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Fellows' Bios

Spring 2014 Fellows

Mike Alvarez

Mike Alvarez

Award to support work toward a PhD in communications

The social stigma of mental illness is Mike's subject of investigation. Having spent time in the mental health system himself, he would like to help increase public understanding of psychiatric disorders. 

Mike was ten when his family left their comfortable lifestyle in the Philippines to move to a rough neighborhood in Jersey City. The transition proved bumpy, to say the least. After several months, Mike's father went home, leaving his mother as the family's sole support.  

Instilled with a love for learning, Mike excelled at school--but a rift was opening up in his mental world. As an undergraduate at Rutgers University, he suffered from debilitating anxiety that turned into horrifying delusions and a suicide attempt. A stay in hospital was a turning point, steering him toward the study of mental health. Mike's senior thesis on the relationship between creativity and suicide won the Charles Flaherty Award and was subsequently expanded into his Master’s thesis at Goddard College.

Mike is currently enrolled in the Communications PhD program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is studying the phenomenon of cybersuicide. Recognizing the power of personal narratives, he has also completed a memoir about his own journey through mental illness.

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Yuri Boguinia

Yuri Boguinia

Award to support work toward a master’s or PhD in music composition

Growing up near Boulder, Colorado, Yuri would improvise songs, sometimes singing for hours. For him, music was the essence of life.

Born in Stavropol, Russia, Yuri and his younger brother Vladislav immigrated to the United States in 2000 with their mother to avoid anti-semitic persecution. When Yuri began studying violin and piano his musical ability was instantly recognized.  Hearing Yuri and his brother, a local piano teacher, Shirley Gendreizig, offered to instruct them both on full scholarship. Every so often, Yuri would bring a large stack of his compositions to his lessons.

The accolades soon followed. At seventeen, Yuri won the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award. At nineteen, he was awarded a scholarship at Michigan's prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts.

Now a senior at Juilliard, Yuri has already accomplished more than many artists do in a lifetime. He has been commissioned by the Moscow String Quartet, the Temple de l'Oratoire du Louvre, and the Kronos String Quartet and performed at the Aspen Music Festival and Tanglewood. To encourage others, Yuri teaches underprivileged students in East Harlem and the Bronx. Yuri and his brother are in the process of assembling the Like Philharmonic, an orchestra of young musicians

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Alexander Chen

Alexander L. Chen

Award to support work toward a JD

Alexander was born in Colorado, the son of Chinese immigrants. Having lived under Mao Zedong's authoritarian rule, his parents encouraged Alexander to follow his dreams, and he studied English Literature, first at Oxford University and then as a graduate at Columbia University. 

At the same time, Alexander was becoming involved in trans activism, and a rift was opening between his public and private worlds. In an attempt to reconcile the two, he took a multi-disciplinary course at Columbia, 'Law and the Humanities.' Writing about the historical relationship of trans people to health care and the law, Alexander realized he wanted a career in civil rights advocacy. Accordingly, he switched to a JD degree at Harvard Law School.

At Harvard, Alexander aims to acquire the skills to combine litigation, policy work, and academic research to advance civil rights for trans people. Involved in legal advocacy efforts on campus, he has also written on trans issues for the Harvard Law Review. He interned with the ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project during the summer of 2013, and will be working at the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and at the National Center for Transgender Equality in the summer of 2014.

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Arnav Chhabra

Arnav Chhabra

Award to support work toward a PhD in medical engineering and medical physics

Medical care runs in Arnav's family. Before he and his parents moved to the United States in 2006, his father ran a clinic in India for the poor and his mother was an oncologist. Arnav grew up listening to his grandfather's stories about the discordance between suffering and coping resources during the violent 1947 partition of India and Pakistan.

