Six Yalies are awarded Soros Fellowships for New Americans

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Six Yale affiliates are among the 30 winners of the 2016 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans.

The fellows, selected from a pool of over 1,400 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.

Hungarian immigrants Paul and Daisy Soros established the program in 1997 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 follow:

Aisha Saad

Award to support work toward a J.D. at Yale Law School

Saad was born in Cairo, Egypt and immigrated to the United States with her family in the early 1990s. She was raised on an Islamic concept of “tawhid,” the unity of all creation, and in a community and family that expressed this tenet through service and compassion, she says. Her parents sought educational opportunity in the United States and futures for their children that were not limited by political and social constraints.

Saad’s early childhood in Egypt and regular summer visits growing up gave her dual exposure to industrial development and its disparate impacts on a global scale. During a summer project in Bhopal, India in 2008, Saad was exposed to Union Carbide’s industrial disaster site and the ongoing legal campaigns for justice. She says she became captivated by the corporate form and by its social and environmental impacts.

After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Saad pursued master’s and doctoral degrees at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, focusing on public challenges to the modern corporation and the development of effective corporate responsibility regimes. Saad then spent two years as an assistant professor at the American University in Cairo, helping to launch a master’s program in sustainable development and teaching courses on corporate social responsibility, and social and environmental policy.

Saad is now pursuing a J.D. at Yale Law School. She says she is dedicated to advancing progressive scholarship focusing on the legal theory of the corporation and to representing marginalized communities through impact litigation in cases of environmental and corporate injustice.

Durga Thakral B.S. ’12, M.S. ’12

Award to support work towards an M.D./Ph.D. in genetics at Yale School of Medicine

Born in Illinois, Thakral is the daughter of Indian immigrants. Her parents came to Chicago in pursuit of education and opportunity. Despite its humble beginnings, Thakral’s family worked tirelessly to provide a loving and supportive environment, nurturing the cultural value of “seva,” or selfless service, in the setting of a new community, says Thakral.

Thakral attended a local public high school where, she says, her admiration for the scientific mysteries of the universe was encouraged by many dedicated teachers and mentors. As an undergraduate in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Thomas Steitz, Thakral discovered a novel antibacterial compound. With support from the Arnold & Mabel Beckman Foundation and the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, Thakral earned a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale.

Thakral says her work with communities with minimal healthcare resources has shown her the dire need for better access to medical care and affordable biomedical devices. She continues to find opportunities for selfless service wherever she can, she notes, sharing her enthusiasm for science with children and inspiring middle school girls to pursue careers in quantitative fields.

Thakral is now an M.D./Ph.D. student in the laboratory of Yale geneticist Richard Lifton. Her clinical experiences, she says, remind her of what a joy it is to work with patients, and she hopes to take advantage of the vast and growing power of molecular medicine in her work to improve the human condition and empower others to pursue their dreams.

Eric Chung

Award to support work toward a J.D. at Yale Law School

Born to Chinese parents who emigrated from Vietnam to Canada and then to the United States after the Vietnam War, Chung grew up in Madison Heights, a small city near Detroit, Michigan, where he says he witnessed firsthand the importance of education as a life-changing source of mobility.

Inspired by his parents’ sacrifices to ensure a better life for their children, and by the many undeterred students and teachers in his hometown who made the most of limited resources, Chung says he has made it his mission to use his own education to help others access theirs.

Chung received his A.B., summa cum laude, from Harvard University, where he studied comparative social policy with a focus on education, health, and welfare systems. He served as a Pamela Harriman Foreign Service Fellow at the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and organized a field study on educational equality in Finland with the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. Chung became certified as an educator with the Harvard Graduate School of Education and taught civics for South Boston and Boston Chinatown immigrants. He has worked on social policy issues with a range of government institutions, including the Massachusetts Senate, U.S. Department of State, and the White House.

Now a student at Yale Law School, Chung is a student director of the Education Adequacy Project, a clinic representing disadvantaged youth in an educational rights case, and a member of the Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic. He is doing work at the intersection of law and policy, exploring how legal frameworks including constitutional rights and federalism can improve social policy.

