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Fellows' Bios

Spring 2015 Fellows

Mohamad Abedi

Mohamad Abedi

Award to support work toward a PhD in bioengineering at Caltech

Mohamad was born to Palestinian refugees in the United Arab Emirates. His family was under the constant threat of deportation back to the refugee camp in Lebanon where they had come from. His parents, lacking strong educations themselves, could not help Mohamad with his school work, but always served as his role models and inspiration.

Growing up, Mohamad spent his summers visiting family in the Beddawi refugee camp in Lebanon, where resources for healthcare were inadequate. He watched family members struggle with ailments that should have been easily curable, but instead persisted and grew worse. This experience motivated Mohamad to pursue an education in bioengineering, however he felt limited by the range of education options available to him. A world of education options opened up to him when, his senior year, after a ten year waiting process, his family’s application to the United States was approved. Mohamad was able to pursue a degree in bioengineering at UC Irvine where President Obama distinguished him during a commencement address as someone who knows, “what it means to dream”.

At UC Irvine, he worked on building diagnostic devices for rural areas by designing computers that run on air instead of electricity. Later, he investigatedthe robustness of bacterial genetic circuits with respect to noise. Recently, Mohamad received the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, recognizing him as one of the future leaders in his field.

Mohamad is now pursuing a PhD in bioengineering at Caltech. The long-term goal of his scientific career is to develop tools for non-invasive modulation of brain circuitry, which would allow scientists to understand and treat neurological and psychiatric diseases that involve the dysfunction of local neural circuits. 

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Oswaldo (Oz) Hasbún Avalos

Oswaldo (Oz) Hasbún Avalos

Award to support work toward an MD at Columbia University

A native of El Salvador who immigrated to the United States in 2001, Oz has been committed to improving the quality of medical care for “limited English proficiency” patients since starting his undergraduate studies at Stanford University.

While at Stanford, Oz joined the Arbor Free Clinic as a Spanish interpreter, and later became the Interpreter Coordinator. Realizing the need of formalized training for proper interpretation and the reduction of errors leading to dangerous clinical consequences, Oz used his role to restructure interpreter services at the medical school’s clinics. Partnering with professional interpreters, he developed an innovative education program, which has been found to be an effective, accelerated, and comprehensive model for training volunteer medical interpreters.

Oz has been recognized as a White House Champion of Change by the Obama administration. In addition, he has received the Westly Prize for Young Innovators of California and has been selected as a United Health Foundation Diverse Scholar for his work on language services. His first-author evaluation of the training program was recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Now a medical student at Columbia University, Oz continues his advocacy work and community service as joint clinic manager for four student-run free clinics, as a founding member of the New York Student-Run Free Clinic board and through his continued work training volunteer medical interpreters. He is a leader of the Columbia-Harlem Homeless Medical Partnership, the Human Rights Initiative’s asylum clinic, and Columbia Student Medical Outreach.

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Cecil Benitez

Cecil Benitez

Award to support work toward an MD at Stanford Medical School

Born in the state of Durango, Mexico, Cecil and her mother came to the United States hoping to flee economic hardships when Cecil was nine years old. In California, Cecil adjusted to life as an undocumented immigrant, as well as to a new school system, and a new set of challenges at home. Her school encouraged her to pursue a trade school, but Cecil’s love of science propelled her toward college. Her senior year, Cecil’s dream came true; her family received residency. She graduated valedictorian from her high school, and was awarded a Gates Millennium Scholarship.  

In college at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Cecil studied the migration of neurons in the spinal cord as a MARC U-STAR scholar. Thereafter, she pursued a PhD in developmental biology at Stanford University, where she was awarded a National Science Foundation fellowship. For her thesis, she identified transcriptional networks involved in the development of insulin-producing cells. Cecil’s work resulted in multiple published publications including a chapter in a biology textbook.

While she enjoyed the creative aspects of research, Cecil wanted to directly connect with patients. She became a certified Spanish interpreter and worked in a free clinic for underserved patients where her desire to pursue medicine grew. 

Now, Cecil is pursuing an MD at Stanford Medical School, where she serves as co-director of a free vaccination program for low-income patients. As a first generation college student, Cecil encourages low-income students to pursue medicine and science through her work as co-chair of the Latino Medical Student Association. Her long-term goal is to impact patient care as an academic physician.

Cecil became a citizen of the United States in 2008. 

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Shinichi Daimyo

Shinichi Daimyo

Award to support work toward a MSN at Yale School of Nursing

Shinichi witnessed first-hand the trauma experienced by the Vietnamese boat refugee community when he was growing up in Los Angeles. The stigma toward mental health issues and the lack of access to mental health services only compounded the problem. While cultural norms told him to ignore mental health issues, Shinichi chose instead to focus on them.

As a psychology major at the University of Southern California (USC), Shinichi volunteered in the Navajo Nation, and studied the psychological consequences of the Cyprus problem in the Republic of Cyprus and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Recognizing similarities, Shinichi was inspired to study mental health across cultural boundaries and countries.