Coming to the United States as a teenager, Arnav began working as a researcher at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas in high school. His work there was so impressive that he was asked to lead a project investigating chemotherapy resistance, and in 2009, he was first author on a paper in the Anticancer Research Journal

Arnav's interest in medical technology led him to the Mechanical Engineering program at the University of Texas-Austin, where he investigated nerve regeneration and biomedical polymers. After achieving a perfect 4.0 GPA, he began a PhD in medical engineering at Harvard Medical School and MIT.

In graduate school, Arnav is creating an on chip model of the liver. The model will replicate the pathophysiology of human livers, thereby enabling a noninvasive study of liver function. Arnav is concurrently funded by the National Science Foundation.

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Roxana Daneshjou

Roxana Daneshjou

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in genetics

When Roxana's parents immigrated to the United States from Tehran in the late 1970s, the Iranian Revolution was gaining momentum. Influenced by her father's love of science, Roxana went to the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science and was named a Siemens Westinghouse Technology Competition Semifinalist.

Then she went on to Rice University, where, as a Goldwater Scholar, Roxana not only received a bioengineering degree, but also taught Sunday school at the Houston Baha'i center. In addition, she joined Rice's Beyond Traditional Borders, an interdisciplinary program where undergraduates seek solutions to the world's most pressing health problems. There she helped develop the diagnostic lab-in-a-backpack, a travel pack containing medical tools that could run on a solar-powered rechargeable battery.

Roxana is now an MD/PhD candidate at Stanford Medical School. Her work on anticoagulant sensitivity in African Americans was awarded a Howard Hughes Medical Fellowship, and she is the lead researcher on the Iranian Genomes Project, the first project to study Iranian ancestry through whole genome sequencing. Roxana is also an active member of Education Under Fire, a global campaign to protest the Iranian government's policy of expelling Baha'is from university.

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Carlos Eduardo Estrada Alamo

Carlos Eduardo Estrada Alamo

Award to support work toward an MD and an MBA

Born in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, Carlos came to the United States at age five with his parents. Living in a poor, multi-ethnic community, he observed a lack of basic health care and a general fear of healthcare providers. It struck him that these impeded immigrants' progress in society. 

Curious to learn about health care delivery, Carlos began volunteering in the Emergency Room at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center when he was in high school. The staff allowed him to assist and, watching the trauma team's passion and dedication, he decided to devote his life to medical care and management.

As an undergraduate at the University of Washington, Carlos pursued degrees in bioengineering and biochemistry while working as a Medical Assistant in the Emergency Room at Harborview Medical Center. For his senior bioengineering capstone project, he joined a research lab to develop a novel HIV diagnostic system for the developing world.

Currently, Carlos is studying for an MD degree at Harvard Medical School, where he is co-chair of the Latino Medical Student Association. In order to pursue his goal of improving health care delivery, he plans to combine his medical degree with an MBA, and has already conducted quality improvement research at Boston Children's Hospital.

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Dan Feng

Dan Feng

Award to support work toward an MD

Born in southern China, Dan arrived in the United States in 2007, having been offered a full scholarship for biomedical graduate study from the University of Pennsylvania. There, studying metabolism, she made a discovery that sheds light on why people doing shift work have a higher risk of metabolic disorders. The finding was published in the journal Science.

While this research was rewarding, Dan valued the real world experience that came from treating patients. Fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, she volunteered at the Chinatown Medical Services in Philadelphia, a low-cost clinic serving the local Chinese community. Her clinical experiences cemented her desire to become a physician-scientist.

Going to medical school seemed unrealistic at first. She couldn't afford the tuition, and her undergraduate degree was from China--both serious impediments. Dan persevered with her dream, with faith in herself and help from others, including her extended family in New York.

Now, Dan is studying at Stanford University School of Medicine, where she is exploring different research interests. She is a member of Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association, and she continues to serve the Asian community with her bilingual skills at a free clinic in San Jose, CA. 

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Robert Fernandez

Robert Fernandez

Award to support work toward a PhD in molecular biophysics and biochemistry

Born in Lima, Peru, Robert came to the United States with his parents when he was five. Although he excelled as a high school student, college at first seemed out of reach when his parents disclosed that he was undocumented. Undeterred, Robert found he could attend Union County Community College, where he was elected to the Phi Theta Kappa, andwhich led him to York College in the CUNY system.

