Earlier this month, two Harvard Business School (HBS) MBA students were named among the 2017 recipients of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, an award recognizing outstanding graduate students who are immigrants and children of immigrants in the United States.
Caleb Gayle (a member of the HBS MBA Class of 2019 who is pursuing a joint degree at the Harvard Kennedy School) and Peter Hong (MBA ‘18) were the only business school students among the 30 fellows selected this year. This year’s fellows also included a jazz trumpeter studying at Julliard whose family hails from Nigeria, a Stanford MD/PhD student whose parents are Iranian, and a creative writing student in the MFA program at the University of Iowa born to Indian immigrants, among others.
These 30 talented individuals were chosen from 1,775 applicants based on their “potential to make significant contributions to U.S. society, culture, or their academic field.” Each recipient will get $90,000 in funding to apply toward their graduate school education.
“At a time when the national conversation seems to be on what immigrants are taking away, we are putting the spotlight on what immigrants from diverse backgrounds contribute to the United States,” Craig Harwood, who directs the Soros Fellowship program, said in a statement.
Gayle came to Harvard from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he worked as a program officer for the George Kaiser Family Foundation, an organization devoted to increasing opportunities for underserved children and families. Before that he worked as a technical advisor to a nonprofit social enterprise dedicated to empowering women entrepreneurs in marginalized areas in Mexico. He also worked as an advocacy specialist for anti-poverty organization CAP Tulsa and campaigned for President Barack Obama in his re-election bid in 2012.
But he credits his family for the recent honor. “This fellowship really belongs to my parents and grandparents, who made the difficult journey from Jamaica to the United States, worked numerous jobs to provide for me, and continue to sacrifice for me,” he said in a press release. His decision to attend HBS was driven by a desire to “learn skills that the social and public sectors desperately need to more effectively serve people in need.”
Hong, whose parents immigrated from South Korea, hopes to build software that contributes to society and public policy. Before HBS, he worked as a software engineer at Palantir Technologies developing decision-making software to help organizations with everything from disaster response to geospatial analysis. As an undergraduate at Stanford, he took extended absences to intern at Google, the U.S. State Department, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory—each of which helped further heightened his interest in how software and public policy can dovetail. As a child growing up in Michigan, his parents took pains to ensure that he maintain his Korean culture and language—which he says benefited him greatly in his internship for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul as a teenager.
Gayle and Hong join more than a dozen HBS alumni and faculty who have also been Soros Fellows.
Could You Be a Soros Fellow?
Joining Gayle and Hong means joining prestigious company. The close to 600 New American leaders named to date include U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy; Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist of artificial intelligence at GoogleCloud; pharmaceutical CEO of Roivant Sciences Vivek Ramaswamy and Cyrus Habib, lieutenant governor of the state of Washington. Other Soros Fellows include leading American Civil Liberties Union attorney Nusrat Choudhury and award-winning writer Kao Kalia Yang.
Soros Fellows must be 30 years or younger and are drawn from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. To apply, you must be a naturalized citizen, green card holder, or the child of immigrants. “The program does not have any quotas for types of degrees, universities or programs, countries of origin, or gender, etc.,” the Soros Fellows website notes. The 2017 recipients have roots in Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Colombia, Guyana, India, Iran, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Suriname, Taiwan, Venezuela, and Vietnam, the website adds.
Founded in 1997 by Hungarian immigrants Daisy M. Soros and Paul Soros (1926-2013), the fellowship is designed to do support one to two years of graduate study in any field at any advanced degree-granting program in the United States. The award includes $25,000 in annual stipend support as well as up to $20,000 percent per year for tuition and fees for one to two years.
In addition to financial support, Soros Fellows also benefit from joining a strong community of current and past fellows. Events bringing this group together are scheduled every year by The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows Association (PDSFA), an alumni group.
The 2018 application went live last week, and the deadline for submission is November 1, 2017. The merit-based fellowships are awarded based on selection criteria that emphasize creativity, originality, initiative, and sustained accomplishment. “Unsuccessful applicants are welcome to reapply in subsequent years if they are still eligible,” the website notes.