Shinichi has become an expert in developing and implementing community-based mental health programs across the globe through his work at the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, the World Health Organization, and Partners In Health. Whether in Haiti or Pakistan, Shinichi is focused on creating sustainable solutions for resource-poor communities with unmet mental health needs.

Shinichi’s work has shown him the game changing potential of nurses in addressing the significant burden of mental illness. Consequently, Shinichi will be attending the Yale School of Nursing’s Graduate Entry Prespecialty in Nursing program to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner so that he can train the next generation of psychiatric nurses to provide mental health care to communities in need. His goal is to raise the profile of advanced practice psychiatric nursing in low-resource settings to help transform how mental health systems are fundamentally structured to care for the poorest and most vulnerable.

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Daniela Delgado

Daniela Delgado

Award to support work toward an MD at Harvard Medical School

Daniela intends to use her medical and policy training to advocate for minority communities as a community physician. Her current research focuses on the health needs of domestic workers in Boston, where she attends Harvard Medical School.

Born in Bogota, Colombia, Daniela came to the United States at the age of twelve with her mother and her sister. Daniela quickly learned English and became her family’s primary interpreter and advocate. Soon after immigrating, Daniela was introduced to the American health care system as she began interpreting at doctor’s appointments for her chronically ill grandmother. During these visits, she was struck by the profound disparities in health care for those with limited English proficiency. Meanwhile, Daniela was noticing how difficult life could be for immigrant families, like her own, who were having trouble finding jobs and making ends meet. Daniela decided she would pursue what felt like an impossible goal, becoming a doctor.

As a college student, Daniela founded Progresa, a community-based research project at the University of Miami, which aimed to increase access to education for farmworker children. She concurrently volunteered at a free clinic whose mission is to serve low-income, uninsured patients, which solidified her intent to become a community physician.

Last summer as a Rappaport Policy Fellow, Daniela worked at the Massachusetts State House where she developed a strategic plan to meet the legal needs of immigrant youth. Now, as a second year medical student, Daniela continues to be actively involved as a rights advocate for immigrants. 

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Amal Elbakhar

Amal Elbakhar

Award to support work toward a JD at Harvard Law School

Amal has had one foot rooted in Arab immigrant culture and the other in the classroom of social justice since her family immigrated to New York City from Morocco when she was nine years old. Overcoming cultural barriers, Amal was the first in her family to graduate from both high school and college. Soon she will be the first to obtain a graduate degree.

As a student at Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, CUNY, Amal dedicated her free time to the Emergency Department at Bellevue Hospital, challenging her family’s understanding of how she should prioritize her time. Amal also worked at the Center for Reproductive Rights, an organization with incongruous views with those of her own conservative upbringing. Unafraid of the differences, Amal pursued the similarities in her religious beliefs and emerging consciousness of gender equality through her academic schoolwork. She wrote an award-winning honors thesis on Iran’s healthcare laws for women, and a second thesis on the current legal status of reproductive rights in the United States.

Upon graduating from college, Amal was awarded the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs, an experiential leadership-training program that prepares individuals for effective and ethical leadership in the public affairs arena.

As a student and campus leader at Harvard Law School, Amal continues to focus on women’s issues. As a future lawyer-advocate, she hopes to represent individuals facing adversities while promoting the principles of civil rights that underlie our social infrastructure.

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Asmaa Elsayed

Asmaa Elsayed

Award to support work toward an EdM in global education at Harvard University

By the time she became a United States citizen, Asmaa had attended over eleven schools in four countries, including Libya, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The disruption in her education was not an oddity to her inspiring grandmother, who is illiterate, and Asmaa’s widowed mother, who did not have the chance to finish primary school.

Family instability and financial struggles transformed Asmaa from an academically-gifted child on track to graduate college at age nineteen to a non-traditional student who was at points homeless. Determined to succeed, Asmaa eventually graduated magna cum laude from George Mason University. She recently received her master’s degree from American University, where she served as an executive board member for the International Development Program Student Association, and was awarded over ten scholarships and honors.

For three years, Asmaa helped translate, edit, and culturally adapt some of the first research-based and developmentally appropriate early childhood education curricula and assessment systems available in the Middle East in Arabic. Asmaa co-founded a United States-based NGO, which helped provide education subsidies for orphans in Egypt and meals to over 700 families in 2008. She worked for two and half years at the office of Hunaina Al Mughairy, Oman Ambassador to the United States, Washington's first female ambassador from an Arab country. Asmaa is currently writing her first book, “The Pursuit”.

Asmaa’s goal is to be an advocate for human rights and peace and a leading scholar and practitioner in the field of global education. 

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Arash Fereydooni

Arash Fereydooni­­­­

Award to support work toward an MD

Frustrated by life in an internationally isolated country with limited educational opportunities, Arash and his family moved from Shiraz, Iran to the United States when he was a junior in high school. While still learning the language, Arash managed to lead his high school’s robotics team to second place in a world championship competition, patent two aerospace inventions and graduate at the top of his class.