At York, Robert was recognized as an outstanding student in the sciences. He was awarded the Alliance/Merck Ciencia National Scholarship and received the Distinguished Graduate Award. He also served as a peer tutor in biology and physics, teaching lab skills to more junior scientists.

Last year, Robert reached another milestone when he became a permanent resident. After a summer internship in a molecular biology lab at Princeton University, he was accepted into the PhD program in Biophysics, Biochemistry and Structural Biology at Yale University, where he is planning on study the importance of maintaining neuronal connections in the brain.

Robert has been accepted to Yale's selective Medical Research Scholars Program, and has joinedthe Yale Student Science Diplomats, which aims to create a scientifically informed community by making presentations to the lay public.

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David Hanifi

David Hanifi

Award to support work toward a PhD in chemistry

David grew up in Maine, the child of Afghan refugees who had fled Russia's invasion of Afghanistan. His family at first questioned the practicality of David's choice to pursue a career in academic research. They have, however, come to appreciate his love of chemistry.

As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, David worked on projects involving nanocrystal composites and the fluorescent labeling of zebrafish embryo cells. Arguably, his most profound achievements came while teaching basic chemistry. David wowed middle schoolers through local science demonstrations, and he and a partner devised a student-run course called Chemistry of Cooking, through which students not only learned chemistry but ate their experiments.

Now a first year student in the Materials Science department at Stanford University, David aims to use his chemistry research to address climate change. He plans to study optoelectronic materials and develop low-cost quantum dot films that, if successful, could replace traditional solar powered devices for a fraction of the cost. Since Stanford's Material Sciences department was instrumental in designing the current generation of solar power technology, David considers himself well placed to be on the cutting edge of future innovations.

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Laura Huober

Laura Huober

Award to support work toward a master’s degree in environmental management

As a child in Germany, Laura enjoyed climbing trees, building dams and exploring the fields behind her house. Then, at eight, her life changed dramatically. Her mother joined a cult and moved Laura and her brother to Austin, Texas, where they lived in a city apartment in near-isolation.

Home-schooled but barely educated, Laura was forced to be self-reliant. She devised her own curriculum and drew up schedules telling her when to study, eat and play. But life worsened as her mother was drawn more deeply into the cult, and at 16, Laura decided to leave home.

Laura was able to enroll at Santa Monica College without having taken the GED, where she made up missed high school classes and thrived. She then transferred to Amherst College, where she majored in environmental studies and researched waste management in Accra, Ghana.

After two years working on sustainability issues for Pax World Mutual Funds, she is now a first year student in the Master of Environmental Management program at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She hopes to become a leader in the field of e-waste management. Dedicated to expanding educational opportunities for young Americans, Laura also works at a local community college as a transfer success volunteer.

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Jessica Hwang

Jessica Hwang

Award to support work toward a PhD in statistics

Born in Washington, D.C., Jessica grew up tagging along to the laboratories of her Taiwanese immigrant parents, both scientists. While her parents tended to whirring centrifuges, she would tackle the advanced math problems her mom had set her. On Sundays she attended Chinese language school, an experience that gave her a lifelong love of languages and poetry. Ultimately, though, it was statistics that captured her heart.

As a Harvard undergraduate, Jessica achieved top honors in PhD level classes and worked as a teaching fellow for an introductory probability class. Rather than attracting the typical five to ten students, her section drew over a hundred people and a larger room had to be found. She was subsequently invited to co-author a statistics textbook with her professor. Her work on the textbook won her the Thomas T. Hoopes Prize for best senior thesis. She accomplished all this while managing a fifty-person student orchestra and tutoring immigrant students.

Last year, Jessica enrolled in the Statistics PhD program at Stanford University. A member of the university's Statistics for Social Good working group, she aims to partner with advocacy groups and explore how statistics can be used to identify and address social problems. 

