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‘Outstanding Immigrants and Children of Immigrants’: 5 South Asian Americans Among 30 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows

‘Outstanding Immigrants and Children of Immigrants’: 5 South Asian Americans Among 30 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows

  • They were selected from more than 1,800 applicants, “for their potential to make significant contributions to the United States.”

Four Indian Americans, one Pakistani American are among the 2022 Class of Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows, “made up of 30 outstanding immigrants and children of immigrants who are pursuing graduate school here in the United States.” They were selected from more than 1,800 applicants, “for their potential to make significant contributions to the United States.”

The South Asian American Fellows include Rishi Goel, MD student at the University of Pennsylvania; Syamantak Payra, incoming Ph.D. student in electrical engineering at Stanford; Hari Srinivasan, incoming Ph.D. student in neuroscience at Vanderbilt; Sai Rajagopal, Incoming MD student at Harvard; and Zubia Hasan, a Ph.D. student in physics at Harvard.

“Immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees are an essential part of the United States,” said Craig Harwood, director of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, in announcing this year’s winners. “The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows demonstrate the ingenuity and diverse perspectives that immigrants of all backgrounds bring to America’s graduate programs and to the country as a whole.”

In addition to receiving $90,000 in funding for their graduate program, the 2022 fellows join an active community of past recipients of the merit-based fellowship, including U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy; and Maine Centers for Disease Control director Nirav Shah.

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan to Indian immigrants, Rishi Goel is the child of immigrants from Lucknow. “Growing up, Goel was inspired by his grandfather — a professor of civil engineering – who brought scientific curiosity and wonder to everyday household tasks,” according to his profile on the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows website. 

Goel graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a minor in applied statistics. “Through his work at the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute, he became fascinated by the immune system’s ability to learn and improve over time, and began to wonder how the immune system could be applied or engineered to treat disease,” his profile says.

After his undergraduate education, Goel earned a master’s degree in immunology from the University of Oxford. At Oxford, he was awarded the highest distinction for his academic work and was a member of the Blues lacrosse team. He then completed an IRTA Fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, investigating new mechanisms of tissue damage in autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.  

In addition to his clinical training, he is a research fellow in the laboratory of E. John Wherry. His recent work focuses on understanding immune responses to viral pathogens and has led to new insights into the development of immune memory after SARS-CoV-2 infection and mRNA vaccination. More broadly, he has been involved in launching the Immune Health Project at Penn, which aims to bring immune profiling into the clinic to better diagnose, treat, and prevent disease.  

He has published more than 20 academic papers, including first-author publications in Science, Cell, and Nature Medicine. During the pandemic, he has also been a leading science communicator on COVID vaccines, with regular contributions to major news outlets. He hopes to pursue a career as a physician-scientist, using the latest innovations in immunology research to improve patient care.

Syamantak Payra grew up in Houston, Texas, and has had an academic upbringing blending “global span and local nuance.” He learned “arithmetic over Yahoo! Messenger from his grandfather halfway around the world in India, experimenting at home with his scientist parents, conducting school projects partnered with NASA engineers at Johnson Space Center, and competing in spelling bees and science fairs across the United States, according to his profile. “Through these avenues and activities, Payra not only gained perspectives on bridging gaps between people, but also found passions for language, scientific discovery, and teaching others.”

After watching his grandmother struggle with asthma & COPD and losing his baby brother to brain cancer, Payra devoted himself to trying to use technology to solve healthcare challenges. His proudest accomplishments include building a robotic leg brace for his paralyzed teacher and conducting free literacy workshops and STEM outreach programs that reached nearly a thousand underprivileged students across the Greater Houston Area. 

This year, Payra will complete his undergraduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is majoring in electrical engineering and computer science, with minors in public policy and entrepreneurship & innovation.

By pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering, Payra aims to create new biomedical devices that can help improve daily life for patients worldwide. In the long term, he hopes to draw upon his public policy training and shape American educational and scientific ecosystems that will empower upcoming generations to continue learning, creating, and improving healthcare for decades to come.