Arash came to understand the impact and great potential of medical innovation when his mother made a full recovery from an “inoperable” aortic coarctation when he was thirteen. An undergraduate at Yale University, Arash is in a four-year program that has allowed him to simultaneously pursue a BS and an MS in molecular, cellular and developmental biology. He has been awarded four research fellowships for his master’s thesis on measuring neuronal traction forces at Forscher Lab, and two international fellowships for developing a robotic surgery system that measures organ length stereoscopically at Heidelberg University Hospital in Germany.

Influenced by the stories of Afghan refugees in Iran and his own challenges immigrating to the United States, Arash has helped refugees in Connecticut seek out better access to education and healthcare. He also founded International Aid Organization, which is sponsored by the UN Refugee Agency and raises awareness of, and financial support for, Syrian refugees.

Arash is starting his MD in the fall to pursue his interest in surgery and academic medicine. The field of medicine will allow Arash to care for people, while also pursuing research and social innovations that have the potential to improve life for everyone.

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Krzysztof Franaszek

Krzysztof Franaszek

Award to support work toward a MD at Harvard Medical School and MIT

Krzysztof aspires to be a physician-scientist in the biotech field. He wants to combine basic science, clinical, and commercial insights to facilitate the development of novel therapeutics for previously un-manageable diseases. 

Born in Kraków, Poland, Krzysztof immigrated to the United States when his mother, a neuro-pharmacologist, and father, a theoretical physicist, took up postdoctoral research positions at federal research institutions near Washington, DC. Growing up, he divided his time between Maryland and Poland’s Silesia region.

Krzysztof graduated a year early from the University of Maryland with dual degrees in cell biology and economics. While in school as an undergraduate, he was a Presidential Scholarship recipient, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Research fellow, ambulance EMT at the Branchville Volunteer Fire Company, and a lightweight rower.

After graduating, Krzysztof was awarded a Gates-Cambridge Scholarship to pursue a PhD in pathology at the University of Cambridge. His work has focused on using novel molecular genetics and bioinformatics techniques to study protein expression in cellular and viral systems. Krzysztof will begin his work toward an MD at the Harvard Medical School-MIT HST program, where he hopes to combine his studies with further disease-oriented research. He is eager to engage with Boston’s vibrant biotech start-up community.

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Ledina Gocaj

Ledina Gocaj

Award to support work toward a JD at Harvard Law School

Born in Albania to a family that suffered decades of political persecution under the communist regime, Ledina does not take good governance for granted. The planned economy dictated everything from food rations to occupation choice for Ledina’s father, a professor, and her mother, a zootechnic expert on a farm cooperative.

Ledina immigrated to the United States with her family when she was eight years old. Deprived of liberty for so long, Ledina knew how systems and institutions could change lives and she was determined to use that knowledge to help others in her new home.

After graduating with honors and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University, her research on the institutional response to the sovereign debt crisis led to a presentation at the International Political Science Association’s World Congress and was published in a peer-reviewed journal. The 2008 financial crisis compelled her to acquire the skills needed to enact effective financial regulation.

Now a student at Harvard Law School, Ledina researches the design and administration of the complex supervisory system of financial institutions in the United States. Her aim is to enhance financial stability in the United States while working for greater public awareness of the country’s financial system. After law school, Ledina will clerk for Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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Tiffanie Hsu

Tiffanie Hsu

Award to support work toward an MFA in directing at UCLA

Tiffanie is an award-winning filmmaker. As an MFA candidate at UCLA, she makes films that incorporate her unique outsider perspective and expand the breadth of the American experience represented in film. 

Tiffanie was born in Wisconsin to a mother who fled from civil war in China at the age of three and a Taiwanese father who overcame profound poverty to earn a doctorate in chemical engineering in the United States.

Tiffanie’s fascination with narrative blossomed at Harvard University where she directed several films, one of which, “Three Beauties”, was awarded the prestigious Thomas T. Hoopes Prize. After Harvard, Tiffanie worked closely with director Ang Lee for three years on “Life of Pi”. Tiffanie has also worked extensively with Leehom Wang, a popular musician in Asia.

Upon returning to the United States, Tiffanie wrote and directed “Sutures” in the American Film Institute Directing Workshop for Women (AFI-DWW), a highly selective program committed to mentoring female directors. “Sutures” has played in several festivals and garnered awards including the “Excellence in Short Filmmaking Award” at the Asian American International Film Festival and the Jean Picker Firstenberg Award in the AFI-DWW Showcase. The short continues its festival run through the end of 2015.

Her films strive to tell stories that show people overcoming their own isolation, coming at last to make strong human connections.

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Ayan Hussein

Ayan Hussein

Award to support work toward a PhD in neuroscience at Yale University

Born to illiterate parents in Mogadishu, Somalia right before the civil war broke out, Ayan has sought refuge across country borders twice in her life. First, her family moved to a refugee camp in Kenya, and for a second time in 2003, when Ayan and her family were resettled with a relative in Clarkston, Georgia. Ayan was awarded the prestigious Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation scholarship, which she used to attend the University of Georgia.