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Sundeep Iyer

Sundeep Iyer

Award to support work toward a JD

Born in New Jersey, Sundeep is the son of Indian immigrants. His parents came to America in the 1970s, leaving behind families that they felt duty-bound to support. Through their example, Sundeep learned the moral value of helping others.

Democratic ideals excited Sundeep from an early age. Proud of the American system, he nonetheless grew concerned while studying Government as a Harvard undergraduate. As he learned about the dangers of redistricting, he encouraged the low-income middle schoolers he was volunteer-teaching to fight for their rights.

After graduating from Harvard, Sundeep worked for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, a non-partisan think-tank where he directed statistical research to evaluate democratic reforms. His research was used in several federal voter rights cases, andhis work has been cited in The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico and National Review. In 2011, he founded the Statistical Reform in Redistricting Project, whose data have been used by the Sunlight Foundation and Georgia’s Legislative Black Caucus.

Now, Sundeep is studying for a JD at Yale Law School. By integrating academic research with real-world litigation, Sundeep hopes to become an effective voice in safeguarding democracy. 

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Natalie Jesionka

Natalie Jesionka

Award to support work toward a PhD in sociology and an MPP

Born in New Jersey, to Polish immigrant parents, Natalie grew up listening to her mother tell stories about the challenges of a life under Communism. Appreciating that her mother's own dreams had been sacrificed for her family, Natalie was determined to help people around the world realize their ambitions.

As an undergraduate at Rutgers University, she founded the PRIZM Project, a global human rights education organization for young women.  Natalie also worked to shed light on untold human rights stories, flying across the world to research and report on issues such as refugee rights and human trafficking.

After receiving her Masters of Science in global affairs, Natalie served as a Fulbright Scholar in Thailand, researching stateless Hill Tribes and examining the origins of human trafficking. The work led to a partnership with Shine Global, an Oscar Award-winning nonprofit production company, on the upcoming documentary film Selling Our Daughters.

Today, Natalie serves on the Board of Directors of Amnesty International USA.  She writes the column “Travel Mirror” for The Daily Muse, and is the Editor of Shatter the Looking Glass, an online magazine that focuses on ethical travel.  Ever energetic, she plans to pursue a PhD in sociology to become a world authority on human trafficking. 

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George Karandinos

George Karandinos

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in medical anthropology

Activism and idealism run deeply through George's family history. During World War II, his great-grandfather joined the Greek anti-Nazi resistance as a medic and was tortured and executed by German soldiers. In 1973, his sixteen-year-old father was beaten and arrested by military police during a student uprising that helped end Greece's military dictatorship a year later.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, George has pursued his ideals in a more peaceful context. His father left the family when he was twelve, and his single mother worked in urban communities as a psychiatric social worker. George saw first-hand the suffering imposed by poverty both in the US and in his parents' native Greece.

To understand the social processes restricting the life chances of the US poor more fully, George moved to a Philadelphia immigrant neighborhood at the heart of the city's heroin and cocaine markets during his sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania. He lived there until beginning medical school at Harvard. He is now taking a year's leave from medical school to co-author a book, Cornered, drawing on his experience in Philadelphia as a basis for examining the narcotics economy and its effect on public health. Then it will be back to Harvard, where he will continue his joint MD/PhD degree.

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Daniel Kim

Daniel Kim

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in biological science

The son of Korean immigrants, Daniel moved to California with his parents when he was seven. His grandfather was a farmer, and his father was the first in his family to get a college education. Growing up in Silicon Valley, Daniel admired his father's meticulous approach to his work as a semiconductor engineer.

Daniel entered his undergraduate career at Harvard determined to make a difference in health care. He served as co-president  of both Harvard College Red Cross and Team HBV, a group that educates the Asian and Pacific Islander community in Boston about the hepatitis B virus.

