Eight Yale affiliates honored with Soros Fellowships for New Americans

Seven current Yale graduate students and one Yale College alum are among the 30 students nationwide chosen to receive Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans.

The Yale graduate students receiving Soros Fellowships are HaoYang (Carl) Jiang, Jonathan Marquez ’13, Aseem Mehta ’14, Wazhma Sadat ’14, Joel Sati, Jennifer Shin, and Diana Yanez. In addition, Jenna Cook ’14, received a fellowship to support her Ph.D. studies at Harvard University.

The 2018 fellows were chosen from a pool of 1,766 applicants for their potential to make significant contributions to United States society, culture, or their academic fields. The 2018 Soros Fellows are all the children of immigrants, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, green card holders, or naturalized citizens. They receive up to $90,000 in funding for the graduate program of their choice. 

Whether it is through scientific discovery, business, literature, medicine, or law, immigrants enrich our everyday lives in the United States in profound ways. As a country, we need to refocus our attention on immigrant contributions,” said Craig Harwood, who directs the fellowship program, which is celebrating its 20-year anniversary.

Profiles of the Yale winners follow:

HaoYang (Carl) Jiang

HaoYang (Carl) Jiang
HaoYang (Carl) Jiang

HaoYang “Carl” Jiang was born in Tianjin, China and attempted to claim asylum in the United States at an early age. After he arrived, Jiang faced an uncertain immigration status, experienced intermittent hunger and homelessness throughout adolescence, and was abandoned by his family while residing on the South Side of Chicago.

Jiang survived with the support of friends and teachers, and at age 15 was fostered by his high school debate coach and received permanent residency. His foster care experience and admiration for the educators who saved his life motivated him to become a seventh grade English teacher in Las Vegas through Teach for America following college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

While inspired by his students’ successes, Jiang grew increasingly frustrated with the wider educational landscape, and in particular, the school-to-prison pipeline. As a result, he transitioned from the classroom to the courtroom, becoming an Urban Fellow at the New York City Law Department within the Family Court Division. There, he worked on issues related to juvenile delinquency, restorative justice, and implicit bias — ultimately facilitating bias reduction trainings for the Perception Institute, a consortium of social scientists and public interest attorneys. Jiang also became a certified peacemaker at the Red Hook Community Justice Center, where he worked with misdemeanor offenders to take healing steps in repairing harm caused to their victims and communities.

Jiang is currently working toward a J.D. at Yale Law School. He says he hopes to return to Chicago and work alongside underserved communities at the intersection of education, community economic development, and criminal justice reform.

Jonathan Marquez ’13

Jonathan Marquez
Jonathan Marquez ’13

Jonathan Marquez was born in Houston to parents who migrated there from Mexico and Colombia. As a child, Marquez says, he saw his family navigate economic, language, and cultural barriers and learned a great deal about perseverance from his family’s example.

Despite a lack of financial means, Marquez was able to attend Yale University where he arrived with a suitcase that contained everything he owned, having never stepped foot on a university campus before. After falling in love with biology, Marquez majored in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology. He conducted research in the lab of Martín García-Castro, studying neural crest cells that play a role in the early development of a variety of tissues.

Inspired to pursue clinical and research training to address pediatric diseases though developmental biology and genetics, Marquez joined the M.D./Ph.D. program at Yale. His current research in Mustafa Khokha’s Lab is part of the Pediatric Genomics Discovery Program that works with young patients suffering from unknown diseases to investigate a potential genetic cause for each of their mysterious conditions and model these to understand underlying developmental mechanisms. Marquez hopes to promote similar approaches throughout his career and ensure that they are integrated into pediatric care through equitable innovations in genetic testing, counseling, and treatment.

Aseem Mehta ’14

Aseem Mehta
Aseem Mehta ’14

Aseem Mehta imagines a world without borders, real or imagined. His vision is informed by interlocking histories: the Indian independence movement, social mobility through migration, and racial justice organizing in the United States. These forces, he says, shaped his family’s experiences and conspired to bring him to life as a New American in Syracuse, New York.