Long after she had adjusted to the rigors of college life, and the challenges of being a first generation student there, Ayan discovered her passion for neuroscience. Her enthusiasm for neuroscience laboratory research grew while studying at the University of Oxford as a visiting scholar.After graduating, Ayan did research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Morishita laboratory, where she investigated the molecular mechanism of brain plasticity in an effort to provide novel therapeutic targets for amblyopia and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Ayan is a biological and biomedical sciences PhD student at Yale University, where she is examining the role of GABAergic interneurons in neural circuit development. Her research will provide insights into how dysfunction of inhibitory interneurons impacts the development of brain circuits in disease. Ayan is a 2015 recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Having benefited from mentors throughout her life, Ayan is dedicated to helping others succeed. Since 2008, she has served as a Gates Millennium Ambassador, helping to connect the Gates Millennium Scholarship Foundation with future scholars. She became a citizen of the United States in 2014.

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Evgeniya Kim

Evgeniya Kim

Award to support work toward an MBA at Yale School of Management

Evgeniya’s heritage lies in four generations of border crossings. Born in what is now North Korea, Evgeniya’s ancestors moved to Russia’s Far East in search of a better life. Falling victim to Stalin’s repression, they were exiled to Central Asia and settled in Uzbekistan, where they faced marginalization. Evgeniya, fourteen at the time, and her family, fled Uzbekistan for the United States in 2002, where they fell victim to a visa scam and were forced to spend eight months in a family shelter in Leesport, Pennsylvania before receiving asylum. 

Evgeniya was determined to succeed academically and convinced a principal of a school an hour and a half away from her home to admit her into their gifted program. Socially, she felt her Korean face and Russian culture questioned by her classmates, but on the tennis court, she saw the pressures of her life dissipate. She had represented Uzbekistan as a member of the national junior tennis team, and was able to use those skills in the United States to earn money for family.

Aware of her unique background, Evgeniya was always interested in the interplay of culture, politics, and social change. As a student at Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, CUNY in New York City, she pursued international relations and interned at the Open Society Foundations, helping to address the very human rights issues that her family faced in Uzbekistan. She supplemented her studies with real world experiences by volunteering abroad and traveling to more than 30 countries around the world.

Seeing that behind most social issues lie tangible business problems, Evgeniya joined the Soros Economic Development Fund, where she analyzed the social impact of the fund’s investments on 21.4 million people across 20 countries. Evgeniya is currently pursuing her MBA at the Yale School of Management. 

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Allen Lin

Allen Lin

Award to support work toward a PhD in systems biology at Harvard University

Allen developed an interest in networks from an early age. He remembers spreading open a New York City subway map on the kitchen floor of his childhood home and searching for all of the different routes between Times Square and JFK airport. Allen is now completing his PhD in systems biology at Harvard University, and is focused on figuring out one specific complex system, HIV.

Allen’s parents immigrated to the United States from Taiwan in the 1980s, so that his father could pursue a career in computer science. Allen attended MIT on Goldwater and Department of Homeland Security scholarships, graduating with a perfect 5.0 GPA, and with MEng and BS degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, a BS in chemical-biological engineering, and minors in political science and biomedical engineering. In addition to his coursework, Allen conducted research at Caltech, Stanford and MIT, in the emerging field of synthetic biology, resulting in co-authorships in Nature Biotechnology and Nature Reviews Genetics.

Interested in the societal risks of synthetic biology, Allen went on to study as a Marshall Scholar at Cambridge University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, earning an MPhil in technology policy and an MSc in public health. While in the UK, he worked with Public Health England to analyze the cost-effectiveness of expanding HPV vaccinations beyond females to include men-who-have-sex-with-men, which was reviewed by a national decision-making committee and reported on by the press.

As a PhD student, Allen is interested in combining techniques in synthetic biology and evolutionary dynamics to create cost-effective vaccinations and therapies that will be able to challenge HIV, and other persistent infections, that disproportionately affect marginalized populations.

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Ismael Loera Fernandez

Ismael Loera Fernandez

Award to support work toward a PhD in chemistry at Rice University

At the age of eleven, Ismael’s life was turned upside down when his family moved from Tamaulipas, Mexico to Houston, Texas. The move was sudden; Ismael never got to say goodbye to his friends, nor did he have the opportunity to anticipate what life would be like without his tios, abuelos, and primos.

Ismael excelled in school, but had to diligently keep his status as an undocumented immigrant a secret. Finally, when he told a teacher that he could not travel to a science competition that she had worked hard to help him qualify for, he told her the truth. To his relief, she supported him and helped him apply to a magnet high school. Ismael received a QuestBridge National Scholarship and was able to attend Emory University.

Ismael double majored in chemistry and economics, and got involved with several extracurricular activities. As president of the Latino Student Organization, Ismael expanded the university’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, turning the celebration’s events into fundraisers for Caminar Latino, a local shelter for battered immigrant women and children. As part of his honors thesis, Ismael developed a model course to change the way chemistry is taught at the undergraduate level in order to have a more holistic approach to the subject.

