Fellowship Background & History
Paul and Daisy Soros, Hungarian immigrants and American philanthropists, established their fellowship program for New Americans in December 1997 with a charitable trust of fifty million dollars. Their reasons for doing so were several. They wished to "give back" to the country that had afforded them and their children such great opportunities and felt a fellowship program was an appropriate vehicle. They also felt that assisting young New Americans at critical points in their educations was an unmet need. Finally, they wished to call attention of all Americans to the extensive and diverse contributions of New Americans to the quality of life in this country.
In 2010, Mr. and Mrs. Soros contributed an additional $25 million to the charitable trust that funds their Fellowships for New Americans. For details, see the Wall Street Journal article at the end of this section.
The program of fellowships they shaped has the following characteristics:
- It honors and supports the graduate educations of 30 New Americans – permanent residents or naturalized citizens if born abroad; otherwise children of naturalized citizen parents -- each year.
- At the time of their selection, fellows must be college seniors or early in the graduate programs for which they request support.
- Each fellow receives tuition and living expenses that can total as much as $90,000 over two academic years.
- Fellows can study in any degree-granting program in any field at any university in the United States.
- Fellows are selected on the basis of merit – the specific criteria emphasize creativity, originality, initiative and sustained accomplishment -- in annual national competitions. Candidates apply directly. The program does not depend on recommendations from universities or regional screening. Neither financial need nor distributive considerations are taken into account in the selection process.
- Each fellows attends two weekend conferences of fellows. The great majority continue to be involved with the program through regional dinners, service in the selection process for later classes, etc.
Since the founding of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans:
- Approximately 12,500 applications have been received and processed.
- 14 classes of Fellows have been selected, beginning in 1998
- 415 Fellows have been appointed: 20 in the first year and 30 in most subsequent years (the four additional fellows were appointed in 2003, 2007, and 2009).
- The 61 current Fellows received undergraduate degrees from 34 different colleges and universities. They are receiving support for graduate study at 22 different universities in 27 different fields of study.
- 354 former Fellows are now alumni of the program.
Born in Hungary in 1926, Paul Soros studied mechanical engineering in Budapest. When a Communist government came to power, he began looking for a chance to escape. In 1948, as a member of the Hungarian ski team at the Olympic games in Switzerland, he defected. Having made his way to the United States, he took a master's degree in engineering from Polytechnic University in Brooklyn. In 1956, he founded Soros Associates, an international engineering firm whose projects included port development, offshore terminal, and bulk handling facilities in 90 countries. Mr. Soros holds several patents in material handling and offshore technology and is the author of more than a hundred technical articles. He served on the Review Panel of the President's Office of Science and Technology and received the Gantt Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Outstanding Engineering Achievement Award of the National Society of Professional Engineers. He is now active in Paul Soros Investments, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and is a board member of several corporations and nonprofit organizations.
Daisy Margaret Soros grew up in Hungary and graduated from Ecole Hotelier in Lausanne, Switzerland. She came to the United States on a student visa, enrolling at Columbia University. She later attended New York School of Interior Design, studied at New York University School of Social Work, and worked extensively as a counselor to terminally ill patients and their families.
Mrs. Soros has been a member of the Board of Overseers of Weill Cornell Medical College since 1993. She has continuously served that institution in leadership roles that promote the mission and ideals of academic medicine. In addition to being the founder and host of the popular Information Please luncheon lecture series, Mrs. Soros also serves on the Steering Committee for the Medical College’s Discoveries that Make a Difference Campaign and the Dean’s Council. She is Chairman of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans and the Friends of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, and serves on the Administrative Board of The Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Board of the American Austrian Foundation, the Board of Directors of The Metropolitan Opera, the Board of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Board and Executive Committee of the New York Philharmonic, and the Board of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. She is an Honorary Member of International House.
Mrs. Soros was the recipient of the Metro International Fulbright Award, Lincoln Center Laureate Award, Ellis Island Medal of Honor, International House Harry Edmonds Award, the Casita Maria Gold Medal of Honor, The National Immigration Forum's "Keepers of the American Dream Award," was honored by the Henry Street Settlement and received an honorary Doctor of Laws at Bates College in Maine.
Paul and Daisy have two sons, Peter and Jeffrey. Peter is involved in finance and lives in England with his two sons. Jeffrey, a screenwriter, philanthropist, and President of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, resides in California with his wife and two children. Both Peter and Jeffrey serve on the Board of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship Program, Jeffrey as its President.
The following announcement of the Soros’ recent gift to the Fellowship Program appeared on page A27 of the Wall Street Journal on June 30, 2010:
Paul and Daisy Soros have dedicated another $25 million to help children of immigrants pay for graduate school in the U.S., expanding a family charitable trust that already has awarded more than $30 million to almost 400 students.
Mr. Soros, the 84-year-old older brother of hedge-fund manager George Soros and a former athlete, first arrived in Manhattan with a pittance, having defected while traveling to Switzerland with the 1948 Hungarian Olympic ski team.
He saw that trip as his chance to escape his Communist-controlled homeland after World War II, he says.
That first year in New York planted the seed for what would become the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans.
Mr. Soros wanted to study engineering in a top graduate program, but he couldn't afford Ivy League schools. Instead he chose the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, struggling to pay for meals and cheap housing near Prospect Park.
Mr. Soros's master's degree from Brooklyn served him well: He went on to run a global engineering firm and eventually owned interests in shipping concerns. Mr. Soros in the 1980s and 1990s also helped his brother George's firm select industrial investments for the famous Quantum family of funds.
Still, Paul Soros never forgot arriving in the U.S. with boundless educational ambitions but limited options.
In 1998, when the Soroses were considering how to distribute their endowment, which started with $50 million, Mr. Soros wanted to focus on lightening the burden for immigrants and children of immigrants aiming to pursue graduate degrees.
"We didn't know how to start," the 80-year-old Mrs. Soros says.
"Having a building with our name on it doesn't appeal to me," Mr. Soros says.
Soros fellowship recipients must demonstrate an original idea or talent; they must have accomplished something requiring a sustained effort; and they must have participated in government or another forum dedicated to freedoms prescribed in the U.S. Bill of Rights.
Each year, 30 fellows receive up to $90,000 to help cover two years of tuition and other educational and living expenses, to study any subject at any U.S. university. Mr. Soros says he and his wife increased the endowment to recognize more contributions by immigrants to business, arts, science, education, government, courts, nonprofits and other areas, amid efforts they view as increasingly anti-immigrant.
Soros fellowship recipients from the past 12 years have gone on to start companies, compose celebrated works of music, serve as lawyers in the White House, teach political science and help develop new medicines.
Mrs. Soros is chairman of the endowment. Mr. Soros remains involved in key decisions. However, his health limits his day-to-day involvement, since he has Parkinson's disease and diabetes and has been treated for jaw and tongue cancer, which are in remission. The Soroses' son Jeffrey became president of the fellowship this year, and their son Peter helps oversee investments. The endowment is primarily invested in Soros Fund Management's Quantum funds, according to Mr. Soros.