As his passion was taking shape, though, Daniel took a leave of absence from school to take care of his father who was battling cancer. Realizing that research was a crucial tool in improving patients’ lives, Daniel met his father's doctor and arranged to work in her laboratory. Though he hadn't previously done biomedical research, he was soon overseeing a study repurposing the antifungal agent itraconazole as a targeted therapy for skin cancer.

After his father's health returned, Daniel went back to Harvard with renewed ambition. Daniel is applying to joint MD/PhD programs and looking forward to a career as a physician-scientist involved in the fight against cancer.  

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Mona Lotfipour

Mona Lotfipour

Award to support work toward an MD

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Mona was acutely aware of the sacrifices her parents had made to give her opportunities not afforded girls in their native Iran. Upon arriving to the US her parents worked minimum wage jobs with no health benefits. Seeing them struggle, Mona chose her path: to help the disadvantaged get access to legal and health care.

While at Franklin and Marshall (F&M), Mona began realizing this goal through weekly visits to a maximum-security prison, where she and a partner interviewed asylum seekers from Sudan and Cote d'Ivoire. The two subsequently launched the AID Project, an online database human rights reports aimed at assisting future immigration cases.

Knowing how helpful tax credits had been to her parents, Mona founded the F&M Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, in which students volunteered to help members of the local community with the tax returns. Mona also designed and launched the ONE Goal, a sports-based public health education program in South Africa.

In 2011, Mona traveled to Ireland as a George J. Mitchell scholar, doing a Master of Science in Equality Studies at University College Dublin. Now a medical student at Penn State College of Medicine, Mona plans to continue her work in the advancement of global health care. 

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Patricia Nguyen

Patricia Nguyen

Award to support work toward a PhD in performance studies

Patricia understands deeply how trauma is inherited and has committed her life’s work to cultivating spaces for healing and political empowerment. Equally versed in sociology, politics, and the performing arts, she has used art to heal psychic wounds and navigate across political barriers.

Growing up in Chicago, Patricia listened to stories of her parent’s life before and after the war in Vietnam, where her family ultimately escaped as boat refugees to Malaysia and Indonesia and resettled in the United States in the 1980s.

After she received a B.A. in sociology from Pomona College, Patricia went to Vietnam on a journey of healing and reparation. In Vietnam, as a Fulbright Scholar, she volunteered with the Pacific Links Foundation, an international NGO, where she founded the first arts education program for survivors of sex trafficking.  Navigating issues of censorship, Patricia used art as a vehicle into meaningful relationships with the women.

Currently, Patricia is pursuing her PhD in performance studies at Northwestern University. She also volunteers with Asian Human Services in Chicago, where she facilitates dance and movement workshops with refugees and immigrants facing mental health issues. 

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Ramya Parameswaran

Ramya Parameswaran

Award to support work toward an MD and PhD in biophysical sciences

Growing up in the Bay Area, Ramya was a gifted violinist and performer of Bharathanataym (South Indian classical dance). Ultimately, though, it was the excitement and rigor of science that won her heart.

As a high school student, Ramya got her first exposure to scientific innovation during a summer internship at NASA. A few years later, as an undergraduate at Stanford University, her study of cancer in genetically engineered mice earned her the Firestone Medal, given to Stanford University’s top undergraduate theses. 

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Ramya has often found herself caught between two passions. Her parents and grandparents strongly encouraged her to excel in her academic pursuits. She also saw that women in communities all over the world, including South Asia, were often undervalued and mistreated. Seeing this gave Ramya a strong interest in women's health, and influenced her decision to pursue a dual career as a research scientist and practicing physician.

Now an MD/PhD student at the University of Chicago, she combines her research in nanoscale biomaterials that can interface with immune cells, with time spent volunteering at the Maria Shelter for women and children on Chicago's South Side.

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George Pocheptsov

George Pocheptsov

Award to support work toward an MBA

George was born in Philadelphia to Ukrainian immigrants. His artistic ability was discovered in the wake of family tragedy: before he turned one, his father died of cancer and his grief-stricken mother gave George some paper and crayons to keep him busy. Realizing he was an artistic prodigy, his mother took George's drawings to an art gallery.