As of the fall of 2012, Ismael became a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). On top of allowing him to apply to PhD programs, it impacted smaller parts of life, like being able to travel home by plane, instead of taking a thirteen hour bus ride.

Now a PhD student at Rice University, Ismael works on synthesizing bismuth carboxylate complexes, which have antibacterial and antiparasitic applications. He hopes to pursue a career in academia, where he can combine his passions for chemistry and higher education. 

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Paras Singh Minhas

Paras Singh Minhas

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine

Paras would like to curtail the alarming rate at which neurodegenerative disorders are increasing across the globe. By finding novel research strategies and investigating the political and environmental questions behind neurodegenerative disorders, Paras hopes to one-day practice medicine in a world where physicians are able to provide cures for them. 

Paras was born in Baltimore, MD, the son of two Sikh immigrants. At a young age, he was exposed to the debilitating consequences of neurological diseases, which impacted his own family members. Refusing to be silent, Paras began finding his voice through the art of debate, winning local, state, and national competitions starting in high school and later in the William Pitt Debating Union at the University of Pittsburgh.

During his time at the University of Pittsburgh, Paras founded the Longitude Pittsburgh Organization, an NGO dedicated to empowering adolescent orphans in Ghana and India and helping them to obtain sustainable careers. He also became the first president of the Student Health Advisory Board, pioneering mental health initiatives both on campus and in the city of Pittsburgh. Paras has been awarded the Amgen, Goldwater, and Marshall Scholarships for his insightful research in neurology and policy initiatives in psychiatry.  

Now a student at Stanford School of Medicine, Paras continues to engage with disadvantaged communities to help bridge healthcare gaps. He serves as manager for the Pacific Free Clinic in San Jose and continues to run his NGO, frequenting villages in Ghana. Paras is pursuing an MD/PhD in neuroscience, actively researching the etiologies of neurodegenerative diseases. As a future physician-scientist, Paras hopes to design measures that will rid the world of debilitating neurological and mental conditions.

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Polina Nazaykinskaya

Polina Nazaykinskaya

Award to support work toward a DMA in composition and music theory at The Graduate Center, CUNY

Born in Togliatti, an industrial city on the Volga River in Russia, Polina was surrounded by music growing up. Polina’s mother often recalls when, at just two years old, Polina reached for the piano and played a small segment from the final scene of Glinka’s “Life for the Tsar”, which Polina had heard her siblings practicing, but had never been taught.

Polina entered the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory with the intention of becoming a concert violinist, but quickly realized that her true calling was composition, as music would frequently “visit” her, and “write itself”. As she finished her bachelor’s degree, she realized that she could not stay in Russia if she wanted to be a composer. She wanted to be in the United States, where there were more opportunities to be a professional composer and musician.

When her letter of admittance to the Yale School of Music arrived, Polina held it as though it were a lottery ticket. At Yale, she worked with Christopher Theofanidis and Ezra Laderman, and completed a master’s degree in composition and theory, in addition to receiving an artist diploma in composition. “Winter Bells”, the first orchestral piece that Polina wrote in the United States, received wide acclaim, and was recorded by Sony Music in 2010.

Now pursuing a doctorate degree in composition at the Graduate Center, CUNY, Polina is studying with Tania León. Polina has won numerous awards, including the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and has garnered performances by ensembles including the Minnesota Orchestra, the United States Army Orchestra, and the Russian National Orchestra.Through music, Polina would like to explore the difficulty of political choices and the decline of democratic institutions; the rise of nationalistic tendencies, and the creation of a culture in which authority and obedience are preferred to freedom.

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Minh-Duyen Thi Nguyen

Minh-Duyen Thi Nguyen

Award to support work toward an MD

Influenced by her immigrant and academic experiences, Minh-Duyen hopes to provide care for women in low-resource environments upon graduating from medical school.

Minh-Duyen immigrated to the United States from Vietnam with her family when she was five. Her mother’s tofu business helped the family integrate into a community of working class immigrants in Wichita, Kansas. Her understanding of advocacy took hold while growing up dependent on state welfare and the social services of Catholic Charities.

Minh-Duyen gained acceptance to an international baccalaureate program in high school, and was named a Questbridge scholar, Gates Millennium Scholar and Philip Evans Scholar, which allowed her to attend Swarthmore College. During college, she became an active leader within Children for Change Cambodia, an organization that provides educational support to children living in a high risk brothel district of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Having volunteered in Phnom Penh’s red-light district, Minh-Duyen was motivated after college to travel across three continents under a yearlong Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to record the narratives of sex workers.

Minh-Duyen believes that feminism is not just about promoting the inclusion and equal treatment of women at the top echelons of our political and economic systems, but instead is about the inclusion of all women. She hopes to one day provide medical care for women at the social and economic fringes of society.

