Seven Yale affiliates win Soros Fellowships for New Americans
Four current Yale students and three Yale College graduates are among the 30 individuals selected to receive The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, a graduate school program for immigrants and children of immigrants.
The seven Yale affiliates are current students Maria Camilia Bustos, a student at Yale Law School; Woong Hwang, who is pursuing an M.D./Ph.D in genetics; Hilda Huang, a 2017 Yale College graduate who will earn her master’s degree this May from the Yale School of Music; and Yale College senior Agata Sorotokin ’19. The alumni recipients of the award are Viviana Andazola Marquez ’18, Grace Pan ’17, and Alexander Zhang ’18.
Selected from a pool of 1,767 applicants for their potential to make significant contributions to U.S. society, culture, or their academic field, this year’s fellows are all the children of immigrants, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, green card holders, or naturalized citizens. In addition to receiving up to $90,000 in funding for the graduate program of their choice, each new Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow will join the community of 625 recipients from past years.
“This is an outstanding group of Soros Fellows, and it’s wonderful to see so many recent Yale undergraduates in this year’s cohort,” says Rebekah Westphal, director of the Office of Fellowships Programs. “We are always happy to support finalists through the interview process.”
Founded by Hungarian immigrants, Daisy M. Soros and her late husband Paul Soros (1926-2013), the program honors continuing generations of immigrant contributions to the United States.
Profiles of the Yale-affiliated Soros Fellows follow.
Maria Camilia Bustos, Yale Law School
Maria Camila Bustos, who is currently studying at Yale Law School, was born in raised in Bogotá, Colombia, before moving to Miami, Florida when she was 13 years old. Seeing her parents leave everything they knew behind for her and her sister convinced Bustos of the importance of perseverance, imagination, and hard work. During high school, she learned about climate change and its impacts on vulnerable communities inside and outside the United States.
At Brown University, Bustos studied environmental studies and international relations, focusing on the United Nations climate negotiations, fossil fuel divestment, and state-level climate change legislation. She also addressed the lack of diversity in environmental work, and pushed for the inclusion of environmental justice in the curriculum to examine the disparate impact of environmental burdens on low-income communities and communities of color.
When visiting Colombia to study the human rights impacts of coal extraction and the country’s position on climate change, Bustos realized she wanted to return after graduation, especially as the country reckoned with the end of an over 50-year conflict. As a researcher at the Center for the Study of Law, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia in Colombia), Bustos explored climate-induced displacement and the threat that populist governments pose to human rights advocates around the world. She was also a plaintiff and part of a team who won a groundbreaking lawsuit against the Colombian government for failing to meet its deforestation targets.
At Yale Law School, Bustos works on immigration rights and climate justice issues inside and outside of the classroom. She hopes to continue working on climate change litigation and policy in the future, focusing on the intersection of corporate accountability and human rights.
Hilda Huang ’17, ’19 M.M.A.
Hilda Huang was born in Fremont, California to Chinese and Taiwanese parents. She began to play the piano at the age of three and continued her musical education at the Preparatory Division of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Her work on the music of J.S. Bach received international acclaim upon her winning the 2014 Leipzig International Bach Competition (she was the youngest competitor, the first American, and first person of Asian descent to win the competition). She has appeared in recitals across Germany and the United States, and is featured in the documentary film “Bach and Friends.”
While maintaining an active concert schedule, Huang earned her B.S. in chemistry at Yale. She also served briefly as a clinical assistant for the Stanford cardiothoracic transplant team.
Huang is expected to earn her master’s degree at the School of Music in May, and will use her Soros Fellowship to pursue a doctoral degree in piano performance at Yale. She has research interests in the pedagogy of musical processes. She maintains a studio in New Haven and is in the process of recording her first album, “Hilda Huang Plays Bach.” Highlights of her 2019-2020 season include a recital tour of Bach’s “French Overture” and Beethoven’s “Diabelli Variations.”
Woong Y. Hwang, School of Medicine
Woong Hwang was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea until he was 15 years old. In the late 1990s, Korea’s economy faced major financial crises, which impacted his family both financially and emotionally. However, Hwang’s mother saw an opportunity to work as a nurse in the United States, and despite the language barrier, she received the sponsorship and permanent residency for her family.
After graduating from the University of Rochester, Hwang joined Randall Peterson’s lab at Harvard University as a full-time research associate, during which time he conducted independent research on genomic editing tool development. His work demonstrated for the first time that the bacterial immune system call CRISPR/Cas9 can be utilized to modify any gene of interest in a whole living organism. His research resulted in a first-author publication in Nature: Biotechnology and a two-method paper to share this platform with other scientists.
Hwang is now pursuing an M.D./Ph.D. at Yale, where his research focuses on unraveling the molecular mechanism of a novel gene identified in a birth defect that affects heart development as well as numerous cancers. As a physician-scientist in training, he wants to capitalize on the opportunity to advance personalized medicine by investigating patient-driven translation research. In addition, he hopes to become a mentor for future physician-scientists and serve as a bridge between the United States and Korea for mutual advancement in medicine and science.