Since then, George has been on an amazing journey, one that has taken him to appearances in the nation's capital and on Oprah. At sixteen, he had created artworks for Hillary Clinton, Michael Jordan and Celine Dion. While still in the third grade, George set up his charitable foundation, which has raised over eight million dollars for good causes.

Noticing inefficiencies in charity management, George conceived his next direction: using business models to make nonprofits more effective. To this end, he has worked as a summer analyst for Goldman Sachs and Apollo Global Management. At Harvard, George is pursuing the first ever joint Bachelor of Science degree in statistics and Slavic languages, and hoping to become an innovator in nonprofit management worldwide. George was recently elected as the youngest member to the national Board of Trustees for the American Foundation for the Blind. 

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Jassmin Poyaoan

Jassmin Antolin Poyaoan

Award to support work toward a JD and an MBA

Jassmin comes from a line of resilient women. Her grandmother left school to support her family, raising herself from a domestic worker to a small business owner. Her mother emigrated from the Philippines to become a nurse in California and worked tirelessly to support the family.

When Jassmin was almost twelve, her mother died, and her father could not cope. Jassmin and her sister were sent to the Philippines to live with their grandmother. In the Philippines, Jassmin observed that even the brightest girls were forced by economic necessity to downscale their dreams. Determined not to compromise, she returned to America at age seventeen, taking legal custody of her sister and responsibility for their sick grandmother.

Jassmin attended Chabot College and then the University of California-Berkeley, where she studied sociology. As part of Oxfam's ActionCorps, she lobbied the US government for climate change policy after typhoon Ketsana devastated Manila. At home, Jassmin built capacity for immigrant-owned small businesses and served with JusticeCorps assisting low-income, self-represented litigants.

Jassmin attends the UCLA School of Law, where she is part of the programs in Public Interest Law and Policy and Critical Race Studies. She will combine her JD with an MBA to help underserved communities rise above systemic poverty.

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Azucena Ramos

Azucena Ramos

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in biological and biomedical sciences

Born in Escondido, California, Azucena was a caregiver to her three younger sisters. In middle and high school she excelled in math and discovered a love of science. A turning point came early in her life when her undocumented grandmother nearly died of pneumonia, unable to seek care. Seeing her grandmother suffer, Azucena vowed to become a doctor.

After high school, Azucena attended Smith College where she expanded her vision for her medical career to becoming a physician-scientist. Her research and senior thesis on axon guidance in the zebrafish brain was awarded highest honors and she became a national Beckman Scholar. Hoping to attract younger students to science, Azucena helped create an outreach program for elementary schools with age-appropriate chemistry and biology experiments.

Following graduation, Azucena worked as a research assistant at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, where her work created new possibilities for understanding physiological blood formation, cancer, and cancer stem cells.

Azucena is presently enrolled at Harvard Medical School pursuing an MD and PhD in cancer and stem cell biology. She plans to continue serving and empowering underprivileged communities through her volunteer work teaching sexual education in Boston Public Schools and at Harvard’s student-run clinic serving immigrant populations.


 

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Sana Raoof

Sana Raoof

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in molecular oncology

As a Muslim teen, Sana faced a dilemma: she wanted to run track but dress modestly. She qualifiedfor Junior Nationals four times in the 800meters and ran varsity track at Harvard College…in a boy’s uniform.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Sana was raised on Long Island. After studying knot theory at MIT, she won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2008 and the Taiwan International Science Fair in 2009.

Hoping to teach kids the chemistry of smoking versus running, Sana created a class, BreatheStrong, in 2010. She also became Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Science Review and the youngest keynote speaker for the American Mathematical Society. Her published thesis, which used statistical mechanics to model protein interactions, illuminated the process of antibody optimization.

Sana represented Harvard at the World Debate Championships in Botswana, hoping to sharpen her persuasive skills to eventually fight tobacco-related illness through policy.  