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Lucy Ogbu-Nwobodo

Lucy Ogbu-Nwobodo

Award to support work toward an MD at UC Davis School of Medicine

Born in Nigeria, Lucy was brought by relatives to Oakland, California when she was eleven. The United States promised to provide a better life, but as an undocumented student for over twelve years Lucy had to fight for her own survival. She developed a strong sense of resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Lucy focused on her academics and graduatedfrom high school at fifteen as the class valedictorian. She obtained her undergraduate degree from California State University, East Bay before the age of twenty. After college, she started volunteering at Highland Hospital—a safety-net hospital primarily serving Oakland’s uninsured patients.

Lucy went on tostart the Operating Room Experiences (OREX), a pre-medical surgical observation program. As one of few programs in the nation allowing extensive access to undergraduates, OREX has matriculated over thirty students into medical and other graduate health education programs, and serves as a model for other teaching hospitals.

As a medical student at UC Davis School of Medicine, Lucy serves as co-director of the Imani Clinic, a student-run clinic that provides services to the medically disenfranchised in Sacramento. She is the co-president of the Student National Medical Association, as well as the president and founder of the UC Davis Neurosurgery Student Interest Group.

Lucy is dedicated to improving health care through social justice. Sheplans to specialize in neurosurgery. After medical school, her goal is to bring specialty medical services to low-income communities.

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Sandra Portocarrero

Sandra Portocarrero

Award to support work toward a PhD in sociology at Columbia University

Sandra would like to analyze how the United States penal system generates inequality. In particular, she would like to understand the effects of the United States prison system on the family lives of Latino immigrants, focusing on organizations that have emerged due to the prison boom, and the networks that are formed within these organizations. 

Sandra was sixteen when she left Peru to join her father, an undocumented Peruvian immigrant, in Oklahoma. At the age of eighteen, she moved to California, where she attended Berkeley City College and the University of California, Berkeley.

At Berkeley, Sandra won the CAL Alumni Achievement Award, and was accepted into the Haas Research Program and the McNair Scholars Program. Funded by the Institute of International Studies and the Haas Fellowship, she wrote her thesis on the effects of participation in an organization on the lives of Andean women affected by civil war in Ayacucho, Peru. Her thesis received high honors and was published in the Berkeley Undergraduate Journal.

One year before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Berkeley, Sandra’s father was sentenced to seven years in federal prison. This major life event fueled her desire to pursue a PhD in sociology. At Columbia, Sandra will study the relationship of low-income immigrant populations to the criminal justice system. Her goal is to produce academic research that can be used to develop policies that help to alleviate poverty in the United States.

Before starting her PhD, Sandra returned to Peru and worked at a copper mining company, and as an adjunct political sociology professor at the National University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru.

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Yakir Reshef

Yakir Reshef

Award to support work toward an MD and a PhD in computer science at Harvard University and MIT

Born in Israel to a Romanian father and an Iraqi mother, Yakir spent his early life in Israel. After four years in Kenya, during which time his parents pursued medical and public health work, his family moved to Maryland.

As the child of an epidemiologist and an ophthalmologist, Yakir grew up in an atmosphere suffused with medicine. However, during high school and college he also discovered a love for mathematics and computer science. As a math major at Harvard College, Yakir helped develop a statistical method, subsequently published in Science, for detecting new relationships in large data sets. This experience pushed him to explore avenues through which his computational skills could advance biomedical research.

After graduating, Yakir spent three years in his native Israel, first as a software engineer and later as a Fulbright scholar in the department of mathematics and computer science at the Weizmann Institute of Science. After realizing that he would need broad, deep training in both biology and computation in order to achieve his goals, he decided to enroll in an MD/PhD program.

Yakir is now pursing an MD, in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology medical program, and a PhD in computer science at Harvard University. By marrying computational expertise with medical knowledge, he hopes to help translate improved data analysis methods into better outcomes for patients.

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Raeuf Roushangar

Raeuf Roushangar

Award to support work toward a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology at Michigan State University

Raeuf was born to an Iranian father and an Egyptian mother in Oman. Raised by his mother in Egypt after his father left for Iran, Raeuf endured continuous discriminationbecause of his Bahá'ifaith, culminating in his suspension from Cairo University at the age of twenty. He traveled alone to the United States for a chance to continue his education, and spent six months homeless after his arrival. At night, he walked the streets. During the day, he spent time at the city’s public library, which was a source of enlightenment; it provided a safe place to sleep, as well as a treasure trove of knowledge.

He eventually found his way to the city’s community college where he got a math and chemistry tutoring job. As an undergraduate at Michigan State University (MSU), Raeuf was awarded two research fellowships, and published his findings on genetic interactions in human orofacial clefting syndromes.

Not forgetting those in need, as a freshman Raeuf founded a nonprofit organization that to date has collected and shipped more than $500,000 worth ofmedical supplies from the United States to poor communities worldwide. For his work and leadership, Raeuf was awarded the 2012-2013 MSU Leader of the Year, Clinton Global Initiative and Martin Luther King awards.