Goran Micevic

Award to support work toward an M.D./Ph.D. in pathology at Yale School of Medicine

Micevic was born in Chicago, to a family of Yugoslavian physicians on a temporary research fellowship in the United States. Soon after his parents’ fellowship concluded, the family had to return to Yugoslavia, where Micevic grew up in the midst of turmoil and war. At the age of 12, while helping his parents treat patients in a makeshift clinic in a bomb shelter, Micevic was seized by secret police and interrogated because of his status as an American citizen. He was forced to enter Macedonia as a refugee; eventually he entered Yugoslavia under a different name to reunite with his family.

Micevic was 18 when he graduated from high school and decided to leave Serbia to pursue his passion for medicine and science in the United States. With $500 dollars to his name, Micevic arrived at Iowa State University where he went on to study how histone modifications regulate gene expression in the Department of Biochemistry. His appetite for research earned him a Goldwater scholarship and visiting fellowships at the German Cancer Research Center and Mayo Clinic, which fortified his determination to become a physician-scientist.

After graduating from Iowa State University, Micevic enrolled in the M.D./Ph.D. program at the Yale School of Medicine and began investigating melanoma epigenetics in the Department of Experimental Pathology. His melanoma research has led to awards from the Joanna M. Nicolay Melanoma Foundation and the American Skin Association, as well as a fellowship from the National Cancer Institute.

Currently, Micevic continues to investigate the role of epigenetics in melanoma formation and progression. As a future physician-scientist, Micevic plans to enroll in a research-focused residency that will allow him to revolutionize the way data is used in modern oncology.

Shadi Ghaheri

Award to support work toward an M.F.A. in theater direction at Yale School of Drama

Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Ghaheri both loved her cosmopolitan home and felt stifled by the constant expectations placed on her as a woman, she says, noting that she was immersed in the arts from a young age. She played piano professionally and trained as a ballerina for nearly a decade. While attending Shahid Beheshti University, where she founded the theater club and was the first woman to direct campus theater, Ghaheri became a pioneer for women in the arts.

In 2011, Ghaheri moved to California with the dream of becoming a theater director. She started acting, assistant directing, and directing at Saddleback College, Long Beach Playhouse and Hollywood Fringe where she worked with Robert Prior and Bill McGuire. While accumulating accolades and diving into the Western canon, Ghaheri was learning to act and direct in English and supporting herself with part-time jobs.

Today, Ghaheri is in her first year of the Yale School of Drama’s M.F.A. program in theater directing, which is the most selective program of its kind in the United States. She is currently studying the works of Anton Chekhov and Shakespeare. Ghaheri is known for her ability to reframe a story or a stage so that audiences could see new perspectives emerge.

As a theater director, Ghaheri says, she wants to tell the untold stories of women in pain and captivity, noting that she believes that more powerful roles and positions for women in theater can help transform the way that women see themselves and understand their identities in the United States and across the world.

Chidiebere Akusobi ’12

Award to support work toward an M.D./Ph.D. in infectious disease at Harvard Medical School and MIT

Born in Nigeria, Akusobi and his mother immigrated to the United States when he was two years old. They reunited with his father who had immigrated two years earlier to attend nursing school. His parents left Nigeria due to political and economic strife and settled in the South Bronx — where, he says, they worked to build a better life for their children and the family they left behind in Nigeria.

As a child, Akusobi says, he dreamt of becoming a physician despite attending under-resourced inner city public schools where going to college was not the norm. He attributes the start of his academic journey to the Prep for Prep program, which prepared him to attend Horace Mann, a private school in the Bronx.

Akusobi went on to attend Yale University where he majored in ecology and evolutionary biology and devoted his time to leading science outreach programs. His most memorable experiences, he says, were coordinating DEMOS, the largest science volunteer organization on campus, and designing the curriculum for a weekly afterschool science program run by the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

While at Yale, Akusobi developed a passion for infectious disease research; his senior thesis on phage-host interactions won the William R. Belknap prize for excellence in biological studies. Upon graduating, Akusobi was awarded a Gates Cambridge scholarship to pursue an M.Phil. in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge. After earning his M.Phil., Akusobi worked as a fellow for the Working Group on New TB Drugs, where he communicated breakthroughs in tuberculosis drug discovery research to the public and global TB research community.

Currently, Akusobi is a second year M.D./Ph.D. student and campus leader at Harvard Medical School. He is involved with the WhiteCoat4BlackLives movement and the Student National Medical Association, where he works to increase the pipeline of underrepresented minority students in medicine. As a future physician-scientist, Akusobi says, he hopes to conduct pioneering research that contributes to the better treatment and cure of infectious diseases.

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