Her mother's battle with breast cancer inspired Sana to enroll in Harvard-MIT’s MD/PhD program. She will study resistance mechanisms to targeted therapies for non-small cell lung cancer. Optimistic about tobacco legislation reducing the burden of cancer, Sana wrote a meta-analysis quantifying second-hand smoke exposure in cars and presented it to the American College of Chest Physicians in 2013. 

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Salmah Y Rizvi

Salmah Y Rizvi

Award to support work toward a JD

Born in Indonesia, Salmah is the daughter of a Pakistani father and Guyanese mother. Raised as a Shia Muslim, Salmah was motivated to fight inequality from an early age.

As a sophomore at Johns Hopkins University, Salmah founded and led the humanitarian relief organization Vision XChange which produced competitive fundraising events to creatively combat injustices such as child soldier recruitment and human trafficking in the global grassroots. 

Thereafter, she completed an MS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University while working for the US Department of State and National Security Agency. She mastered multiple foreign languages and impacted missions that countered terrorism, terrorist financing, and nuclear proliferation.

Salmah was appointed the first Chairwoman of the N.S.A. Islamic Cultural Employee Resource Group. She highlighted Muslims as assets to US national security and led ninety-two analysts in progressing intelligence reporting on the Muslim world while also enhancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Salmah is currently pursuing a JD at the New York University School of Law. She hopes to combine her legal, security, and nonprofit experience into a role as an effective politician and civic leader in Baltimore, a city she loves and desires to support through innovative advocacy and reform.

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Kevin Shenderov

Kevin Shenderov

Award to support work toward an MD

Kevin's family fled Chernovtsy, the Ukrainian town south of Chernobyl where he was born, to seek medical care in the US for illnesses developed after the 1986 nuclear disaster. Thanks to doctors in New York, both he and his older brother fully recovered. The experience left him eager to understand disease on a molecular level.

As a high school student, Kevin began pursuing his goal by interning at a lab at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. For four summers, he studied potential cancer vaccine targets, earning recognition as an Intel Science Talent Search semifinalist. This interest in immunology continued as he went on to study biochemistry at New York University.

Following college, Kevin began a PhD in immunology through a joint program between the National Institutes of Health and Oxford University, with funding from a Rhodes Scholarship. Entering a doctoral program was particularly meaningful because his father, who graduated near the top of his class in Physics in Russia, was denied a job due to anti-semitism.

Wanting to gain more insight into patient care, Kevin is currently studying for an MD at Johns Hopkins University. He also serves as a board member of the Charm City Clinic, a free screening clinic for uninsured Baltimore residents. 

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Richard Tao

Richard Tao

Award to support work toward a JD

At the age of five, Richard emigrated from Nanjing, China to Detroit, Michigan. For years, Richard lived and attended school in a distressed and crime-ridden neighborhood. Yet it was there, in Detroit’s Cass Corridor, that he developed a lifelong love for the Motor City. He attended high school in Troy, Michigan.

As an undergraduate at Yale, Richard served as student body president, successfully advocating for reforms to Yale’s policies on financial aid and housing. An interdisciplinary law review published his award-winning thesis on the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. Richard’s interests in public policy, economics, and business would lead him to Goldman Sachs, the Federal Trade Commission, and, after graduation, McKinsey & Company.

Two years ago, Richard returned to Yale for a JD, Detroit filed for bankruptcy less than a year later. That summer, Richard was in Detroit working for the local prosecutor’s office. After returning to school, he began supporting the Detroit Mayor’s Office with policy research. He has also continued to develop his financial skills at an investment management firm.

On a recent trip home, Richard saw several new businesses in his old neighborhood. It was a small, inspiring step forward—one that he hopes to build upon in his future work.

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Khalil Tawil

Khalil Tawil

Award to support work toward a JD and an MBA

The son of Lebanese immigrants, on September 11, 2011 Khalil watched in horror as the World Trade Center towers collapsed. Learning that Islamic extremists were responsible, he knew others would regard him differently.