Raeuf is a first year biochemistry and molecular biology PhD studentat MSU, with a research focus on “omics” technologies and their applications in personalized precision medicine. Working to create mathematical models to integrate various omics datasets, Raeuf believes that his research will improve diagnostic testing, medical decision-making and future individual patient healthcare.

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Eugene Rusyn

Eugene Rusyn

Award to support work toward a JD at Yale Law School

Eugene was born in Kiev, in the former Soviet Union to a Russian mother and a Carpatho-Ruthenian father. His family immigrated to the United States when he was four, leaving behind family and friends—many of whom he would not see again for decades. They settled in New Jersey, hoping for a life of greater freedom and opportunity.

Eugene pursued his bachelor’s degree in history at New York University, which he completed summa cum laude. While there, Eugene’s interests expanded to include philosophy and the law. He was particularly interested in concepts of national belonging.

His studies turned toward nationalism and the ways emerging transnational organizations try to foster community among diverse populations while guaranteeing basic rights. During this time, Eugene worked with professor Tony Judt on the completion of several books and articles published in The New York Times and The New York Review of Books. He also worked as an associate editor on legal journals focusing on international and constitutional law.

When Eugene was twenty-three, he became a naturalized United States citizen. The judge administering the oath told those present to remember the many others who wished to be in their shoes—citizenship, she said, is a lifelong privilege and responsibility. Those words guide Eugene as he works toward his JD at Yale Law School, where he is focusing on international, constitutional, and environmental law.

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Andre Shomorony

Andre Shomorony

Award to support work toward an MD at Harvard Medical School and MIT

Andre was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to parents of Jewish-European descent. In 2005, when Andre was fifteen, his family moved to Miami in search of financial stability and better educational and professional opportunities. Once in the United States, Andre’s parents had trouble convincing potential employers of the value of their Brazilian college degrees, and Andre had trouble earning high school credits for classes he had already taken in Brazil.

Quickly overcoming institutional, cultural and language barriers, Andre excelled in school and was awarded a QuestBridge scholarship to attend Yale University. Combining his interests in natural sciences and technology, he majored in biomedical engineering and spent his summers conducting research in micro-tissue engineering and cancer biology. In addition to pursuing biomedical research, Andre directed an award-winning undergraduate a cappella group and was on the board of Yale’s Relay for Life team.

During Andre’s college years, he helped take care of his father in a battle against cancer, a life-changing experience that drew him close to medicine. He was inspired to volunteer at Haven Free Clinic, where he learned about patient care and decided to become a physician.

Now a first-year student in the joint Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program, Andre is pursuing an MD with an added focus on biomedical research. He hopes to work at the intersection of engineering and surgery, developing new tools and techniques to improve the field of reconstructive surgery.

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Sahar Soleimanifard

Sahar Soleimanifard

Award to support work toward an MD at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Sahar was born in Iran amidst the Persian Gulf War and in the aftermath of a revolution that left the country in a decades-long battle between all sociopolitical groups. Growing up in a society with rigid gender roles, Sahar developed a steely determination to live a purposeful life and make a lasting impact.

She graduated from Sharif University, the top engineering school in Iran, where she became interested in biomedical imaging.

Sahar moved to the United States at the age of twenty-three and started her graduate education at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She forged collaborations with mentors in engineering, radiology, and cardiology, and developed a noninvasive MRI methodology that offers new biological insights into early coronary artery disease. She was named a Siebel Scholar and received funding from the American Heart Association to validate her techniques on patients with heart disease. In addition, she served on the board of several student organizations.

Following the completion of her PhD, she started her medical education at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Her goal is to build upon the technical dexterity that she acquired at engineering school with medical training to clinically care for patients and to develop noninvasive tools for early disease diagnosis, which can have a dramatic medical, personal, and economic impact on the lives of many patients.

Sahar became a permanent resident of the United States in 2013 through the National Interest Waiver program.

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Stephanie Speirs

Stephanie Speirs

Award to support work toward an MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management

Stephanie was born in Hawaii to a father who was adopted from China and a mother who emigrated from Korea to attend school in the United States. Stephanie’s mother escaped an abusive marriage, and found herself struggling to both raise her three kids alone and pay for the one-bedroom apartment that they all shared. She instilled in Stephanie a reverence for hard work, and Stephanie threw herself into school and jobs to help pay for expenses at home.

Stephanie went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a master’s degree in public affairs with a focus on international development from Princeton University. Stephanie’s education and professional experiences have been guided by a belief in social progress. She managed field operations in seven states for President Barack Obama’s campaign and developed Middle East policy as the youngest-ever director at the White House National Security Council.

Seeking to pivot towards issues that affect households on a daily basis, Stephanie will earn an MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management and work to expand clean energy access to low-income households. She is currently a global fellow with Acumen, a nonprofit venture fund, and the innovation manager in India at d.light, a solar company powering rural villages without reliable electricity. While at MIT, she will continue building Solstice Initiative, the first-of-its-kind social enterprise she co-founded to transform the number of Americans that can access solar power.