Recognizing the liberating power of people in motion, Mehta is committed to dismantling the laws, ideologies, and structures that deny communities agency and mobility. As a fellow with Immigrant Justice Corps, Mehta advocated alongside immigrant communities against deportation in New York and South Texas. While representing detained refugee families in Dilley, TX, he organized with incarcerated individuals to expose discriminatory policies and unjust conditions of confinement to national media outlets, building momentum for related litigation. Mehta’s engagement with movement strategies also includes collaborating with community organizers at the Urban Justice Center to advocate for fairer treatment of welfare recipients and helping to facilitate a campaign to bring faith leaders to the forefront of the fight for “net neutrality” with the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.

As an undergraduate studying ethics, politics and economics at Yale University, Mehta co-led the Visual Law Project, where he co-directed a documentary film investigating the use of solitary confinement in maximum security prisons. The film premiered at the United Nations Association Film Festival and was screened for legislators, corrections officials, and communities across the United States, providing a platform for grassroots organizers to speak to new audiences. 

Mehta says he is delighted to have returned to New Haven to study legal strategies for supporting social movements. At Yale Law School, he adds, he is grateful to work with thoughtful mentors and colleagues in the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic to challenge exclusionary practices that underlie the logic of borders.

Wazhma Sadat ’14

Wazhma Sadat
Wazhma Sadat ’14

Wazhma Sadat was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in a setting where her educational opportunities were severely limited by the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education. When the Taliban’s stringent policies threatened the lives of Afghan civilians, Sadat’s family joined the millions of displaced Afghans who crossed multiple borders in search of peace and education. As a refugee in Pakistan, she attended a school for displaced Afghans during the day and wove carpets with her six siblings at night.

After the fall of the Taliban, Sadat’s family returned to Kabul permanently where she finished high school and travelled to the United States for the first time as a high school exchange student. Upon her return to Afghanistan, she worked on various initiatives across the country that improved women’s access to education and furthered the economic empowerment of Afghan women.

Sadat would subsequently be the first Afghan woman to graduate from Yale College. Soon after college, she cofounded Firoz Academy, an ed-tech startup that aims to provide educational and e-employment opportunities for the less privileged in war-stricken countries such as Afghanistan.

Currently, Sadat attends Yale Law School by day and teaches students in Afghanistan by night. She says her life’s work will be to advocate for and provide educational opportunities for the less privileged in the Muslim world.

Joel Sati

Joel Sati
Joel Sati

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Joel Sati immigrated to the United States at the age of 9. Early on, his mother worked night and double shifts at a Kennesaw, Georgia gas station to make ends meet. In 2010, after moving to Maryland and as he was applying to colleges, Sati found out that he was undocumented. This meant that though he was accepted to four-year colleges, he had almost no financial aid options.

In January 2012, Sati’s mother put money together and recommended that he attend Montgomery College. That summer, President Barack Obama issued Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provided critical protection from deportation for individuals like Sati. That summer, he also participated in activism surrounding Maryland’s DREAM Act, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Maryland’s public colleges and universities. In tandem, these policies allowed Sati to complete his associate’s degree. More importantly, he says, his courses in philosophy provided the language and lens to understand law and immigration and what it means for laws and governments to call individuals “illegal” or “alien.” 

Sati then continued his college education, activism, and research at the City College of New York (CCNY). While a student, he was a youth organizer for African Communities Together, where he mobilized African youth around immigration issues. He also co-designed and co-taught a black political thought course at CCNY that explored texts such as “The Souls of Black Folk” by W. E. B. Du Bois, “Black Feminist Thought” by Patricia Hill Collins, “The Racial Contract” by Charles Mills, “Citizen” by Claudia Rankine, “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. The course is now a permanent offering in CCNY’s political science department.

As a Ph.D. student in the Jurisprudence and Social Policy program at University of California-Berkeley and a J.D. candidate at the Yale Law School, Sati examines the intersections of law, epistemology, and philosophy as they relate to contemporary issues of non-citizenship and illegality. His work fleshes out a concept he titles “illegalization,” defined as the legal-institutional processes that continuously cast people as less-than-capable knowers in the law. 

Jennifer Yunhee Shin

Jennifer Yunhee Shin
Jennifer Yunhee Shin

Jennifer (Jen) Yunhee Shin’s immigration story originates with her grandparents, who fled what is now North Korea in 1953 to South Korea, eventually immigrating to the United States to seek a brighter future for their family. Shin was raised in Ocean, New Jersey by her mother, who, she says, instilled within her the core ethical values that motivate and guide her today.