Agata Sorotokin, Yale College
Agata Sorotokin, who will graduate from Yale College in May, was born in Rochester, New York to two engineers who had emigrated from Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Her family moved to Silicon Valley in 1998.
Sorotokin started taking piano lessons at age five, and by the time she was 10 years old, she was performing in New York City’s Carnegie Hall and Vienna’s Groben Ehrbar-Saal. When she entered high school and joined the pre-college division of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, her musical interests evolved in an interdisciplinary direction, expanding to include composition and conducting. Joining the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra as a keyboard specialist, Sorotokin assisted the director as a conducting apprentice. At the same time she also made her first attempts to introduce Western audiences to contemporary Russian music, which included premiering piano pieces by Ivan Sokolov and performer Sofia Gubaidulina’s music on NPR’s “From the Top.”
At Yale, Sorotokin is majoring in comparative literature. She directed and performed in productions of Stravkinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” and Bach’s “Koffeekantate.” She also co-produced “Silenced Voices,” three lecture-recitals on the lesser-known classical music of Soviet Russia, which brought together students and professors from Yale College and the Yale School of Music for a series of performances at the university. More recently, she has concentrated her studies on literary translation and translation between words and music. For her senior thesis, she is translating 20th-century Russian poetry by Osip Mandelstam and Olga Sedakova and composing music for a song cycle based on these texts. She is then writing about the process of both listening to the poems’ vocality and responding to it in musical form.
After graduating from Yale, Sorotokin will pursue a master’s degree in piano performance at Stony Brook University.
Viviana Andazola Marquez ’18
Viviana Marquz began to see the precarious nature of being undocumented after her parents, who immigrated to Colorado from Mexico, revealed to her that they were not in the United States legally. When she was 12, her mother was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Following her mother’s arrest, the family experienced homelessness and poverty. Despite her unsettled family life, Marquez was admitted to Yale with the Gates Millennium Scholarship and the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship.
Marquez focused her studies at Yale on understanding and reimagining the immigration enforcement mechanism that defined the trajectory of her life through the Ethnicity, Race & Migration major. Outside of the classroom, she worked on issues related to education access and retention for first-generation and low-income students.
During her senior year, Marquez’s father was detained by ICE at an appointment that was supposed to grant him his residency. Along with her peers, Marquez launched a multinational campaign calling for the release of her father and demanding protection for mixed-status families. Her father was subsequently deported, forcing everyone on his side of the family except Marquez to leave the United States.
Marquez will pursue a J.D. at a school yet to be decided upon, and plans to be an immigration and civil rights attorney.
Grace A. Pan ’17
Grace Pan was born in the Bay area of California to parents who emigrated from China with just $75 in cash. While her family had little science background or understanding of the American education system, their support, combined with the mentorship of her teachers, enabled Pan to earn a fellowship to conduct experimental physics research in high school.
Pan earned her B.S. in physics, summa cum laude, from Yale College, where she did research under the mentorship of Judy Cha, the Carol and Douglas Melamed Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Outside of the laboratory, Pan co-organized the Conference on Undergraduate Women in Physics and advocated for greater funding for low-income students as part of the Climate and Diversity Committee. She co-authored four peer-reviewed publications and was awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship as well as her department’s senior prize.
Now a Ph.D. student at Harvard University, Pan is developing new quantum materials both as probes for fundamental physics and as candidate systems for low-energy cost applications. She also plans to pursue a secondary concentration that examines how scientific vocabulary evolves with American political needs. She aspires to be an experimental physicist and professor capable of exploring the full combinatoric space of quantum materials while improving science accessibility for all.
Alexander Zhang ’18
Alexander Zhang grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas without a word for history. His parents, both from China, raised him in the languages that had brought them to America: microbiology from his father and music from his mother.
During his college years, Zhang tried to form a more perfect lexicon of race and rights, one that highlighted the role of culture in shaping law and accounted for people traditionally underrepresented in historical and legal scholarship. In 2018, he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in American studies, magna cum laude, and was one of two students in his class to earn Exceptional Distinction. As a poet, he performed for Bill Clinton and opened for Hillary Clinton. While at Yale, he helped organize and effort to rename Yale’s Calhoun College (now Grace Hopper College) after Roosevelt Thompson ’84. His thesis on the history of race won the John Addison Porter Prize for outstanding scholarship in any field. His photography was featured in The New York Times, ELLE, and other publications.
While working on Madison Avenue, Zhang helped create brands for companies like Google and Hyatt. In Silicon Valley, he led consumer marketing for Instagram’s growth division and was asked by the CEO to teach the company about the history of snapshots.
Zhang will continue his legal history work while completing a J.D. at Yale Law School and a Ph.D. in history at the university. His scholarship will bridge constitutional law with ethnic studies, examine the relationships between legal concepts understood by courts and legal concepts understood by everyday people, and synthesize African American, Native American, Latinx, Asian American, and Pacific Islander histories.
Past Soros Fellows include former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, California Surgeon General Nadine Burke-Harris, AI leader Fei-Fei Li, CareMore Health CEO Sachin Jain, composer Lera Auerbach, and Lieutenant Governor of Washington Cyrus Habib.
Students interested in applying for Soros Fellowships can reach out to the Fellowships Office for more information.