aerospace inventions, and graduate at the top of his class.

Arash came to understand the impact and great potential of medical innovation when his mother made a full recovery from an “inoperable” aortic coarctation when he was 13. An undergraduate at Yale University, Arash is in a four-year program that has allowed him to simultaneously pursue a B.S. and M.S. in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology. He has been awarded four research fellowships for his master’s thesis on measuring neuronal traction forces at Forscher Lab, and two international fellowships for developing a robotic surgery system that measures organ length stereoscopically at Heidelberg University Hospital in Germany.

Influenced by the stories of Afghan refugees in Iran and his own challenges immigrating to the United States, Arash has helped refugees in Connecticut seek out better access to education and healthcare. He also founded International Aid Organization, which is sponsored by the U.N. Refugee Agency and raises awareness of, and financial support for, Syrian refugees.

Arash is starting his M.D. in the fall to pursue his interest in surgery and academic medicine. The field of medicine will allow Arash to care for people, while also pursuing research and social innovations that have the potential to improve life for everyone.

Ayan Hussein, Somalian, Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience

Born to illiterate parents in Mogadishu, Somalia right before the civil war broke out, Ayan has sought refuge across country borders twice in her life. First, her family moved to a refugee camp in Kenya, and for a second time in 2003, when Ayan and her family were resettled with a relative in Clarkston, Georgia. Ayan was awarded the prestigious Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation scholarship, which she used to attend the University of Georgia.

Long after she had adjusted to the rigors of college life, and the challenges of being a first generation student there, Ayan discovered her passion for neuroscience. Her enthusiasm for neuroscience laboratory research grew while studying at the University of Oxford as a visiting scholar.After graduating, Ayan did research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Morishita laboratory, where she investigated the molecular mechanism of brain plasticity in an effort to provide novel therapeutic targets for amblyopia and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Ayan is a biological and biomedical sciences Ph.D. student at Yale University, where she is examining the role of GABAergic interneurons in neural circuit development. Her research will provide insights into how dysfunction of inhibitory interneurons impacts the development of brain circuits in disease. Ayan is a 2015 recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Having benefited from mentors throughout her life, Ayan is dedicated to helping others succeed. Since 2008, she has served as a Gates Millennium Ambassador, helping to connect the Gates Millennium Scholarship Foundation with future scholars. She became a citizen of the United States in 2014.

Evgeniya Kim, Uzbek, M.B.A. at Yale School of Management

Evgeniya’s heritage lies in four generations of border crossings. Born in what is now North Korea, Evgeniya’s ancestors moved to Russia’s Far East in search of a better life. Falling victim to Stalin’s repression, they were exiled to Central Asia and settled in Uzbekistan, where they faced marginalization. Evgeniya, 14 at the time, and her family fled Uzbekistan for the United States in 2002, where they fell victim to a visa scam and were forced to spend eight months in a family shelter in Leesport, Pennsylvania before receiving asylum. 

Evgeniya was determined to succeed academically and convinced a principal of a school an hour and a half away from her home to admit her into their gifted program. Socially, she felt her Korean face and Russian culture questioned by her classmates, but on the tennis court, she saw the pressures of her life dissipate. She had represented Uzbekistan as a member of the national junior tennis team and was able to use those skills in the United States to earn money for her family.

Aware of her unique background, Evgeniya was always interested in the interplay of culture, politics, and social change. As a student at Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, CUNY in New York City, she pursued international relations and interned at the Open Society Foundations, helping to address the very human rights issues that her family faced in Uzbekistan. She supplemented her studies with real world experiences by volunteering abroad and traveling to more than 30 countries around the world.

Seeing that behind most social issues lie tangible business problems, Evgeniya joined the Soros Economic Development Fund, where she analyzed the social impact of the fund’s investments on 21.4 million people across 20 countries. Evgeniya is currently pursuing her M.B.A. at the Yale School of Management. 

Eugene Rusyn, Russian, J.D. at Yale Law School

Eugene was born in Kiev, in the former Soviet Union to a Russian mother and a Carpatho-Ruthenian father. His family immigrated to the United States when he was 4, leaving behind family and friends — many of whom he would not see again for decades. They settled in New Jersey, hoping for a life of greater freedom and opportunity.

Eugene pursued his bachelor’s degree in history at New York University, which he completed summa cum laude. While there, Eugene’s interests expanded to include philosophy and the law. He was particularly interested in concepts of national belonging.

His studies turned toward nationalism and the ways emerging transnational organizations try to foster community among diverse populations while guaranteeing basic rights. During this time, Eugene worked with professor Tony Judt on the completion of several books and articles published in The New York Times and The New York Review of Books. He also worked as an associate editor on legal journals focusing on international and constitutional law.

When Eugene was 23, he became a naturalized United States citizen. The judge administering the oath told those present to remember the many others who wished to be in their shoes — citizenship, she said, is a lifelong privilege and responsibility. Those words guide Eugene as he works toward his J.D. at Yale Law School, where he is focusing on international, constitutional, and environmental law.