The story of her grandparents prompted Shin to investigate the integration of North Korean defectors within South Korea for her undergraduate architectural thesis, completed in 2013 at Drexel University. Part research, part design, Shin’s  thesis explored the ability for architecture to heal by enabling authentic dwelling of North Koreans in Seoul. Shin observed that systemic denial of agency within the North, rapid modernization of the South, and ongoing cultural divergence of both Koreas provides a difficult foundation upon which North Korean immigrants might build anew. By synthesizing both modern and traditional ways of living and building, she says, Shin envisioned a renewed story of North Korean settlement, projecting a hopeful but pragmatic example for a future Korea. For her work titled “Way Home, a Compound for North Korean Pilgrims in Seoul,” Shin was awarded the Michael Pearson Architecture Prize Gold Medal.

After graduation, Shin channeled her interests in cultural identity, design, and environmentalism to co-found the Raymond Farm Center for Living Arts & Design, a nonprofit cultural arts center and artist residency in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In addition to hosting ongoing cultural exchange, the Raymond Farm fosters a connection to the earth through community and professional programming, lectures, workshops, and small-scale organic farming and lifestyle practices.

Shin is currently pursuing joint degrees in architecture and environmental management at Yale University, where identity, regionalism, and environmentalism remain important to her work, she says. She aims to cultivate an environmental ethic that restores a joint ecological culture between the built and natural worlds.

Diana A. Yanez

Diana A. Yanez
Diana A. Yanez

Diana A. Yanez was born in California and raised in Tijuana, Mexico. From a young age, she says, she learned the value of hard work from her parents who sacrificed their life to raise their four children. After high school, she moved back to the United States in pursuit of academic and professional opportunities. She says she is grateful to her significant other, parents, siblings, aunts, and uncles for their unconditional support throughout her journey. 

Yanez’s interest in medicine and research grew at Cerritos Community College thanks to her dedicated professors, she says. After attending the Bridges to Baccalaureate summer research program, she not only graduated with highest honors but transferred to the University of California-Los Angeles, where she obtained a B.S. in molecular, cell and developmental biology and a minor in biomedical research. During her college career, Yanez volunteered at health fairs and hospitals, and was a leader in organizations dedicated to improving healthcare in low-income communities, including Chicanos Latinos for Community Medicine and the Black and Latino AIDS Project.

After graduation, she joined the laboratory of her mentor, Professor Jeremy Stark, where she co-invented a system that improves the CRSPR-Cas9 genome editing technology, which is used to study disease mechanisms and develop therapies. Yanez has co-authored six peer-reviewed publications in fields of cardiogenesis, DNA repair, and immunology.

Now at Yale, Yanez is investigating the role of immune cells in the development of skin cancer in the laboratory of Professor Oscar Colegio. In addition, she says, she is proud to be a part of HAVEN, a student-run free clinic. Her long-term goal is to manage her own cancer immunology research laboratory, while concurrently sharing the benefits of her expertise through clinical trials and an oncology practice dedicated to improving outcomes among underserved patient populations.

Jenna Cook ’14

Jenna Cook
Jenna Cook ’14

Jenna Cook was adopted from Wuhan, China in 1992 and grew up in Newburyport, Massachusetts. With the support of her adoptive family, Cook traveled back to China for the first time at age 10 and began intensively studying Mandarin in high school.

In 2014, Cook graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in women’s, gender, & sexuality studies. Her undergraduate thesis examined the one-child policy and the son preference in China as driving forces behind the abandonment of Chinese girls for adoption. Cook’s thesis was awarded the John Addison Porter Prize for outstanding thesis or dissertation, the Henry K. Hayase Prize in Asian American Studies, the Williams Prize in East Asian Studies, and the Steere Prize in Women’s Studies.

After graduating from Yale, Cook returned to live in China for three years. During this time she conducted fieldwork on Chinese domestic adoption policy and practice as a Fulbright Fellow, served as a teacher at the Yale Young Global Scholars Program in Beijing, and earned an M.A. in China studies with a concentration in law and society at Peking University’s Yenching Academy.

Cook’s research interests include kinship, reproduction, gender, culture, and social change. An important goal of her research, she says, is to contribute towards building cross-cultural understanding between the people of the US and China.

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