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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.   

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 was active in Paul Soros Investments, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a board member of several corporations and nonprofit organizations.

Paul Soros passed away on Saturday June 15, 2013 at the age of 87.

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:

Endowment Gets $25 Million Boost


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.