Andre Shomorony ’13, Brazilian, M.D. at Harvard Medical School and MIT

Andre was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to parents of Jewish-European descent. In 2005, when Andre was 15, his family moved to Miami in search of financial stability and better educational and professional opportunities. Once in the United States, Andre’s parents had trouble convincing potential employers of the value of their Brazilian college degrees, and Andre had trouble earning high school credits for classes he had already taken in Brazil.

Quickly overcoming institutional, cultural, and language barriers, Andre excelled in school and was awarded a QuestBridge scholarship to attend Yale University. Combining his interests in natural sciences and technology, he majored in biomedical engineering and spent his summers conducting research in micro-tissue engineering and cancer biology. In addition to pursuing biomedical research, Andre directed an award-winning undergraduate a cappella group and was on the board of Yale’s Relay for Life team.

During Andre’s college years, he helped take care of his father in a battle against cancer, a life-changing experience that drew him close to medicine. He was inspired to volunteer at Haven Free Clinic, where he learned about patient care and decided to become a physician.

Now a first-year student in the joint Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program, Andre is pursuing an M.D. with an added focus on biomedical research. He hopes to work at the intersection of engineering and surgery, developing new tools and techniques to improve the field of reconstructive surgery.

Stephanie Speirs ’07, South Korean, M.B.A. at MIT Sloan School of Management

Stephanie was born in Hawaii to a father who was adopted from China and a mother who emigrated from Korea to attend school in the United States. Stephanie’s mother escaped an abusive marriage, and found herself struggling to both raise her three kids alone and pay for the one-bedroom apartment that they all shared. She instilled in Stephanie a reverence for hard work, and Stephanie threw herself into school and jobs to help pay for expenses at home.

Stephanie went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a master’s degree in public affairs with a focus on international development from Princeton University. Stephanie’s education and professional experiences have been guided by a belief in social progress. She managed field operations in seven states for President Barack Obama’s campaign and developed Middle East policy as the youngest-ever director at the White House National Security Council.

Seeking to pivot towards issues that affect households on a daily basis, Stephanie will earn an M.B.A. at MIT Sloan School of Management and work to expand clean energy access to low-income households. She is currently a global fellow with Acumen, a non-profit venture fund, and the innovation manager in India at d.light, a solar company powering rural villages without reliable electricity. While at MIT, she will continue building Solstice Initiative, the first-of-its-kind social enterprise she co-founded to transform the number of Americans that can access solar power.

Julie Zhu ’12, Chinese, M.F.A. in painting at Hunter College, CUNY

Julie’s parents were part of the first class of students to graduate from college in China after the Cultural Revolution, during which time universities had closed their doors for more than a decade. Both mathematicians, Julie’s parents came to the United States to pursue graduate school.

Like her parents, Julie’s first passion was math, but as she grew up she felt increasingly drawn to the arts. She cartooned for The Washington Post, and her paintings were exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery after she was named a Presidential Scholar in both academics and visual art.

Julie went on to Yale University, where she double-majored in mathematics and art, enjoying the freedom to pursue both fields simultaneously. As a freshman, she added to these lifelong devotions the carillon, the world’s heaviest musical instrument — a tower of hanging bells played by a wooden keyboard. After graduating, she pursued advanced carillon studies at the Royal Carillon School in Belgium, while also painting and exhibiting her work abroad.

Julie has since given numerous recitals around the world as a professional carillonneur. She is also the carillonneur for St. Thomas Church in Manhattan. Her artistic work today sits at the intersection of music, mathematics, and visual representation. In 2012, Julie co-founded the Sitka Fellows Program, a poly-disciplinary residency in Alaska that celebrates the meeting of disparate fields, now in its fourth year.

Julie currently studies painting at Hunter College, CUNY and teaches art in Alaska during the summer.

Polina Nazaykinskaya ’10 M.M., ’13 A.D., D.M.A in composition and music theory at The Graduate Center, CUNY

Born in Togliatti, an industrial city on the Volga River in Russia, Polina was surrounded by music growing up. Polina’s mother often recalls when, at just two years old, Polina reached for the piano and played a small segment from the final scene of Glinka’s “Life for the Tsar,” which Polina had heard her siblings practicing, but had never been taught.

Polina entered the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory with the intention of becoming a concert violinist, but quickly realized that her true calling was composition, as music would frequently “visit” her, and “write itself.” As she finished her bachelor’s degree, she realized that she could not stay in Russia if she wanted to be a composer. She wanted to be in the United States, where there were more opportunities to be a professional composer and musician.

When her letter of admittance to the Yale School of Music arrived, Polina held it as though it were a lottery ticket. At Yale, she worked with Christopher Theofanidis and Ezra Laderman, and completed a master’s degree in composition and theory, in addition to receiving an artist diploma in composition. “Winter Bells,” the first orchestral piece that Polina wrote in the United States, received wide acclaim, and was recorded by Sony Music in 2010.

Now pursuing a doctorate degree in composition at the Graduate Center, CUNY, Polina is studying with Tania León. Polina has won numerous awards, including the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and has garnered performances by ensembles including the Minnesota Orchestra, the United States Army Orchestra, and the Russian National Orchestra.Through music, Polina would like to explore the difficulty of political choices and the decline of democratic institutions; the rise of nationalistic tendencies, and the creation of a culture in which authority and obedience are preferred to freedom.