Sai Shanthanand Rajagopal is a Tamil-speaking immigrant from Canada who was raised both there and in Tennessee. “The Canadian Prairies and the American South helped inform Rajagopal’s views on immigration, access to healthcare and quality education, and the ability to take an active role in government and legislation.,” his profile says. 

Rajagopal attended Harvard College, studying women, gender, and sexuality studies along with biomedical engineering. As a biomedical device designer, he worked with a team to design an electric rowing machine for paraplegic patients and now focuses on designing safe penile prostheses for transgender people. In the future, he wants to work at the intersection of gender-affirming clinical care and policy. He has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. 

After college, Rajagopal attended Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship and received a master’s degree in South Asian studies. While taking online classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he co-founded the Bridging Borders Project, “a radio and online policy platform that brought together over 20 presidents, prime ministers, and global leaders to exchange COVID-19 healthcare policy insights.” During this time, he wrote opinion pieces, telling the stories of refugees from South Asia. 

After finishing an MBA from Oxford’s Saïd Business School, Rajagopal will matriculate at Harvard Medical School in the MD program. After medical school, he hopes to become a gender-affirming care surgeon, conveying the complex science of gender-affirming care in the media.

Hari Srinivasan was born in the San Francisco Bay area to parents from India. Between 18 months and age 2, Srinivasan lost all his developmental milestones,” including his ability to speak,” and “was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at age three,” his profile says. 

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Srinivasan’s early education became a series of low expectation special education classrooms. At age 10, he was still being taught basic addition and spelling three-letter words. By middle school, he had been moved to a special-education-only school that would not create a direct path to college. However, with the combination of alternative communication technology and moving to a charter school, he was able to access mainstream education. 

Things began to change. Srinivasan won various awards for his creative writing and poetry and was a high school valedictorian. Most importantly, he was on a path to college. He is deeply appreciative of his parents’ “extraordinary” efforts. They had to come up with innovative solutions to help their “extra-ordinary” child, while still keeping him connected to his cultural roots and fostering his passion for eastern philosophy and spirituality. 

He is a senior at UC Berkeley, where he is majoring in psychology and minoring in disability studies. While at college, he has written over 50 articles on autism for the Daily Californian, worked for various research labs, and taught a class on autism as a student instructor that he designed for eight semesters. 

As a Haas scholar, Srinivasan has been able to conduct fully funded research on the emotional experiences of autistics, specifically the emotions of awe and empathy. He will graduate Phi Beta Kappa and Psi Chi. He is passionate about research that will contribute to our knowledge and understanding of autism, given the ever-growing ranks of autistics in our society. He was selected to serve on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, which advises federal policy and priorities. He is also on the Council of Autistics Advisors for the Autism Society of America, on the Community Advisory Board for the Brain Foundation, and is vice-chair of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan,  Zubia Hasan and her family came to the United States as permanent residents in 2017. “Growing up amongst some of the most politically turbulent years in the history of Karachi, Hasan’s education was often disrupted by strikes, bomb threats, and city shutdowns,” according to her profile on the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows website. “In America, her family dreamed of a future where security was not always a looming threat and basic needs not always a question,” adds the profile. Determined to support others, she has made it one of her primary goals to work toward promoting higher education in Pakistani and Afghani communities in America. 

Hasan graduated in 2021 with general and departmental honors from Johns Hopkins University where she majored in physics. She also took classes in writing where she found a love for poetry and fiction writing. Combining her interest in writing and physics, she graduated from Hopkins with a first author paper where she wrote a story about CuTeO4, the material she synthesized and studied at McQueen Lab. 

At Hopkins, Hasan also served as a PILOT Leader, a peer tutoring program for students struggling in STEM courses. Passionate about equal access to education in America, Zubia served as the undergraduate representative in the Committee for Inclusion and Diversity in physics at Johns Hopkins.  

She is currently a Ph.D. student in physics at Harvard University. Continuing her love for CME, she is now conducting research in Professor Julia Mundy’s lab where she works to synthesize and study novel quantum materials within the thin-film limit. As an aspiring scientist, Hasan hopes to be at the forefront of materials discovery while also being connected with the larger Cambridge community through mentoring and outreach efforts toward the large immigrant population in Massachusetts.

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