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Gerald Chunt-Sein Tiu

Gerald Chunt-Sein Tiu

Award to support work towards an MD and a PhD in genetics at Stanford University

Gerald’s parents, who are ethnically Chinese, emigrated from Myanmar to seek out new opportunities in the United States, and to escape institutionalized racism that barred them from pursuing their dreams. Through their example, Gerald, who was born in Anaheim, California, learned to put others before himself.

Fascinated by science from an early age, Gerald began research in high school studying atmospheric chemistry, which culminated in a first author publication in Chemical Physics Letters and third-place in the team portion of the 2005 Siemens Westinghouse Science and Technology Competition. As an undergraduate at Harvard College, Gerald performed chemical biology research to discover molecules that inhibit cancer pathways. The work was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Seeking to understand how social forces also influence human disease, Gerald spent a year after college in China and Myanmar on a Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Fellowship exploring the impact of culture and politics on HIV/AIDS dynamics.

Gerald is now working towards his MD/PhD at Stanford University in the lab of Maria Barna, where he is investigating novel layers of RNA-mediated gene regulation. In the future, as a physician-scientist, Gerald hopes to understand how gene regulation is disrupted in disease and translate that understanding into new therapies.

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Katherine Karmen Trujillo

Katherine Karmen Trujillo

Award to support work toward a MA in law and diplomacy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Born in South Central Los Angeles, Katherine is the daughter of immigrants from Mexico and Honduras. Katherine’s mother, a refugee from El Salvador, and her father, an economic migrant, sacrificed to no end to provide her with an education. Their tireless work ethic inspires Katherine’s commitment to advancing opportunities for others.

Growing up in a community rich in diversity yet marred by violence, Katherine learned to navigate contentious spaces with empathy and diplomacy. At UC Berkeley, Katherine grew fascinated by shared experiences of resilience across cultures. She assisted refugees with asylum cases, mentored at-risk youth, and empowered Latinas to pursue academic excellence.  

Following graduation, Katherine served as an Operation HOPE fellow, where she led financial empowerment workshops for victims of domestic violence. At the National Head Start Association, Katherine lobbied for federal funding for early childhood education for low-income families. Recently, she worked as an educational policy researcher for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, representing the nation’s public historically black colleges and universities.

Today, Katherine is a Mitchell Scholar pursuing a master’s of law degree at Ulster University, and a master’s at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. By integrating transitional justice approaches and development strategies, Katherine hopes to one day help revitalize economically depressed pockets of South Central Los Angeles, reduce crime and improve social cohesion to ultimately encourage civic engagement and empowerment. 

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Mark Minghao Xue

Mark Minghao Xue

Award to support a MS in computer science at Stanford University

Mark was born a month before his father left China to pursue a PhD in the United States. His mother's family raised him until his parents could afford to have him come to the United States in 1989. Mark's interest in computer science emerged over the eight years he served as a marine officer and helicopter pilot. Applying his software development hobby to his work, Mark was able to help pilots fly more safely by creating and integrating preflight planning and navigational software. In the fall, Mark will begin work toward a master’s degree in computer science, with a focus on systems and machine learning.

The sense of civic responsibility that led Mark to serve in the United States military was born out of his father’s experience during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Mark’s father spent a decade laboring on a commune farm before he was able to attend college under Deng Xiao Ping’s reforms. Despite the setback, Mark’s father earned a fellowship from Columbia University that allowed Mark’s parents to immigrate to the United States.

Math was Mark’s primary focus before joining the Marine Corps. He excelled in math competitions in high school, coached the NYC Math Team, and finished the majority of Columbia University’s graduate math coursework as an undergraduate.

Using his master’s degree, Mark plans to create innovative software tools that advance human abilities.

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Julie Zhu

Julie Zhu

Award to support work toward an MFA in painting at Hunter College, CUNY

Julie’s parents were part of the first class of students to graduate from college in China after the Cultural Revolution, during which time universities had closed their doors for more than a decade. Both mathematicians, Julie’s parents came to the United States to pursue graduate school.

Like her parents, Julie’s first passion was math, but as she grew up she felt increasingly drawn to the arts. She cartooned for The Washington Post, and her paintings were exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery after she was named a Presidential Scholar in both academics and visual art.

Julie went on to Yale University, where she double-majored in mathematics and art, enjoying the freedom to pursue both fields simultaneously. As a freshman, she added to these lifelong devotions the carillon, the world’s heaviest musical instrument—a tower of hanging bells played by a wooden keyboard. After graduating, she pursued advanced carillon studies at the Royal Carillon School in Belgium, while also painting and exhibiting her work abroad.

Julie has since given numerous recitals around the world as a professional carillonneur. She is also the carillonneur for St. Thomas Church in Manhattan. Her artistic work today sits at the intersection of music, mathematics and visual representation. In 2012, Julie co-founded the Sitka Fellows Program, a poly-disciplinary residency in Alaska that celebrates the meeting of disparate fields, now in its fourth year.

Julie currently studies painting at Hunter College, CUNY and teaches art in Alaska during the summer.

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