Asan Arab-American, Khalil felt uniquely positioned to foster understanding. He enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he talked to his peers about the true nature of the Arab and Muslim worlds. After graduating, he conducted research on poverty reduction in Egypt on a Fulbright Scholarship, earning a Master’s degree in economics.

Khalil then served three tours of duty as an infantry officer in Afghanistan. His soldiers came from housing projects and upper-class suburbs, from American Indian reservations and Midwestern farms. War, however, collapsed their differences as they fought to help each other survive. Most recently, he worked on the prosecutions of alleged international terrorists, including the high-profile trial of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators.

Soon to begin studying for a JD at Yale and an MBA at Harvard, Khalil hopes to remain tied to the Middle East, building institutions that increase political and economic stability. He continues to work with Service to School, a non-profit organization he co-founded that assists veterans with continuing their education.

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Jonathan Tsai

Jonathan Tsai

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in developmental biology

Whether as a Chinese-American expatriate in Belgium or a Fulbright scholar in Israel, Jonathan has learned to value all facets of life.  As the son of Chinese immigrants, Jonathan grew up in Silicon Valley and moved to Brussels with his family as a teenager.

Jonathan graduated with honors from the California Institute of Technology, where he worked in the laboratory of Dr. David Baltimore and developed and patented a technology to isolate T-cell receptor genes from single tumor infiltrating cells, creating new proteins able to kill melanomas.

After graduation, Jonathan was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study human and cancer growth factors at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science, resulting in publications in leading scientific journals. Listening to Israeli peers who served in the military, Jonathan learned of the risks Palestinian parents take to obtain medical care for their children. These stories steered his decision to pursue a joint MD/PhD.

In his first year of medical school at Stanford University, Jonathan worked with a twelve-year-old living with leukemia, whose optimism and humor continue to inspire Jonathan to focus on pediatric oncology. Jonathan is now working towards his MD and PhD under Dr. Irving Weissman, developing new tools to study blood and solid organ development and regeneration.

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Bianca Tylek

Bianca Tylek

Award to support work toward a JD

Bianca is focused on aligning the United States prison system with its purported mission to successfully reenter incarcerated individuals to reduce recidivism rates.

The child of a Polish father and Ecuadorian mother, Bianca was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey. Raised by non-English speaking relatives, her English suffered and she was placed and forgotten in remedial classrooms. By the time she joined standard classrooms, she'd developed a resentment that led to delinquency. In high school, Bianca attended the funeral of her murdered boyfriend, visited a heroin-addicted friend in rehab, and took calls from incarcerated friends.

Meanwhile, she found her grades soaring. Bianca was accepted to Columbia University, where her mathematical prowess led naturally to a career in investment banking. She viewed these victories in light of her previous challenges and discovered the importance of second chances. Bianca transitioned into the social sector, working in growth strategy for Teach for America and developing College Pathways, an innovative program that prepares inmates at Rikers Island for college-level education.

Now a candidate for a JD degree at Harvard, Bianca is a member of Harvard Defenders, the Prison Legal Assistance Project, and the Harvard Civil Rights - Civil liberties Law Review. 

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Sarahi Uribe

Sarahi Uribe

Award to support work toward a JD

As a child, Sarahi learned how to navigate between two worlds: her working-class Mexican parents' home and the privileged enclaves of the private schools she attended on full scholarship. The ability she developed to communicate with all kinds of people has served her well as a community organizer and coalition-builder.

A turning point in Sarahi's life came when her father was arrested, imprisoned and deported. Not present when Sarahi graduated from Yale with a degree in history, her father died a few months later in Mexico.

Over the following years Sarahi worked to honor her family’s struggles by providing legal support to parents in detention, organizing with low-wage immigrant workers to recover their unpaid wages, and leading efforts to enact pro-immigrant local laws.

Her work at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network helped establish the organization as a prominent leader in immigration reform, challengin